Truth, Deception, and Skillful Means in the Lotus Sutra

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Abstract:

This article seeks to broaden contemporary scholarship on the Lotus Sutra by arguing that it is a philosophically critical, self-reflective text struggling with problems of truth in Buddhist discourse. While all Lotus Sutra scholars agree that the doctrine of skillful means is a central teaching in the text, there is a common tendency to frame skillful means as a passive vehicle (or 'means') for expressing truth rather than an active philosophical critique of truth. This article argues that the Lotus Sutra uses skillful means as a distinct form of criticism within a larger debate over the nature and efficacy of Buddhist practice, and that it raises important issues about truth that are shared by other important Buddhist thinkers and texts such as Nagarjuna, Lin-chi and the Vimalakīrtinirdeśa. It analyzes key passages and parables without reducing the ethical teachings of the Lotus Sutra to simplistic versions of utilitarianism, paternalism, or relativism, and without dissolving the critical elements that make the Lotus Sutra a genuinely philosophically interesting text.

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/09552367.2011.537442

Publication date: February 1, 2011

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