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Buddhist Training Tools: Skillful Means

Please take a few moments before watching or listening to this clip to settle yourself physically in an upright position. Listen to the teachings thinking, "I am extremely fortunate to have the opportunity to listen to the precious Dharma. I am doing this for the benefit of all sentient beings so that they may be free from suffering and attain complete awakening".

Buddhism offers us so many types of training tools. In this video clip, Phakchok Rinpoche discusses the vast array of training tools that we can use to change our lives. Meditation is a crucial aspect, of course. But Rinpoche reminds us that we should take advantage of all the tools and methods. In Buddhist teachings, we often refer to these practices as skillful means. Every practice that we undertake is about transformation. Everything helps us come to the point beyond ego-clinging that brings us beyond karma.

Just what are those tools when we say “everything”?  Rinpoche mentions meditation and also includes detachment, prostrations, and rejoicing. These are just a few examples of some of the practices we undertake. The good news is that every one of these practices is designed to help us. Every Buddhist practice functions to counteract our negative patterns. By using these techniques, we can begin to reduce our negative emotions. This is because all of our negative emotions arise from our ego-clinging, our strong sense of self.


Where does this ego-clinging originate? It arises from our fundamental problem of not seeing the nature of things. Fortunately, the Buddhist teachings offer something to counteract that problem. Each specially designed tool interacts with specific negative emotions or weaknesses. If we use these different tools effectively, we can dislodge our customary patterns of behavior.

Rinpoche explains that teachings on selflessness and emptiness are specially designed to counteract ego-clinging. And resting in the natural state of mind will counteract ignorance. These are the key elements that will bring about change. We also practice prostrations, visit sacred objects or places, confess our mistakes, rejoice, and accumulate merit, dedication, and bodhicitta. All those practices are different tools that counteract negative tendencies and develop virtues.

Examples of virtues as training tools

We can understand how practices teach us virtues by using some examples. In order to succeed in worldly matters as well as in spiritual life, we need motivation. We can’t live our life without some motivation. But in Buddhist teaching, we emphasize developing good motivation. We can learn how to change our mistaken or impure motivation into something better. Similarly, we may already give to others, but perhaps what we give or how we give might not be good. Thus, Buddhist teachers instruct us on generosity and give correctly.

Similarly, we probably have some sense of ethics, but we probably have not examined our ethics carefully enough. And we may have some patience, but probably not very much! If we are honest, we may find that we lack genuine patience. It is the same with our diligence. We may be work hard, but our likes or dis-likes drive our thinking. Therefore, we may have no real purpose or point to our diligence. Our diligence is not really strong enough, Rinpoche says.

Concentration and knowledge

Rinpoche asks if we have concentration in our daily life. Here, he jokes that we can be 100% concentrated if we are sitting down to a movie or in front of our computer screen. Yet in schools, students often take pills to increase their so-called concentration. We may be very focused, but is that meaningful concentration? Rinpoche suggests that we can instead learn beneficial Buddhist concentration. Of course, we are not stupid people. We do have some knowledge, but our normal knowledge is very self-centered. But Buddhism teaches the non-selfish perfection of wisdom.

Rinpoche explains that we have all these basic qualities, but we have not learned how to develop them effectively.

This is why we should learn what Buddhism teaches about these practices and then can benefit from these Buddhist tools!


At the end of the teaching, please remember to dedicate the merit of receiving a Dharma teaching. As you go through your day, take a few moments from time to time to recall these instructions.

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