Gaia is the word for "unity-of-life-processes". The experiment here is to unify the various threads of voice and sense of self together into an undivided unity. Spirituality, economics, politics, science and ordinary life interleaved.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Skillful Means, aka 'upaya', a compedium

This posting is the foundation for chapter five of my book on Excellence, on Buddhist teaching genius and its enormous impact on the world.

Skillful means is simply the practice in buddhism of pitching teachings to the level of your audience. It is significant however because in Buddhism everything one dues is a skillmean means, with the audience being yourself. The buddha's birth and teaching was a skillful means. Making your bed is a skillful means, depending how you do it. So the idea describes a whole attitude to living which is flexibile and easygoing and willing to adapt, as well as devoted, integrous and clever. The sankrit word for skillful means is UPAYA, which in Sinhalese these days means tricks. The tibetan word is 'thabs', means.

Overall the expansive definition of the word is any technique or trick that brings a person to enlightenment.

In worldly terms, skillful means is about improving character. The three steps and four tools of this practical form of upaya are as follows. The three steps are: Being that which you value, Seeing a clear mental image of how that value looks in the world, and Doing what increases your alignment with that which you value. Be-See-Do. The four tools are: Concentration, Strength, Stamina and Flexibility, which are values inherent in the achievement of excellence.

In religious (as opposed to spiritual) terms, the idea of skillful means is used to establish consensus: students will be taught the skillful means of cooperating and harmonizing with one another.

In spiritual terms, skillful means are spiritual principles. In Christian Science there is prayer, in Catholic Mysticism there is orthopraxis, lex divina, confession, and caritas. In Recovery there are 12 Steps. Acting on these things alters consciousness, which of course is the whole point of their existence.

In Buddhist metaphysics, skillful means involves observing the illusion of the material world for what it is for those who believe it to be real, and then using the observer's body-mind, the students, and all available material resources, to alchemically produce a spiritual result in the material world. The following verse describes it well:

Therefore, the skillful person
is the teacher of those who are less competent;
and those who are less competent
are the raw material of the skillful person.
Not to treasure one’s teacher, and not to treasure one’s resources,
even if we are clever, will lead us far astray.
This is called the subtle essence of the mystery.

This marvellous poem and the teaching which I will quote afterwards come from, and I include it because it captures perfectly the contribution of upaya to human excellence. Upaya is the essence of freedom: the freedom to learn and to teach.

"People who Need People versus People who Control People:
The roles of teacher and student are fluid and flexible. We need each other for the feedback, the interface, the back and forth. The teacher who knows her own shortcomings and who does not have to come off as being perfect, is a good teacher.

Any relationship of control and submission is perverted. Those bonds can be made of steel, money, violent or devious emotions. Under these circumstances, we are not free.

The true gift is freely given, with no strings attached. The bolts and ropes that we put on our relationships are artificial means to secure what can only be freely given.

“Closing without a bolt” is like closing a deal on a hand shake and with good will, not needing the lock and bolt of a legal contract.
Similarly, the ties that bind a relationship are best when they are voluntary decisions between free people rather than the legal bindings of marriage contracts, etc.


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