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Literal means and hidden meanings : a new analysis of skillful means

By Asaf Federman

Abstract

Skillful means is usually used by scholars and Buddhists to denote the following simple\ud idea: the Buddha skillfully adapted his teaching to the level of his audience.1\ud This very broad and somewhat oversimplified definition tries to incorporate the\ud whole range of Buddhist views on the subject. However, it does not help to explain\ud why there is an extensive use of the term in central Mahayana su tras while\ud pre-Mahayana texts are almost completely silent on this issue. I suggest that skillful\ud means has not always been an all-Buddhist concept; rather, it was developed by\ud Mahayanists as a radical hermeneutic device. As such, skillful means is a provocative\ud and sophisticated idea that served the purpose of advancing a new religious ideology\ud in the face of an already established canonical knowledge. The Mahayana use\ud of the concept exhibits an awareness, not found in pre-Mahayana thought, of a gap\ud between what texts literally say and their hidden meaning

Topics: BQ
Publisher: University of Hawaii Press
Year: 2009
OAI identifier: oai:wrap.warwick.ac.uk:3143

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