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The Skill in Means (Upayakausalya) Sutra
The Skill in Means (Upayakausalya) Sutra
Description
About the Book:

This rare Sutra, ancient but timely, has long been treated with circumspection because of its liberal attitude toward sexuality and other ethical concerns. One of the original statements of the early Mahayana school, it is here collated from Chinese and Tibetan translations, and from passages that remain in the original Sanskrit. Originally part of a larger sutra on the six perfections that included the well-known Perfection of Wisdom Sutra, the Skill in Means Sutra explicates the other five perfections of the Bodhisattva. The translator has traced its source to verses of the Ratnagunasamcaya-gatha that have no counterpart in the Perfection of Wisdom. The Skill in Means is also found as part of the Ratnakuta collection of sutras, under the title 'The Question of Jnanottara'.

In Part One, this Sutra establishes the liberal, even anti-monastic observance of Bodhisattva ethics, especially in matters of sexual involvement, introducing 'Skill in means' into the fabric of Buddhist ethical life. Parts Two and Three constitute a reinterpretation of the life of the Buddha, demonstrating his motivation by 'skill in means'; this is a primary source for the Buddhology of the Mahayana.

The older and newer versions are translated side by side; extant Sanskrit passages are included. An introduction places the text in historical and literary prospective. There are copious notes, indexes and a bibliography.

Introduction

The Skill in Means is a sutra of the early Mahayana school. Is composition may date from the first century B.C.

Along with the Original Buddhist sutras, the Skill in Means is interlocutory in format. Its setting is the Jeta Grove at Sravasti, among a community of monks and Bodhisattvas (section 1). At the conclusion, however, the audience is described as the four assemblies (male and female monastics, and male and female householders) plus gods and other supernatural beings (sections 175, 178). In any case, the chief protagonists of the scripture fall into two camps: elders of the monastic community, and Bodhisattvas.

In response to the question posed by a Bodhisattva named Jnanottara ("one rich in knowledge"), the Buddha gives a discourse that accomplishes two aims: (1) the introduction of "skill in means" into the fabric of Buddhist ethical life, and (2) dispelling misinterpretations of the nature of the historical Buddha, especially in regard to certain events that befell him. The address of these two issues forms two distinct sections of the work. The address of these two issues forms two distinct sections of the work. The second of these is introduced as a formal account of doctrine (dharma-paryaya) known as "skill in means" (section 71). Yet the two parts do not appear to have been separately composed and then stitched into a text. The life of the Buddha (Parts Two and Three) and the ethics of Bodhisattvas (Part One) are the warp and the woof; they are woven into a sutra by the concept of skill in means. Later accounts of Mahayana doctrine incorporate this material into sections entitled "skill in means" and "the life-span of the Tathagata (Thus-Come-One)"; consequent neglect of the Skill in Means may have saved it from all but the minor glosses and alterations of its redaction in the Ratnakuta collection.

"Skill in means" is presented, in the opening discou8rse of the Buddha, as practice of the six perfections with a mental focus upon the attainment of Buddhahood. To that end, a key component of any practice is the dedication of merit earned by the deed to the immediate welfare and ultimate awakening of others. Skilful giving (dana) is adduced as an example. Dedication of the merit derived from generosity gives rise to rewards that are wonderful beyond all reasonable expectations, because "gifts become great when given with great thoughts"(12).

Among the personae of the sutra, Bodhisattvas are chiefly represented-after the Buddha himself-by Jnanottara. Two others, named *Ganapramukharaja and Priyamkara, interact with women in ways that illustrate skill in means (23ff, 48ff). The elders who observe this with shock are represented chiefly by Ananda; others include Maudgalyayana, whose famed magical powers fail in the face of the Buddha's skill in means, and Kasyapa, who is quickest to adopt the Bodhisattva paradigm. Not all members of the assembly are converted by the dramatic events and recitals: those who are not "fit vessels" do not even see or hear them (176).

