‘Skillful Means’ And Unskillful Listening


The layered term Upakausalya is effectively translated into English as ‘Skillful Means’, a term applied to the methods of a Teacher. To render Upakausalya is to speak at the speed of listening of the listener.

As one early text defines it: ‘As a learned grammarian would even teach the alphabet to a beginner’. Pedagogic expediency with eyes wide open.

But there is a big difference between using a Name in an act of ‘Skillful Means’ and applying one that emerged in a short-stopped denouement. A difference of night and day.

There is a serious risk that ‘Skillful Means’ ends up being very unskillful. With the wrong teacher or a misjudged audience, it can quickly take on a life of its own.

And Skillful Means has its counterpart in the the listening audience, one of a very unskillful listening.

Over the years I have witnessed impenetrable drivel spewing forth from an ambitious Guru being treated as deep teaching meant only for the ear of the ready devotee. Every stupid act of the Teacher is turned around to mean something profound and necessarily cryptic. 

Skillful Means is only meant to come half-way. You have to reach out to get it.

I’d read Dr. Evans-Wentz’ translation: ‘The Tibetan Book of the Dead’ [Oxford, 1927] as a young man. The newest co-authored translation by a Sogyal Rinpoche [1992] became something of a celebrity text. Here’s an update on the great man. I happened to stumble upon it while writing up this page.


The week after, the New York Times did an expose on the Shambala Guru-King. A delayed comeuppance. [At this rate, the Catholic Church and its Gay predatory priests might see some relief from the Media and postpone bankruptcy.] Read it and weep.

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