In my opinion, the doctrine of upaya is easily one of the greatest aspects of Buddhism.

To quote wikipedia: "Upaya-kaushalya is a concept which emphasizes that practitioners may use their own specific methods or techniques in order to cease suffering and introduce others to the dharma. The implication is that even if a technique, view, etc., is not ultimately "true" in the highest sense, it may still be an expedient practice to perform or view to hold; i.e., it may bring the practitioner closer to true realization anyway."

This concept is ingenious. It no doubt has helped Buddhism survive throughout the ages as it spread to different regions and cultures because it allows for individuals to customize the Dharma to fit their own experience.

This is why there are disagreements between different sects of Buddhism, which is analogous to the hypocritical nature of humans. No person is perfect...no religion or philosophy is perfect...however upaya says that it is ok to be imperfect, and that our imperfections are in fact perfect because they are reality.

The Buddha said that there are infinite ways to nirvana...so the next time you judge someone else remember that what is right for you is not right for everyone.

This is hard to adjust to but I'm trying my best to live it each day.


gene said...

Interesting... can you give an example of how you apply this?

max said...

Well Buddhism has applied it in many ways throughout history...for example the Buddha said not to worship him or depictions of him, yet many Buddhists do exactly that. This contradiction is seen as acceptable because if it weren't for these images of Buddha, thousands of people would not have found the Dharma.

Personally, I try to apply this as doing my best not to judge others or their decisions. Everyone has their own path in life. Just because Buddhism seems right for me right now, does not mean it is right for everyone else.

gene said...

Thanks for the great explanation. I had never heard of it before, but upaya sounds like an important aspect of Buddhism, especially as it spread throughout Asia.

gene said...

I was listening to a buddhist podcast and heard a zen practitioner mention upaya, and I thought I'd share it. He said it really fast, and if I hadn't already known about upaya (from this post) I would have ignored it as unimportant.

The context was a discussion on how traditionally Zen monks (at least in this particular school) where discouraged from bringing personal issues to their meditation and koan studies. However, this speaker was saying that when that school of zen moved to America, they found it very important for practitioners to use problems and challenges in their private lives as "koan practice", and that this was an example of upaya.

max said...

Thanks for sharing. I am constantly noting new things around me and making a conscious effort to be more respectful of other people's views since I have heard about upaya.

I forgot where I read it but just the other day I read something where a Buddhist suggested that all other faiths (Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, etc) are simply different manifestations and interpretations of the Dharma.

Thinking about it in this way has really helped me to become a more accepting person, because I previously was very anti-religion. Despite the major shortcomings of each religion, they all do offer something positive to the individual practitioner, and in the end that is what really matters.