In its approach to the life of Sakyamuni, the sutra attempts to resolve an issue that has caused discord among the schools. Certain events of his career seem to denote a mixed inheritance of karma. The Buddha failed to obtain alms-food on one occasion, and on another his foot was pierced by a thorn. These and other problematic incidents are listed in such texts as the Vinaya of the Mulasarvastivada school and the Therapadana of the Theravada, each being explained as the residue of a past misdeed. That scholiastic explanation seems to have been unacceptable to the masses of Buddhists of an age that virtually deified the founder in literature and art. The sutra makes a definitive response: those untoward events represent displays of karmic recompense contrived by the Buddha for the edification of others; they are instances of his skill in means. The same explanation applies to deeds he performed in the past, as a Bodhisattva, that appear to have given rise to that recompense. As the Brahman youth Jyotipala, for example, he refused to pay respect to the Buddha Kasyapa, instead saying sarcastically, "Where is the awakening in a shaven head?" this has been considered by scholars as the cause of severe austerities that he underwent, during his last lifetime, for six years prior to the great awakening. In actuality, Jyotipala behaved in that disrespectful way as part of a trick to convert five Brahman companions who are unknown to the earlier accounts.

To thus purify the Buddha of all apparent imperfection does not of itself make the text "greater vehicle". But its corollary, the doctrine of skill in means, becomes a guiding principle in the ethics of Bodhisattvas, or at least in those of high-stage Bodhisattvas (the Mahasattvas). Skill in means as a moral principle is established, in the important first part of the sutra, by a discourse on the perfections; it is then illustrated by past-life tales and by contemporaneous events. Ethics for the Bodhisattva, to put the matter briefly, is based upon the code for all monastics (the Vinaya), yet it is not circumscribed by it. Skill in means may supersede the monastic rule. The Buddha illustrates this supersession with the most shocking examples he can discover in his own past lives. Not only did he commit murder-he also broke celibacy.

Insofar as we can ascertain the historical development of Mahayana Buddhism, texts dealing with philosophy (prajna) emerge slightly earlier than those dealing with ethics. The philosophic sutras has been studied as they are extant in the Perfection of Wisdom, the Kasyapa Chapter, and other early scripture; they seek to recapture the mystic intuition of original Buddhism, as the new "wisdom" school sees it, from the scholastic analytics of the Abhidharma schools. The importance of philosophy is not to be diminished. Discourses upon the emptiness of all phenomena (which are found in the Skill in Means scripture as well) do not compare with developments in ethics, however, in making the new movement conspicuous. The picture of monks playing fast and loose in their relations with women is an integral part of the greater-vehicle paradigm to this day, as the other schools see it.

The concepts of perfect wisdom and skill in means are complementary and nearly co-arising in the early Mahayana; in later literature the tension between them drives the Bodhisattva career. So wisdom is the sixth perfection, while skill in means subsumes the initial five. From wisdom flows a technical vocabulary that has been explored by Conze, Lamotte and others. From skill in means derives a corresponding set of terms for the functions (the "bodies") of a Buddha, for "pure lands", and for the Bodhisattva stages.

Buddhists in India were distinguished as a community of religieux by adherence to the word of the Buddha as codified in sutra and in vinaya. The Skill in Means shows very clearly a function of early Mahayana sutras: to state principles in forceful and dogmatic terms, so as to rally the Buddhist community from a crisis of values, a crisis exemplified by arguments over the nature of the Buddha. They do not in fact succeed in converting the community as a whole. Rather, adherents to the Greater Vehicle come to constitute a vigorous minority.

About the Author:

Professor Mark Tatz holds a Ph.D. in Buddhist Studies from the University of British Columbia, and an M.A. in Asian Languages (Sanskrit and Tibetan) from the University of Washington. Resident in Berkeley, California, he teaches at the Institute of Buddhist Studies. He is the author of numerous books and articles, including Rebirth: The Tibetan Game of Liberation; and The Complete Bodhisattva Asanga's Chapter on Ethics with the Commentary by Tsong-kha-pa.

