Upaya Kausalya

Last updated: December 21, 2023

What Does Upaya Kausalya Mean?

Upaya kausalya, which may sometimes be referred to simply as upaya, is a Sanskrit word meaning “skillful means.” It can be explained as applying the correct techniques or making wise choices within a situation in order to achieve a higher state of consciousness.

Using upaya kausalya is considered an attribute of a bodhisattva, or enlightened being who assists others in achieving enlightenment as well.


Yogapedia Explains Upaya Kausalya

Buddhists practice upaya kausalya and gurus teach it as a way to help their disciples achieve enlightenment. Buddhist texts refer to Buddha using upaya kausalya by varying his teachings to suit his audience. The presentation of the teachings would change according to the level of understanding of the disciples, making them accessible to people of all spiritual levels.

Upaya kausalya is a major concept in the “Lotus Sutra,” an influential Buddhist scripture. Buddha is said to have illustrated the concept as follows:

“A house is on fire with children playing inside. They are too young to realize the consequences of the fire. The father of the children calls to them telling them to come out. The children are too involved in their play and refuse to go. To bring them out of the burning house, the father tells them that he has brought them beautiful carts that are drawn by goats, deer and bulls. His children come out of the house immediately. Though the children are disappointed because they don’t find what they expected to see, the happy father has saved their lives.”

Through this story, Buddha explains to his disciples that the father had exercised upaya kausalya to save the life of his children. According to the Buddha, wisdom and love guide the selection of the specific skillful means appropriate to any given situation.

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