1

Is it possible for a person to gain liberation while simultaneously practicing unskillful means?

Is it possible for a person to understand profound universal truths while simultaneously practicing unskillful means?

Are skillful means in accordance with profound universal truths?

Are profound universal truths in accordance with skillful means?

An example of a skillful means is acknowledging the conventional truth of rebirth in cyclic existence.

An example of a profound universal truth is that the Buddha was not to be regarded as a real and genuine fact as was taught to Anurādha.

An example of unskillful means is the denial of conventional rebirth and the fruits of karma.

An example of a profound universal falsify is to understand the Buddha as a real and genuine fact.

Another example of a profound universal falsity is to believe like Yamaka that, “As I understand the Dhamma taught by the Blessed One, a bhikkhu whose taints are destroyed is annihilated and perishes with the breakup of the body and does not exist after death.”

Various traditions divide the above conventions into a dichotomy. The labels that are used and the understanding of that dichotomy is different from tradition to tradition. In Theravada, I have seen the dichotomy variously described as right views of two types including, without vs with effluents, definitive vs interpretable, supramundane vs mundane, and in commentarial literature ultimate vs conventional. In Mahayana, the dichotomy is labeled in similar ways but also absolute/ultimate/universal vs conventional/relative/dependent.

0
1

An example of unskillful means is the denial of conventional rebirth and the fruits of karma.

  • Is liberation possible for those practicing unskillful means?

This sutta basically says that if a person rejects rebirth then he is going to a bad rebirth.

A1. "Now, householders, of those contemplatives & brahmans who hold this doctrine, hold this view — 'There is no this world, no next world

[...]

if there is the next world, then this venerable person — on the breakup of the body, after death — will reappear in a plane of deprivation, a bad destination, a lower realm, hell. https://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/mn/mn.060.than.html

Whether they can still develop good qualities, i think of course and they will rehabilitate faster if they do.

As i understand the Dhamma beings are for the most part reborn in hell and just occasionally gain a favorable rebirth. By rehabilitation i meant undergoing immense suffering until they are broken by it as to their fixation in wrong views and they become born as more open minded, so i meant that beings are not only rehabilitated in this life but also in the future and their good development will to an extent mitigate bad consequences.

2
  • Do you think they can rehabilitate while still clinging to a denial of rebirth? This is great btw. Jul 6 at 12:56
  • As i understand the Dhamma beings are for the most part reborn in hell and just occasionally gain a favorable rebirth. By rehabilitation i meant undergoing immense suffering until they are broken by it as to their fixation in wrong views and they become born as more open minded, so i meant that beings are not only rehabilitated in this life but also in the future and their good development will to an extent mitigate bad consequences.
    – user8527
    Jul 6 at 14:34
1

no, liberation and right view occur simultaneously the way access concentration/shamata occurs along with the cessation of desire for sense objects ie. food and sex

worth noting that incomplete right view is different than wrong view. wrong view is complete detachment from reality and instead operating within an illusion of knowledge that it is mistaken as reality eg. physicalists who deny rebirth thru holding the nonempirical metaphysics of a physically mechanistic universe

3
  • From this I understand you to be saying that skillful means of acknowledging the conventional truth of rebirth is in accordance with profound truths and that unskillful means of denying conventional rebirth is not in accordance, right? Jul 5 at 14:55
  • @Yeshe Tenley mere acknowledgement is trivial and anything on that level will change like the wind. i was talking more about actual conventional reality and the realization of it which brings about nirvana not mere acknowledgement which has nothing to do with nirvana by definition. maybe im just getting distracted by the unfamiliar words
    – bw tho
    Jul 5 at 23:14
  • Yeah, acknowledging is just the antonym of denying. Despite the strange words I think I understand you :) Jul 5 at 23:49
1

What you call "conventional right view" is just skillful means to help one adopt a skillful or wholesome mindset. It's just a helpful tool. The following is an example.

“This noble disciple reflects thus: ‘I am not the only one who is the owner of one’s kamma, the heir of one’s kamma; who has kamma as one’s origin, kamma as one’s relative, kamma as one’s resort; who will be the heir of whatever kamma, good or bad, that one does. All beings that come and go, that pass away and undergo rebirth (upapatti), are owners of their kamma, heirs of their kamma; all have kamma as their origin, kamma as their relative, kamma as their resort; all will be heirs of whatever kamma, good or bad, that they do.’ As he often reflects on this theme, the path is generated. He pursues this path, develops it, and cultivates it. As he does so, the fetters are entirely abandoned and the underlying tendencies are uprooted.
AN 5.57

What you call "profound right view" are universal truths. Whether anyone is there to know them or not, they remain true.

