Truth, Deception, and Skillful Means in the Lotus Sūtra

Asian Philosophy 21 (1):35-52 (2011)
Abstract
This article seeks to broaden contemporary scholarship on the Lotus S?tra by arguing that it is a philosophically critical, self-reflective text struggling with problems of truth in Buddhist discourse. While all Lotus S?tra 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 S?tra 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 N?g?rjuna, Lin-chi and the Vimalak?rtinirde?a. It analyzes key passages and parables without reducing the ethical teachings of the Lotus S?tra to simplistic versions of utilitarianism, paternalism, or relativism, and without dissolving the critical elements that make the Lotus S?tra a genuinely philosophically interesting text
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