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Skillful Means

I HEAR TELL:[1]

One time Bhaggava picked up a few grains of sand on the tip of his nail.

"Which is more," Beggars, he says, "The few grains of sand I have picked up on the end of my nail or the sands on the banks of this great Ganges River?"

"Of course," Bhante, "those grains of sand on the banks of the Ganges river are the more; insignificant by comparison, are the few grains of sand on the tip of the Lucky Man's nail."

"In the same way, Beggars, insignificant by comparison are those who meet up with Dhamma compared to those who do not meet up with Dhamma.

In the same way, Beggars, insignificant by comparison are those who meeting up with Dhamma actually pay attention and listen compared with those who meeting up with Dhamma do not pay attention and listen.

In the same way, Beggars, insignificant by comparison are those who meeting up with Dhamma actually pay attention and listen and remember what they hear, compared with those who do not.

In the same way, Beggars, insignificant by comparison are those who meeting up with Dhamma, actually paying attention and listening and remembering what they hear, meditate on what they have remembered compared with those who do not.

In the same way, Beggars, insignificant by comparison are those who meeting up with Dhamma, actually paying attention and listening and remembering what they hear, meditating on what they have remembered, test the meaning of what they have meditated on, compared with those who do not.

In the same way, Beggars, insignificant by comparison are those who meeting up with Dhamma, actually paying attention and listening and remembering what they hear, meditating on what they have remembered, testing the meaning of what they have meditated on, analyze the results of what they have tested, compared with those who do not.

In the same way, Beggars, insignificant by comparison are those who meeting up with Dhamma, actually paying attention and listening and remembering what they hear, meditating on what they have remembered, testing the meaning of what they have meditated on, analyzing the results of what they have tested, follow the conclusions of their analysis, compared with those who do not.

In the same way, Beggars, insignificant by comparison are those who meeting up with Dhamma, actually paying attention and listening and remembering what they hear, meditating on what they have remembered, testing the meaning of what they have meditated on, analyzing the results of what they have tested, following the conclusions of their analysis, continue on this way until they reach the final goal compared to those who do not.

One time, Beggars, there were these two friends who set out along life's path together. One, clever, intelligent, wise, quick witted, the other a tad on the dull side.

So as these two were wandering along the way, they came to an empty village and beside it a field of hemp in bloom.

So then the one says to the other: "Look, Friend, we are in luck! Here is an empty village and beside it a field of hemp in bloom. How about we venture into that field and gathering as much as we can carry on our heads we go on our way?"

And that is what they did.

Then, after a time, a little further along that way, they came across another empty village, and a there a huge heap of split hemp strings (sutta). So then the one friend says to the other: "Look, Friend, we are in even greater luck! here is a huge heap of split hemp strings! Now isn't that just the reason we took on these huge loads of hemp on our heads? How about we dump our loads of hemp in bloom and taking up as much of these split hempen strings as we can pile on our heads be on our way?"

But while the one just said that he was content with his load of hemp in bloom, the other dumped his load of hemp in bloom and took up a huge load of hempen strings. And then they were on their way.

And then, a little further down the path they came across another empty village, and there they found a huge pile of hempen cloth. And again the one says to the other: "Why friend! Isn't this just the purpose of all this hempen string? Let us dump our loads and taking up as much of this hempen cloth as we can carry on top of our heads be on our way. When we reach the city we will sell our wares and indulge in the pleasures of the senses!

But again the one stuck with his hemp in bloom while the second switched his load.

And this happened once again with a pile of hempen garments, and then the two came to the city and there the one sold his hempen garments for pieces of gold and said to the other: "Come friend! I have sold my heap of hempen garments for a few pieces of gold...let us go find some dope and get high!"

Why don't we...

Well, there came a time, after a while, when these two set out once more on their path through life, and as these two went along they came to a deserted village and a huge heap of dried dung. There the one says to the other: "Friend! Let us gather up as much of this dried dung as we can carry on our heads and making our way to the city we will sell this dried dung and make our living!" And so the two piled up as much of that dried dung as they could carry on their heads and went on their way.

And then, after a while, as they went along that path they came to another deserted village and there they came across a huge pile of scrap metal. Then the one says to the other: "Look, Friend, we are in luck! This scrap metal is more valuable than this dried dung we have collected. How about if we dump this dried dung and take up as much of this scrap metal as we can carry on our heads and making our way to the city we will sell this scrap metal and make our living!"

But the other says: "Oh no you don't! Once Burn't Twice Wise! Ain't fall'n for non-a that! Fool me once shame on you, fool me twice shame on me! I'll stick with me load of dung, thankchu varra mucha, yasa sa! I've done a lot of work to get this pile of dung balanced just right on my head, I'll just stick with things the way they are."

So then the one says to the other: "Very well, friend," but I will dump this pile of dung and take up as much of this scrap metal as I can carry on my head and making our way to the city we will sell our wares and make our living and enjoy the pleasures of the senses we can afford."

Then, after a time, somewhat further along that path they came to another deserted village and there they came across a huge pile of copper wire. And the one says to the other: "Friend! This copper wire is more valuable than this scrap metal or that dung we have collected. How about if we dump our loads and take up as much of this copper wire as we can carry on our heads and making our way to the city we will sell this copper wire and make our living and enjoy the pleasures of the senses!"

But again the one protested that he was comfortable with his old load, and so it was only the other who exchanged his old load for the new.

And again, a while later they came across a pile of brass ingots and again the one held on to his old load while the other exchanged his.

And this happened again also with a heap of silver and again with a heap of gold and then, as these two beggars were approaching the gates of the city. . . it rained."

In the same way, Beggars, insignificant by comparison are those who meet up with Dhamma, pay attention and listen, remember what they hear, meditate on what they remember, test the meaning of what they have meditated on, analyze the results of what they have tested, follow the conclusions of their analysis, and continue on this way until they reach the final goal, greater in number are those who don't.

 


 

This is the meaning of skillful means, and the purpose of paying attention: that one takes each up-coming event at its worth, neither neglecting one's previous knowledge or the reality facing one, nor assuming that because of superficial similarities all is as before, but judging each case as it comes up on it's merits according to one's understanding of the highest goal.

What more can you do? At least this way, at the end, if one has failed to attain the highest, there will be no self-recriminations based on negligence.

 


[1]This one is as I "hear" it in the broadest sense of that expression. The bits come from several places in the suttas. The two halves of the story of the two friends on a journey together I am sure belong together although they are not found that way in the suttas.
This idea, of pieceing together various parts of the Dhamma to form new suttas is something I believe was a feature of the original manner of teaching and is something that I feel the serious student, especially one interested in teaching, should master.


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