“Mendicants, whether Realized Ones arise or not, this law of nature persists, this regularity of natural principles, this invariance of natural principles: all conditions are impermanent. A Realized One understands this and comprehends it, then he explains, teaches, asserts, establishes, clarifies, analyzes, and reveals it: ‘All conditions are impermanent.’

Whether Realized Ones arise or not, this law of nature persists, this regularity of natural principles, this invariance of natural principles: all conditions are suffering. A Realized One understands this and comprehends it, then he explains, teaches, asserts, establishes, clarifies, analyzes, and reveals it: ‘All conditions are suffering.’

Whether Realized Ones arise or not, this law of nature persists, this regularity of natural principles, this invariance of natural principles: all things are not-self. A Realized One understands this and comprehends it, then he explains, teaches, asserts, establishes, clarifies, analyzes, and reveals it: ‘All things are not-self.’”
AN 3.136

What about the fully enlightened ones? What views do they hold?

The answer is that they have let go of all views.

"A person who associates himself with certain views, considering them as best and making them supreme in the world, he says, because of that, that all other views are inferior; therefore he is not free from contention (with others). In what is seen, heard, cognized and in ritual observances performed, he sees a profit for himself. Just by laying hold of that view he regards every other view as worthless. Those skilled (in judgment) (i.e. the Buddhas and their disciples who have realized the goal). say that (a view becomes) a bond if, relying on it, one regards everything else as inferior.

Therefore a bhikkhu should not depend on what is seen, heard or cognized, nor upon ritual observances. He should not present himself as equal to, nor imagine himself to be inferior, nor better than, another. Abandoning (the views) he had (previously) held and not taking up (another), he does not seek a support even in knowledge. Among those who dispute he is certainly not one to take sides.

He does not [have] recourse to a view at all. In whom there is no inclination to either extreme, for becoming or non-becoming, here or in another existence, for him there does not exist a fixed viewpoint on investigating the doctrines assumed (by others). Concerning the seen, the heard and the cognized he does not form the least notion.

That brahman (i.e. a perfected one) who does not grasp at a view, with what could he be identified in the world?

"They do not speculate nor pursue (any notion); doctrines are not accepted by them. A (true) brahmana is beyond, does not fall back on views."
Snp 4.5


I have asked your questions in a different way before. I asked: Why the view “I am the owner of my karma” not contradict anatta?

The best answer for this question, by Sankha Kulathantille, has answered it very well.

Anatta is at the level of ultimate reality. That is for advanced practitioners of Buddhism. Trying to teach Anatta to everyone regardless of their mental maturity will not be productive as many will end up being more confused than they already are. That's why there are teachings in Buddhism that help you develop the mind at a conceptual level where you are familiar and comfortable. It is important not to mix up these teachings with the teachings of ultimate reality.

That means views like "I am the owner of my karma" and rebirth are simply used as skillful means, as crutches to help one who hasn't overcome the fetter of self-view (sakkaya ditthi) and who hasn't understood anatta yet.

6
  • Hi Ruben, while this is interesting it is not really answering the questions is it? The questions are pretty straightforward I think… Jul 5 at 9:07
  • I’ve edited the questions to use your conventions… does that make it easier to answer? Jul 5 at 9:37
  • @YesheTenley I have updated the answer. I hope it's clear now.
    – ruben2020
    Jul 5 at 12:41
  • Sorry, I still don’t know whether or not you think unskillful means can lead to liberation or whether skillful means are in accordance with profound truths or not… perhaps you think unskillful means can be skillful for some or that skillful means can be unskillful for some? Jul 5 at 14:50
  • 1
    @YesheTenley I've added a second answer. I think that will be a more accurate answer to your question
    – ruben2020
    Jul 5 at 20:06
0

There are several times in the Sutta where Sariputta or Ananda would say wrong things and be corrected.

Iirc,

Once when Ananda said that this Dhamma is clear as clear can be and Buddha told him not to say that because the Dhamma that is taught is difficult to see as is dependent origination.

Another occasion was when Sariputta said that the Buddha Gotama was foremost of all and Buddha told him not to say that because he doesn't know the past Buddhas.

I recall another instance where he said something akin to a dispute about vinaya being a trifling matter whereas if monks were to be in a disagreement about path & fruition it would be detrimental to many beings.

Buddha often talked about pernicious views as those that lead to hell and said that the foremost wrong view is that 'maybe it is true and maybe it is otherwise' one does not come to a definite conclusion 'only this is true & everything else is false', his statement 'this is my conviction' safeguards the truth either way.

