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Upāya-kauśalya

Upāya-kauśalya (‘skill in means’). Adaptation of teaching in Buddhism to the level of the audience's existing attainment. The concept of ‘skilful means’ is of considerable importance in Mahāyāna Buddhism and is expounded at an early date in texts such as the Lotus Sūtra and the teachings of Vimalakīrti Sūtra. At the root of the idea is the notion that the Buddha's teaching is essentially a provisional means to bring beings to enlightenment, and that the teachings which he gives may therefore vary: what may be appropriate at one time may not be so at another. The concept is used by the Mahāyāna to justify what appear to be its innovations in doctrine, and to portray the Buddha's early teachings as limited and restricted in accordance with the spiritual potential of his early followers. In the Mahāyāna, skilful means comes to be a legitimate method to be employed by buddhas and bodhisattvas whenever the benefit of beings would seem to warrant it. Although this involves a certain degree of duplicity, such as telling lies, the Buddha is exonerated from all blame, since his only motivation is compassionate concern for all beings.

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