Expedient Revelations


“O Śāriputra! After attaining buddhahood I expounded the teaching extensively with various explanations and illustrations, and with skillful means (upāya) led sentient beings to rid themselves of their attachments. Why is this? Because all the Tathāgatas have attained perfect mastery of skillful means, wisdom, and insight.

“O Śāriputra! The wisdom and insight of the Tathāgatas is extensive, profound, immeasurable, and unhindered. They are possessed of power, fearlessness, meditation, liberation, and samādhi that is profound and endless. They have completely attained this unprecedented Dharma.

“O Śāriputra! The Tathāgatas can, through various methods, skillfully illuminate the Dharma with gentle speech and gladden the hearts of the assemblies.

“O Śāriputra! To put it briefly, the buddhas have attained this immeasurable, limitless, and unprecedented Dharma. Enough, O Śāriputra, I will speak no further. Why is this? Because the Dharma that the buddhas have attained is foremost, unique, and difficult to understand. No one but the buddhas can completely know the real aspects of all dharmas—that is to say their character, nature, substance, potential, function, cause, condition, result, effect, and essential unity.”

The Blessed One wastes no time and directly expounds upon Expedient Means at the opening of the Second Chapter:

The Sanskrit upāya connotes an “approach” to a goal, a “strategy” for accomplishing something, a “method,” or “technique”; kauśalya indicates “expertise” or “skill.” Hence, a likely sense of the Sanskrit compound is probably something like “expertise in method(s).” From this, the Chinese and the Sanskrit (both the compound and the single term upāya) get rendered variously in English, not only as Hurvitz’s (translation…inclusion mine) preferred “device” or “expedient device” but also simply as “expedient,” “means,” and “skillfulness,” as well as, perhaps most commonly, “skill in means” and “skillful means.” (2010-06-01). Readings of the Lotus Sutra (Columbia Readings of Buddhist Literature) (Kindle Locations 2037-2039). Columbia University Press. Kindle Edition.

Tao-Sheng asserts that the Buddha “has consummated expedient devices” because his “illumination is perfect, without obstruction, and has reached ultimate end[s].” Thus the Buddha’s expedient devices are skillfully employed due to his own Luminous Actuosity. It’s this particular-form of Absolute Expediency that the Blessed One rightly asserts is reserved exclusively for the Tathagatas. It’s only later that the efficacious nature of the One Vehicle is introduced as an expedient-tool that can also be activated (under the proper Buddha-gnosis) by all sentient-beings who become attuned, through faith in the Buddhadharma, to the right gauge of expedient tools to be measured out accordingly to their own abilities.

The old Soothill translation gives the marvelous description for those Absolute Expediencies that are employed by the Tathagatas:

“Of yore I followed countless Buddhas,
And perfectly trod the Ways
Of the profound and mystic Law,
Hard to perceive and perform.
During infinite kotis of kalpas,
Having followed all these Ways,
Attaining fruition on the Wisdom-throne
I could perfectly understand
The meaning of every nature and form.
I and the Buddhas of the universe
Alone can understand these things—
The Truth beyond demonstration,
The Truth beyond the realm of terms.”

I believe that this point cannot be overlooked; all too often there are those who assume that the Buddha simply gives-in and reveals (in the Lotus Sutra) that ALL expedient means can be utilized by anyone in equal measure. These verses confirm that this is definitely not the case. It is only out of Untold Compassion that the Buddha later asserts that “expedient-tools” can be employed by others, but this is not just some willy-nilly assertion. Faith in the Buddhadharma needs to be a determining factor as we shall soon learn. Upāya in this sense can be employed as a “spiritual-technique” that will lead those, who through proper faith, can enter into the full-import on how expedient devices can be rightfully employed.

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One Response to Expedient Revelations

  1. n. yeti says:

    It is no less astounding how many practicants of meditation lose sight of faith as a sublime characteristic of the meditator.

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