Being fixated in wrong view like annihilation of an existent being or an eternal persistence of a personal element are among the worst kind of wrong views it seems

5
  • Ananda wasn't an arahant right, until later. Might you happen to be able to add a reference for the second-last paragraph, about the "foremost wrong view"?
    – ChrisW
    Jul 5 at 5:05
  • I couldn't find it but i am sure it exists, the point was that the foremost wrong view was the better wrong view to hold. Canki Sutta also supports this explaining how one safeguards the truth.
    – user8527
    Jul 5 at 10:37
  • Id ask around for a reference but i don't use other boards
    – user8527
    Jul 5 at 22:38
  • @Letsbuddhism: I wonder if you are thinking of MN 74 "To Longnails"? accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/mn/mn.074.than.html Jul 6 at 1:34
  • no, i looked long and hard but couldn't find it. I think i probably got it confused with inference of the canki sutta which pretty much the same thing if one thinks about it. There is another discourse comparing holding the body to be a self to be better than taking mind to be a self because the former lasts for a short time. I think maybe i mixed the two discourses and inferred that not being fixated is the foremost.
    – user8527
    Jul 6 at 7:10
0

TL;DR

Denying rebirth view while clinging to self view is wrong view, because this is annihilationism and brings the unenlightened to hedonism.

Denying rebirth view after discarding self view is the noble right view.

Rebirth view can be used as skillful means (upaya) to remove the habit of misconduct, cultivate virtue and generate the path to liberation. Rebirth view is the middle way and is the right view with effluents/ taints.

Please also see this answer.

Long answer

It appears that the most accurate answer to your question is found in MN 117.

Denying rebirth, while holding self-view, appears to be wrong view. This is unskillful means because it directs the mind of the unenlightened towards hedonism and nihilism.

Rebirth appears to be part of the right view with effluents/ taints. That makes sense because rebirth is only skillful means according to AN 5.57. It's not absolute truth. It's just a tool to inspire one towards liberation.

The noble right view appears to be concerned with the ultimate truth. When self-view is discarded, rebirth view will be discarded too.

I think this is excellent because it finally tells us what rebirth really is in Buddhism. It's not falsehood. It's not truth. It's just a helpful tool. A middle way between falsehood and truth. The rebirth puzzle is solved.

"Of those, right view is the forerunner. And how is right view the forerunner? One discerns wrong view as wrong view, and right view as right view. This is one's right view.

And what is wrong view? 'There is nothing given, nothing offered, nothing sacrificed. There is no fruit or result of good or bad actions. There is no this world, no next world, no mother, no father, no spontaneously reborn beings; no contemplatives or brahmans who, faring rightly & practicing rightly, proclaim this world & the next after having directly known & realized it for themselves.' This is wrong view.

"And what is right view? Right view, I tell you, is of two sorts: There is right view with effluents, siding with merit, resulting in acquisitions [of becoming]; there is right view that is noble, without effluents, transcendent, a factor of the path.

"And what is the right view with effluents, siding with merit, resulting in acquisitions? 'There is what is given, what is offered, what is sacrificed. There are fruits & results of good & bad actions. There is this world & the next world. There is mother & father. There are spontaneously reborn beings; there are contemplatives & brahmans who, faring rightly & practicing rightly, proclaim this world & the next after having directly known & realized it for themselves.' This is the right view with effluents, siding with merit, resulting in acquisitions.

"And what is the right view that is noble, without effluents, transcendent, a factor of the path? The discernment, the faculty of discernment, the strength of discernment, analysis of qualities as a factor for awakening, the path factor of right view in one developing the noble path whose mind is noble, whose mind is without effluents, who is fully possessed of the noble path. This is the right view that is noble, without effluents, transcendent, a factor of the path.
MN 117

21
  • This is much better and I am getting an idea of your answer! Thank you. I have a few uncertainties with your answer though… do you regard right action also as skillfull means? And the fruits of right action are also skillful means? In that same sutta it describes refraining from killing as right action with effluents. So is “refraining from killing” like rebirth as you described? Not true, not false, just a skillful means? And karma? Is that also: “not true, not falsehood, etc” Jul 5 at 21:38
  • And I still don’t know whether you think it possible to achieve liberation while holding wrong views or practicing unskillful means… can someone achieve liberation while denying rebirth or denying right action eg., killing living beings? Jul 5 at 21:39
  • Are skillful means or "right view with effluents" in accordance with profound truths or "right view without effluents? Vice versa? Are skillful means for some unskillful for others? Jul 5 at 22:22
  • the buddha defines right view with effluents as right view but ok sure, its discarded by right view without effluents, cos that is a logical and coherent thought that obviously validly follows after the others
    – bw tho
    Jul 5 at 23:41
  • 1
    I'd note that the problem with right action with taints is the reason for the behavior: it's doing things for reasons involving the self -- to get a good rebirth (that's the "siding with merit" part). Also note that in the descriptions, the higher "right anything" is listed as being a factor of the path, whereas the tainted "right anything" is not. Jul 6 at 1:45

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.