Contents

Introduction1
PART ONE
The Skill in Means of Boddhisattvas23
PART TWO
The Skill in Means of Sakyamuni51
PART THREE
The Ten Karmic Connections71
Notes to the Translation91
Bibliography and Abbreviations113
Index of Proper Names123
Index of Technical Terms125

The Skill in Means (Upayakausalya) Sutra

Item Code:
IDC300
Cover:
Hardcover
Edition:
2001
ISBN:
81-208-0915-7
Size:
8.8" X 5.8"
Pages:
128
Price:
$16.50   Shipping Free
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About the Book:

This rare Sutra, ancient but timely, has long been treated with circumspection because of its liberal attitude toward sexuality and other ethical concerns. One of the original statements of the early Mahayana school, it is here collated from Chinese and Tibetan translations, and from passages that remain in the original Sanskrit. Originally part of a larger sutra on the six perfections that included the well-known Perfection of Wisdom Sutra, the Skill in Means Sutra explicates the other five perfections of the Bodhisattva. The translator has traced its source to verses of the Ratnagunasamcaya-gatha that have no counterpart in the Perfection of Wisdom. The Skill in Means is also found as part of the Ratnakuta collection of sutras, under the title 'The Question of Jnanottara'.

In Part One, this Sutra establishes the liberal, even anti-monastic observance of Bodhisattva ethics, especially in matters of sexual involvement, introducing 'Skill in means' into the fabric of Buddhist ethical life. Parts Two and Three constitute a reinterpretation of the life of the Buddha, demonstrating his motivation by 'skill in means'; this is a primary source for the Buddhology of the Mahayana.

The older and newer versions are translated side by side; extant Sanskrit passages are included. An introduction places the text in historical and literary prospective. There are copious notes, indexes and a bibliography.

Introduction

The Skill in Means is a sutra of the early Mahayana school. Is composition may date from the first century B.C.

Along with the Original Buddhist sutras, the Skill in Means is interlocutory in format. Its setting is the Jeta Grove at Sravasti, among a community of monks and Bodhisattvas (section 1). At the conclusion, however, the audience is described as the four assemblies (male and female monastics, and male and female householders) plus gods and other supernatural beings (sections 175, 178). In any case, the chief protagonists of the scripture fall into two camps: elders of the monastic community, and Bodhisattvas.

In response to the question posed by a Bodhisattva named Jnanottara ("one rich in knowledge"), the Buddha gives a discourse that accomplishes two aims: (1) the introduction of "skill in means" into the fabric of Buddhist ethical life, and (2) dispelling misinterpretations of the nature of the historical Buddha, especially in regard to certain events that befell him. The address of these two issues forms two distinct sections of the work. The address of these two issues forms two distinct sections of the work. The second of these is introduced as a formal account of doctrine (dharma-paryaya) known as "skill in means" (section 71). Yet the two parts do not appear to have been separately composed and then stitched into a text. The life of the Buddha (Parts Two and Three) and the ethics of Bodhisattvas (Part One) are the warp and the woof; they are woven into a sutra by the concept of skill in means. Later accounts of Mahayana doctrine incorporate this material into sections entitled "skill in means" and "the life-span of the Tathagata (Thus-Come-One)"; consequent neglect of the Skill in Means may have saved it from all but the minor glosses and alterations of its redaction in the Ratnakuta collection.

"Skill in means" is presented, in the opening discou8rse of the Buddha, as practice of the six perfections with a mental focus upon the attainment of Buddhahood. To that end, a key component of any practice is the dedication of merit earned by the deed to the immediate welfare and ultimate awakening of others. Skilful giving (dana) is adduced as an example. Dedication of the merit derived from generosity gives rise to rewards that are wonderful beyond all reasonable expectations, because "gifts become great when given with great thoughts"(12).

Among the personae of the sutra, Bodhisattvas are chiefly represented-after the Buddha himself-by Jnanottara. Two others, named *Ganapramukharaja and Priyamkara, interact with women in ways that illustrate skill in means (23ff, 48ff). The elders who observe this with shock are represented chiefly by Ananda; others include Maudgalyayana, whose famed magical powers fail in the face of the Buddha's skill in means, and Kasyapa, who is quickest to adopt the Bodhisattva paradigm. Not all members of the assembly are converted by the dramatic events and recitals: those who are not "fit vessels" do not even see or hear them (176).

