In Buddhism, the oldest list of paramitas included the six: generosity, discipline, patience, heroic perseverance, meditation, and wisdom. Later on in Mahayana Buddhism, four more paramitas were added which were seen as virtues of course, though more specifically – they were the ways of how to apply the original six. The goal of spirituality isn’t just to awaken ourselves or gain spiritual knowledge – it is about applying that new awakened state within us towards our human relationships so that we help others – it is about becoming virtuous in order to benefit the world.
The seventh paramita is upaya also known as skillful means. Translated literally it means “suited to the place or situation”. Skillful means is our ability to discern what to do in any given situation and how to translate and express higher knowledge so that the person can be guided appropriately depending on their current level, understanding, awareness and skill. It is about appropriate timing, and staying in compassion while conveying the message. Essentially it is about wisdom – for wisdom isn’t merely knowledge, it is knowledge applied appropriately.
It is not enough to know the truth, it is about knowing how to apply it in our ordinary life through our ordinary every day gestures, words and hands. For example, let’s suppose a child asks you to tell them the truth about a situation. You know the child cannot handle the entirety of the truth because it doesn’t yet have the tools not awareness to deal with it, so you will tell it but in simple terms and yet leave it somewhat incomplete. Otherwise you might dump a whole lot which will be more harmful than helpful. Skillful means requires you to see the situation fully and clearly, while realizing that expressing it all at once right now may not be beneficial to your child. You can’t teach a five year old calculus if they don’t even know how to add yet; you’ll only confuse them or make them feel stupid which isn’t fair to the child nor is it even a true reflection of their own abilities and intelligence.
Jesus Christ was a perfect master of skillful means, and the Bible, the New Testament is full of skillful means parables. Once he taught, “When someone asks for your coat, give him your shirt, too.” While on the surface this sounds like becoming someone’s doormat, it’s actually a way to shift the situation from a person’s greed to the giver’s generosity. It was customary for soldiers to demand someone’s cloak, but they could get in trouble for taking more than that. And having to face this generous giver who is shirtless makes them confront their greed in a way just giving the cloak wouldn’t have.
Fairytales are full of skillful means also. When people read Cinderella and only stay on the surface of the tale, they might think “Oh, right, she is waiting for a prince to save her.” No, she isn’t. This is a tale about spiritual virtues – it is a tale about the importance of staying in one’s truth and purity of heart despite the circumstances and how others treat you, not to let yourself be tainted because of hardships. She never changes who she is, she never stops being good, and there’s actually no “magic” in this tale, as she is not given any other beauty more than the beauty she already possesses within her.
Many fairytales and folk tales evolved from the concept of skillful means, because they were meant to express deeper wisdom through the simplicity of language. They often conveyed spiritual knowledge, and the so-called unchangeable truths or universal wisdom, through various storylines and characters. And sometimes people need something simple in order to awaken something deeper within themselves, which is why spiritual concepts are often expressed and learned through parables.
Skillful means is a way to tailor spiritual knowledge and wisdom to the person you are expressing it to. Higher concepts may be incredibly difficult to convey and when the person isn’t yet ready to receive it all, it’s irrelevant. As spiritual teachers, our focus should remain on how to guide our students or clients in ways it would be helpful to them – to speak a language they understand and are opened to so that they receive the guidance.
The famous Buddhist parable of Lotus Sutra, or the burning house, is an example of skillful means. A fire broke in the house and the father escaped but his children were still inside it distracted by games and other pleasures. To lure them out he needed to approach each child with something unique to them that would attract them to come outside. One kind of gift for the youngest, another kind of gift for the next, and yet completely another for the third child. Once they escaped the burning house each child received an even better reward: liberation.
In the same way teachers guide each student differently, in accordance to their unique needs and awareness, though the goal remains the same: awakening or liberation. This is why you’d often come across different teachings or ways of teachings, because it truly depends on the student and every one needs a different approach. The taste is the same: liberation. Just like in the vast oceans the water, whether on the surface or in the depths, has only one taste: salt.
No matter the way or approach or the language used by the teacher, all teachings must be grounded in wisdom and compassion and have the ultimate goal of liberation.
This is what I do in my own teachings and sessions with my students and clients: I speak different languages. For some people they resonate with astrology, or are interested in astrology thereby they are more open to it, so I speak to them through the language of astrology. For others, it is human design. For others, it is lore and tales. Then there are those who like cards, tarot, oracle, animal spirits and guides, symbology, omenology. And then there are those who seek me for energy work and healing; but at the core of it all I am a spiritual counselor, teacher and guide.
