Ethical Implications of Upāya-Kauśalya

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 22, 2015

Ethical Implications of Upāya-Kauśalya: Helping Without Imposing

Kin Cheung
Temple University

Upāya-kauśalya has been examined as a hermeneutical device, a Mahāyānic innovation, and a philosophy of practice. Although the paternalism of upāya-kauśalya employed in the Lotus Sūtra has been analyzed, there is little attention paid to bringing these ethical implications into a practical context. There is a tension between the motivation, even obligation, to help, and the potential dangers of projecting or imposing one’s conception of what is best for others or how best to help. I examine this issue through various parables. I argue that ordinary people can use upāya-kauśalya and that the ethical implications of upāya-kauśalya involve closing two different gaps in knowledge. This has potential applications not just for individuals, but also for organizations like NPOs or NGOs that try to assist large communities.

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