According to the article An Explanation of Upaya in Buddhism by Barbara O'Brien:
Mahayana Buddhists often use the word upaya, which is translated "skillful means" or "expedient means." Very simply, upaya is any activity that helps others realize enlightenment. Sometimes upaya is spelled upaya-kausalya, which is "skill in means."
Upaya can be unconventional; something not normally associated with Buddhist doctrine or practice. The most important points are that the action is applied with wisdom and compassion and that it is appropriate in its time and place. .....
In Theravada Buddhism, upaya refers to the Buddha's skill in shaping his teaching to be appropriate to his audience—simple doctrines and parables for beginners; more advanced teaching for senior students. Mahayana Buddhists see the historical Buddha's teachings as provisional, preparing the ground for the later Mahayana teachings (see "Three Turnings of the Dharma Wheel").
According to some sources just about anything is allowable as upaya, including breaking the Precepts. Zen history is full of accounts of monks realizing enlightenment after being struck or shouted at by a teacher. In one famous story, a monk realized enlightenment when his teacher slammed a door on his leg and broke it.
Obviously, this no-holds-barred approach potentially could be abused.
Upaya or "skillful means" is a popular concept in Mahayana Buddhism. When the Buddha tells one thing to one audience and another thing to another audience, based on their specific needs, this is considered upaya.
It might be the case that the teaching to one audience is completely the opposite to the teaching to the other audience in Mahayana Buddhism.
In certain Mahayana traditions, the teacher may even break the precepts (for example, drinking alcohol), or shout at or hit the disciples, as part of the skillful means (upaya) to teach them.
- Does this exist in Theravada Buddhism?
- Please provide examples of upaya from the Pali Canon.
- From the Pali Canon or Theravada Buddhism, would the Buddha even tell completely opposite things to different audiences?
- From the Pali Canon or Theravada Buddhism, could the Buddha break his own rules, or even do things like shouting or hitting in order to teach his disciples?