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 Mahamudra 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.