illustration (attribution, if any possible, is at the end of the article)
Who can justify their actions with skilful means?"
Skilful means are often introduced as if they contradicted precepts or vinaya rules, as if they basically allowed 'breaking' important and definitive rules. However…
The vinaya rules have appeared and evolved in response to circumstances, this is made explicit in their presentation. And in Buddhist traditions, we should understand that "conditions" matter. Rules are conditioned: they arose out of conditions and it would be pretty misguided to follow them blindly by not seeing how conditions in a new situation differ from the conditions when the rule was given. The difference might be seen as insignificant (rightly or wrongly) and the rule might be followed in spite of the difference; but surely we should at least 'consider' the conditions! There is little mindfulness in blindly following a rule, any rule, no matter how good the rule is…
The 'minor' vinaya rules are not the only conditioned teachings. The parajika rules (leading to the exclusion from the monastic community) —or the five precepts for laypeople— might appear pretty universal and generic but they are conditioned too! What are they conditioned by? Our weaknesses! The precepts are given to us to help us overcome our weaknesses. And when the weakness ceases, the corresponding precept becomes irrelevant. Nirvāṇa is unconditioned. One doesn't reach nirvāṇa while still being bound by rules. And a buddha is not bound by rules precisely because the common weakness is no longer a weakness of his! Nirvāṇa is the extinction of delusion i.e. of our most fundamental weakness, the one weakness most strongly leading to suffering…
Finally, properly-translated precepts are usually inviting us to avoid clinging to them as unconditioned rules! As an example, "refraining from lying" is quite different from "never ever lying"! The call to refrain oneself has two characteristics: a call to be mindful of one's intention, and a guidance, a compass to what frequently (not 'always') is the wholesome action. These two characteristics (mindfulness and direction) mirror insight and concentration, and one should remember that while concentration is a great tool to tame the mind and increase insight, insight is actually what gets us to nirvāṇa. Mindfulness —in the application of a rule (or a precept)— is key.
So to answer the original question, this is not about justifying oneself! Justifying oneself is feeding a delusion to look good when we know we acted in a suboptimal way (no necessarily bad, but at least not as good as it might have been). It is not about justifying, which is a mental story-making and will most likely be based purely on conventions (moral conventions are still 'only' conventions!). The skilful means are about responding appropriately, thanks to seeing how things truly are. The story-making of the justification (to oneself or to others) is not the 'response', it only is a delusion and a response to the social consequences of the initial response.
#buddhistcircle #Dharma #Buddhism
[image: "A typical response-override situation. In this figure, a stimulus is associated with two responses, one of which is stronger (prepotent rule), and the other of which is weaker (indicated by the dotted line). Response override occurs whenever one needs to either select the weaker, but more contextually appropriate skilful response, or to simply stop the prepotent response from occurring. Inhibitory control is thought to achieve response override by suppressing activation of the prepotent response." from http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0001691807001394 ]
How does one know what is contextually more appropriate? "Seeing things as they truly are!"