“What the Moon Saw” by British book illustrator Helen Stratton (1867-1961)
When you come to me because you are feeling a little lost in a forest, I’ll ask you “what are you looking for” so that I can help guide you to it. If you understand water and can swim, we’ll take the water pathways, follow the tides, and may swim across the lake to get to the other side. If you are climber, we can walk the mountain way and there, eagles may guide us when we choose to look up. If you like the moon, I’ll show you her language, we’ll follow the fireflies not afraid of the dark, and we’ll listen to whispers moving us across the twists and turns, curves and phases. And perhaps you need a tale, so I’ll sit you around the firepit and tell you a story and from it you’ll remember that what’s not yet found only means it isn’t lost.
As spiritual guides, we weave pathways from many threads and many directions. We may weave you a little blanket if you need to be warm; we may weave you a dress or a cloak, and a whole unfolding carpet in the dark that you can follow. We weave the animal speaks, the night’s movements, the temperatures of the soil and mud, the unspoken languages, the rocks and jewels into words, the flowers into sounds, the stars as colours, the moon as stories. There are many ways to weave and speak and find.
Before I was ever a teacher, before I was ever writer, I was a listener and I was a dancer. I loved to dance as a child. And one of my most favourite things to do each day was to have my little alone me-time, when I would play a cassette tape with a song, usually a love song, and start dancing its story. It wasn’t just dancing – it was me bringing to life its heart and soul of lyrics through the flow and movement of my whole body. What I was truly learning at this time was shaping emotions into movement, translating lyrics into dance, so that the movement of my body speaks the unspoken, so that the emotions arising from the lyrics match the emotions one would feel if they could only see my dance without the music.
And later on, or simultaneously during that time also, I was learning how to not just write words on my diary’s pages – but how to shape emotions into words, and worlds, and still be able to continue the movement from the dance. This continuous synchronizing of words, emotions and dance became a marriage within me; and this marriage created a movement within me which is essentially the way I experience life to this day. Unspoken communication is just as important, powerful and deep as the spoken, it is the language of the soul.
Coming from a lineage of healers and seers, spirituality has been a part of my life ever since I was a child, and as a natural born intuitive myself, my intuition has always been my guiding compass. But as I delved into my spiritual studies to advance and develop more, I learned many other languages throughout my life. I learned the languages of the animals and wildlife, I learned the written and the esoteric, I learned the folk and the distant cultures and the various healing modalities. I learned astrology – Western, Shamanic, Esoteric, and Vedic. I learned from theology and many religions, as much as I learned various mystical and spiritual beliefs; I learned from alchemy and the occult sciences, as much as I learned law, criminology, psychology, calculus and advanced mathematics. And then, with my mathematician’s mind that is skilled at seeing patterns clearly and as a passionate investigator wanting to dig deeper, I started tracing all to roots, and testing the methods and modalities, to see whether all these various studies or perspectives were really different. They aren’t. All lead to the same core truths. For example, no matter what astrology technique we may use, it’ll guide you to the same answer – though the pathways taken will be different, and each pathway may offer you a unique wisdom, a unique opportunity fot a deepening and an unfolding of a key hidden page from the book you once thought you held. Astrology too is only a perspective – one of many others. But – all roads lead to Rome.
In my blog I approach spiritual concepts from various means, because each person will resonate with a different language – but no matter what I am talking about, whether a fairytale, astrology or theology or just pure mysticism, I am speaking of the same thing, the taste is salt.
I once wrote an astrology article on the higher purpose of marriage which became really famous, with so many people saying how I had written and combined universal truths and wisdom. I then wrote the same article but with a different title, this time referring to marriage as a sacrament, i.e. the article had the same essence in its body because the higher purpose of marriage is the higher purpose of marriage, but I had approached it from a Christian perspective. Even thought the actual written words were basically the same, except that I had edited out the astrological houses and associations, this article wasn’t as read, if at all.
Water is water – whether as vapour, ice, snow, rainlife or rivers or oceans, water is water.
I’ll speak to you in the way you need me to, because my priority is for you to get your message. Messengers need to speak and translate many languages. And they need to know how to dance, how to move, how to understand the unspoken languages also.
When we as teachers do not practice skillful means, we are not guiding truly, we are like dictators. The focus must be on the other person, with compassion and wisdom, always. This is important for all teachers, not just spiritual teachers, regardless of what subject you are teaching, or whether in kinder garden, high school, university, monastery, or an art school. When one is in a teaching capacity they need to approach this with responsibility towards the student and understand that one way does not fit all. We are not there to make someone feel “less than” or stupid, it is up to us to explain things according to each student’s abilities and current awareness. Unfortunately I see many young people today feel disempowered or hurt or with low confidence because of their teachers and that’s quite heartbreaking.
It is so important in our world today to stay aligned to higher values and know wisdom, and to also – have the humility to know that we too don’t know it all. Skillful means is practiced by us also in our own lives, where we too learn every day and stay open and evolve. We understand that a teacher is always a student still, and remember the old tale of the twelve monks sitting around the elephant. Each expressed what they saw, and what they saw was different than the other: one saw the trunk, the other the ear. Perspectives matter, and not one human truth is the whole truth. The humility of this deserves to be treasured.
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