Buddhist Philosophy

Can’t I Just Meditate? Why We Need Skillful Means

Meditate Using Skillful Means

Can’t I just meditate? Do we really need to engage in ritual practice? In these modern times, this question arises frequently. Silent, formless meditation seems to be more popular. Can’t I just meditate without engaging in development stage practices or engaging in ritual?

In this audio recording, Phakchok Rinpoche explains what ritual has to do with meditation. The Buddha’s teachings offer two paths. The Buddha teaches the path of skillful means and the path of wisdom. When a student enters the path of the Great Vehicle, he or she first practices five of the pāramitās. Initially, we begin with the practices of these perfections.

The First Five Pāramitās or Perfections

  1. Generosity
  2. Discipline or Ethical Behavior
  3. Patience
  4. Joyful Diligence
  5. Meditative Concentration

These are the practices of skillful means. In the Mahāyāna path, we practice them in order to unfold the sixth perfection, the perfection of wisdom. We call this Prajñāpāramitā.

Training to Meditate

Similarly, we begin training our mind with śamatha, or calm-abiding meditation. Later after we attain stability, we move on to vipaśyanā or clear seeing meditation.

Likewise, in the Vajrayāna tradition, we have two paths. First, we practice the path of skillful means. We call this the development stage. In Tibetan, we call this skyes rim. We translate this as the “development” or “creation” stage. Afterward, we have the accomplishment stage. In Tibetan, we call this rdzogs rim. We translate this as the “completion” stage. That is what we practice during Mahāmudrā or Dzogchen practice.

Without skillful means, we are unable to easily gain wisdom. In the past, all the great masters have practiced this way. Because this is the case, Rinpoche requests new students who want to join the Vajrayāna path to engage in the preliminary practices and development stage practices.

The second Buddha and great philosopher Nāgārjuna said that we enter the accomplishment stage by means of the development stage. We can benefit by keeping this statement in mind.


1 responses on "Can't I Just Meditate? Why We Need Skillful Means"

  1. Hi, For some reason the soundcloud frame / link doesn’t work for me in latest version of Firefox browser (W10)
    but working ok in Microsoft Edge Browser 🙂

    Thank you for sharing these precious Teachings!

    Sarva Mangalam!

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Suggested Reading

Dudjom Rinpoche, The Nyingma School of Tibetan Buddhism, trans. and ed. by Gyurme Dorje and Matthew Kapstein (Boston: Wisdom Publications, 1991), vol. 1, pages 468–474.

Ngawang Zangpo, Guru Rinpoche: His Life and Times, Ithaca: Snow Lion, 2002.

Nyoshul Khenpo, A Marvelous Garland of Rare Gems: Biographies of Masters of Awareness in the Dzogchen Lineage, trans. Richard Barron (Junction City: Padma Publishing, 2005), pages 41–48.

Padmasambhava, Legend of the Great Stupa, Berkeley: Dharma Publishing, 1973

Padmasambhava & Jamgön Kongtrul, The Light of Wisdom, trans. by Erik Pema Kunsang (Boudhanath: Rangjung Yeshe Publications, 1986-1999), pages 43-47 & Appendix 5.

Taranatha, The Life of Padmasambhava, Shang Shung Edizioni, 2005

Tulku Thondup, Masters of Meditation and Miracles, Shambhala, 1996.

Yeshe Tsogyal, Life and Liberation of Padmasambhava, translated by Kenneth Douglas and Gwendolyn Bays (Emeryville: Dharma Publishing, 1978, republished 2008).

Yeshe Tsogyal, Lotus Born: The Life Story of Padmasambhava, Rangjung Yeshe Publications, 2004.

‘The Life of Guru Padmasambhava’ in A Great Treasure of Blessings, The Tertön Sogyal Trust, 2004.