Dharma - Merit - Meditation - Nectar - Liberation - Emptiness - Process - Awakening


in Buddhadharma

On Method

Contents  SiteMap of Philosophy SiteMap of Ancient Egyptian Sapience SiteMap

"May I be a protector for those without one,
A guide for all travellers on the way.
May I be a bridge, a boat and a ship
For all who wish to cross the water."
Śântideva  : A Guide to the Bodhisattva's Way of Life, 3:18


"Upâya" ("approach, arrival") is skill in means or method. In the Hînayâna, this skill is reflected in the multiple techniques introduced by the Buddha, and manifests in his ability to adapt the Dharma to all kinds of people. Their afflictive emotions, mental obscurations, delusions, superstitions & hallucinations call for a pluralist teaching, one able to guide a wide range of practitioners to Dharma. However, method became part of the "canon" only later.

First of all, "method" is skill in expounding the Dharma, teaching in tune with the capabilities, propensities & potentialities of practitioners, divided in lesser, middle & great. In the Mahâyâna, this gradual disclosure is also projected on the original teachings : Buddha Śâkyamuni started with the Hînayâna teachings, viewed as incomplete, and taught the complete Mahâyana, including Tantrayâna, only towards the end of his life (cf. the Four Turnings of the Wheel of Dharma).

Because of its intent to liberate others, method points to the ability of a Bodhisattva to guide beings, teaching them the way to accumulate what is necessary to enter "nirvâna", i.e. merit & wisdom. Using various coarse, subtle & very subtle skillful means, from straightforward talk, shock, to miracle displays, such an other-minded spiritual guide & healer is wholly dedicated to the awakening of all sentient beings. Although not yet enlightened, Great Bodhisattvas have formidable attainments exceeding the Hînayâna Arhat (Foe Destroyer) and "Pratyekabuddha" (Solitary Realizer).

Added later to the Six Perfections, "Upâya-kauśala-pâramitâ", "right method" or "means" is one of the four extra "pâramitâs" .

In the Great Perfection Vehicle, method is linked with "Bodhicitta", the "mind of enlightenment", both relative & ultimate. To generate this mind is the best method to quickly accumulate merit. In fact, the successfull generation of "Bodhicitta" will bring the Four Immeasurables into permanent play, culminating in compassion (and not in equanimity, as in the Lesser Vehicle). While love is the wish to make all sentient beings happy, compassion is the actual work done to realize this. Compassion is thus always & everywhere engaged, active & outgoing. It is the most efficient, functional method and generates excellent merit (cf. the Practice of the Wheel of Compassion).

In the Tantrayâna, method stands for the relative truth of the conventional world, i.e. all appearances imagined as a pure, Divine world with pure, Divine residents.  By way of interdependent determinations & conditions, one generates the imaginal (visualized) Deity-in-its-Mandala, touching the subtle & very subtle winds of the Vajra Body of the practitioner. This whole imaginal & intra-mental object is generated simultaneously with the wisdom realizing emptiness. Hence, to this vision of the "I" as the pure Deity-in-its-Mandala, no inherent, self-settled, essentialist, independent, substantial existence is attributed. Like all other phenomena, it too arises, abides & ceases under the sway of changing conditions ; it does not exist on its own. Deity Yoga grants the experience of oneself & one's environment as pure and of the nature of bliss. It is the supreme method of Tantra.

So in tantric thought, wisdom is the ultimate truth of "nirvâna" and method the conventional truth of "samsâra", while both arise together. Indeed, (ultimate) wisdom is the consciousness of that (conventional) bliss. Deity Yoga is the method allowing this simultaneity of emptiness & dependent-arising.

In Dzogchen, this duality of the "lower paths" is transcended. It does not involve the distinction between simultaneously rising bliss & wisdom, nor the whole graded path or "scala perfectionis" leading up to it. All existing phenomena are hic et nunc & a forteriori, a single, unbounded wholeness, namely the play or energy of our own authentic condition or clarity-nature of mind (the son), perpetually fused with the ground of all (the mother). Here, method refers to the ability of those who have attained this station-of-no-station to "point out" the original nature of mind ("rigpa") to others. Once directly discovered, one is aware of the mirror of the mind and not only of what appears in it, one focuses on the torch itself and not on the one holding it, nor on the objects lit up by it. Training in cutting-through to the nature of mind is like unveiling this inner Sun in all light or dark situation alike. Doing so, one gains confidence all energies spontaneously self-liberate.


© Wim van den Dungen
philo@sofiatopia.org l Acknowledgments l SiteMap l Bibliography

Mistakes are due to my own ignorance and not to the Buddhadharma.
May all who encounter the Dharma accumulate compassion & wisdom.
May sentient beings recognize their Buddha-nature and find true peace.



initiated : 29 XI 2008 - last update : 19 XII 2011 - version n°1