How does upaya (skillful means) feature in Tibetan Buddhism?

I'm just intrigued, because the texts I've spent longer trying to 'get' seem to be more inspired by the lotus sutra.

2 Answers 2


We say that contaminated virtue perpetuates samsara. The intention mental factor in the retinue of contaminated virtue is a contaminated mental karma that gives rise to suffering in the aspect of pleasant feelings (suffering of change). An example of contaminated virtue is the virtuous intention to give - generosity - in the continuum of an ordinary being. An example of uncontaminated virtue, however, is the mind of generosity conjoined with a wisdom of emptiness.

Here, when generosity is conjoined with both the wisdom of emptiness and bodhicitta, it is a skillful means because it is a uncontaminated virtue in the continuum of a being that never forsakes the welfare of others. So, every virtue in the continuum of an arya bodhisattva is a skillful means, since it is conjoined with both wisdom and bodhicitta.

In the Ornament of Clear Realization, Maitreya/Asanga say:

The mind generation [i.e. bodhicitta] possessing skillful means, as the subject, is like a virtuous spiritual friend because by way of the four immeasurables, the method for not rejecting sentient beings, it never forsakes the welfare of sentient beings.

In his Commentary on Seventy Topics and Ornament for Clear Realizations by Geshe Jampa Gyatso:

“Skillful means” refers to the fact that a bodhisattva with this mind generation is able to transform every single virtue into a cause for enlightenment. A virtuous spiritual friend is one who guides sentient beings on the spiritual path; in particular, one who is fully qualified is able to guide his disciples appropriately. “Not rejecting sentient beings” refers to not rejecting even one sentient being which if done would create negative karma and break both the bodhisattva and tantra vows.


Tenzin's was a very Gelugpa answer. Correct and itself an example of upaya but hard to see the forest behind the trees. In Nyingma/Kagyu tradition we are not as sophisticated and a lot more straightforward. Maybe because Eastern Tibet is far from the capital?

See my answer to this question. This is a typical example of skillful means in TB, leading from imitative and conceptual to actual experiential realization. Because the stress is always on real life realization, we don't create nearly as elaborate narrative forms as Gelugpas.

Leaving aside empowerments, yidam practice and the six yogas of Naropa, the favorite subjects of discourse in ETB are emptiness, suchness, and the nature of mind. In contrast to that, my teachers always pushed beyond discourse and into real life practice, ensuring good karma through non-attachment to concepts, ideals, and expectations, restoring basic sanity by cutting through bullshit, and leaving it up to personal intuition to connect the dots and attain real-life mastery.

In addition to all of that, Nyingma ngakpas have an entirely unique set of means collectively known as drupton nyönpa or drubnyon that uses strong language and nonconventional behavior to break through student's ego fixation, something I feel I have personal predilection for, but which obviously cannot be practiced in the format of this site.


You must log in to answer this question.