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An abundance of "expedient means"
May 1st, 2017

illustration (attribution, if any possible, is at the end of the article)

An abundance of "expedient means"

Once a butcher came to the Buddha, as he wanted to practice the Dharma… but he had family obligations, and his profession was in direct contradiction with what's usually defined as "right livelihood"… Even for a lay practitioner, this seemed pretty problematic!

And the Buddha said « No problem: simply start with a vow not to kill between sundown and sunrise… »
Now, that might seem as a less-than-demanding vow —"do not kill while you're asleep at night"?— but one has to start somewhere ( And maybe it's not so obvious anyway, if some beasts regularly come near your house and you already have to overcome defensiveness not to automatically react with violence… Overcoming fear and violent defensiveness are big steps on the path!

There's an abundance of "expedient means", and it's better to seek how to integrate people into the saṅgha than to reject them based on righteous divisive views. This is the opposite of falling into "there is only one path to nirvāṇa" ( or, worse, "my way is the only way".

Splitting the saṅgha is a major offence in Buddhism, and this takes a wider meaning that splitting a monastic community…
If life is your teacher (, if your enemy is your teacher (, if bumping into hard stones teaches you something about your expectations —that life should comply to your wishes ( — then the saṅgha is everything and everyone… and "not splitting the saṅgha" then comes down to actually realising inter-dependence, and supporting all sentient beings around you…

Now, on paper, most people reading this might 'agree'… And yet how do they manifest it, when it comes to listening to Republicans in the US or to voters for the Front National in France? In the example above, the Buddha did not cling to his 'usual' advice (fit for most lay people, but not necessarily a one-size-fits-all answer!), he listened to the constraints and circumstances the butcher was describing. First, he just listened ( Then, and only then, he could creatively engage and propose a well-informed way forward. He didn't say "you should follow the Dharma appropriate for others", but he proposed a Dharma appropriate for this butcher, in his present situation!

Now, this is tough to do, and we're not perfect buddhas… but the attitude matters, intentions matter, so this is our opportunity, and a practice: to seek how to constructively interact with all, not just with those who agree with us or share dear views. And even if, at times, we might have to acknowledge we don't see a way to do so, then the practice of looking for ways, again and again, moment after moment (because conditions keep changing, and maybe there was no way one second ago but now there is!) will help us relinquish some views, some prejudices, some biases. The Buddha didn't say to the butcher « as long as you don't fit into this little box of requirements, I won't care about you. »

photo: a bronze Buddha from Korea.