In its approach to the life of Sakyamuni, the sutra attempts to resolve an issue that has caused discord among the schools. Certain events of his career seem to denote a mixed inheritance of karma. The Buddha failed to obtain alms-food on one occasion, and on another his foot was pierced by a thorn. These and other problematic incidents are listed in such texts as the Vinaya of the Mulasarvastivada school and the Therapadana of the Theravada, each being explained as the residue of a past misdeed. That scholiastic explanation seems to have been unacceptable to the masses of Buddhists of an age that virtually deified the founder in literature and art. The sutra makes a definitive response: those untoward events represent displays of karmic recompense contrived by the Buddha for the edification of others; they are instances of his skill in means. The same explanation applies to deeds he performed in the past, as a Bodhisattva, that appear to have given rise to that recompense. As the Brahman youth Jyotipala, for example, he refused to pay respect to the Buddha Kasyapa, instead saying sarcastically, "Where is the awakening in a shaven head?" this has been considered by scholars as the cause of severe austerities that he underwent, during his last lifetime, for six years prior to the great awakening. In actuality, Jyotipala behaved in that disrespectful way as part of a trick to convert five Brahman companions who are unknown to the earlier accounts.

To thus purify the Buddha of all apparent imperfection does not of itself make the text "greater vehicle". But its corollary, the doctrine of skill in means, becomes a guiding principle in the ethics of Bodhisattvas, or at least in those of high-stage Bodhisattvas (the Mahasattvas). Skill in means as a moral principle is established, in the important first part of the sutra, by a discourse on the perfections; it is then illustrated by past-life tales and by contemporaneous events. Ethics for the Bodhisattva, to put the matter briefly, is based upon the code for all monastics (the Vinaya), yet it is not circumscribed by it. Skill in means may supersede the monastic rule. The Buddha illustrates this supersession with the most shocking examples he can discover in his own past lives. Not only did he commit murder-he also broke celibacy.

Insofar as we can ascertain the historical development of Mahayana Buddhism, texts dealing with philosophy (prajna) emerge slightly earlier than those dealing with ethics. The philosophic sutras has been studied as they are extant in the Perfection of Wisdom, the Kasyapa Chapter, and other early scripture; they seek to recapture the mystic intuition of original Buddhism, as the new "wisdom" school sees it, from the scholastic analytics of the Abhidharma schools. The importance of philosophy is not to be diminished. Discourses upon the emptiness of all phenomena (which are found in the Skill in Means scripture as well) do not compare with developments in ethics, however, in making the new movement conspicuous. The picture of monks playing fast and loose in their relations with women is an integral part of the greater-vehicle paradigm to this day, as the other schools see it.

The concepts of perfect wisdom and skill in means are complementary and nearly co-arising in the early Mahayana; in later literature the tension between them drives the Bodhisattva career. So wisdom is the sixth perfection, while skill in means subsumes the initial five. From wisdom flows a technical vocabulary that has been explored by Conze, Lamotte and others. From skill in means derives a corresponding set of terms for the functions (the "bodies") of a Buddha, for "pure lands", and for the Bodhisattva stages.

Buddhists in India were distinguished as a community of religieux by adherence to the word of the Buddha as codified in sutra and in vinaya. The Skill in Means shows very clearly a function of early Mahayana sutras: to state principles in forceful and dogmatic terms, so as to rally the Buddhist community from a crisis of values, a crisis exemplified by arguments over the nature of the Buddha. They do not in fact succeed in converting the community as a whole. Rather, adherents to the Greater Vehicle come to constitute a vigorous minority.

About the Author:

Professor Mark Tatz holds a Ph.D. in Buddhist Studies from the University of British Columbia, and an M.A. in Asian Languages (Sanskrit and Tibetan) from the University of Washington. Resident in Berkeley, California, he teaches at the Institute of Buddhist Studies. He is the author of numerous books and articles, including Rebirth: The Tibetan Game of Liberation; and The Complete Bodhisattva Asanga's Chapter on Ethics with the Commentary by Tsong-kha-pa.

Contents

Introduction1
PART ONE
The Skill in Means of Boddhisattvas23
PART TWO
The Skill in Means of Sakyamuni51
PART THREE
The Ten Karmic Connections71
Notes to the Translation91
Bibliography and Abbreviations113
Index of Proper Names123
Index of Technical Terms125
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