Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Provisional Teachings are Skillful Means, but Skillful Means are not Provisional

Provisional Teachings are Skillful Means, but Skillful Means are not Provisional...

A Buddha’s discourse is beyond the sentient and the non-sentient; it is beyond the relative and the absolute. Even so, when He became aware of bodhisattvas, of ordinary humans, of the Real Form of things, and of this discourse, He opened the Gate of Skillful Means. The Gate of Skillful Means is the unsurpassed meritorious functioning of the fruits of Buddhahood. It is the Dharma that resides in the place of Dharma and It is the form of the world as it constantly manifests. The Gate of Skillful Means does not refer to some momentary skill.
~Shobogenzo, Shohō Jissō, Hubert Nearman
“Skillful means” or “expedient means” (upaya) refer to the actual phenomenal form or forms of Buddhism, that is, to all of Buddhism that is actually accessible to human experience. Thus, when used in a general sense, rather than in the context of a particular teaching or technique, “expedient means” is inclusive of the whole range of Buddhist doctrine and methodology. While technically equivalent with “doctrine and methodology,” “skillful means” nevertheless puts greater emphasis on the significance of actual techniques and practical teachings than does more general terms. Also, as when we refer to the expedient means of law, or the skillful means of medicine, for example, referring to the skillful means of Buddhism focuses attention on the actual form or forms of the specific course, path, or way Buddhism is realized in the world.
To clarify and emphasize the significance of the specificity or uniqueness of “expedient means” or “skillful means,” consider, for example; the process of law is only realized (made real) through and as the actual engagement of the skillful means specific to law, medicine through and as the engagement of the skillful means particular to medicine. The manifestation (phenomenal appearance) of law in the world is seen and known as “practicing law,” the manifestation of medicine as “practicing medicine.”
Similarly, the actual manifestation of Buddhism is realized as and through “practicing Buddhism.” In other words, medicine is not realized apart from practicing medicine (exercising its means), law does not exist independent of practicing law, and Buddhism does not appear apart from practicing (engaging the means of) Buddhism. It should go without saying, but for completeness notice; drugs, scalpels, medical procedures, or therapies are not “medicine” apart from the presence of skillful application – independent of actual “practice” such are mere abstractions or, at best artifacts with as much potential to harm as to heal. Recorded codes of lawful conduct, precedents, or policies existing in the absence of means to manifest cannot be considered “law,” and Buddhist scriptures, temples, icons, rituals, practices – even teachers or students – could not be qualified as “Buddhism” in an absence of adequate means for manifestation.
In sum, provisional teachings may be skillful means, but skillful means should not be misunderstood as provisional teachings. Thus Dogen reminds us:
"The Gate of Skillful Means does not refer to some momentary skill."
Please treasure yourself,

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