alan... wrote: not to mention the whole skillful means thing is a mahayana idea and i don't believe it exists in the pali canon. it's a lotus sutra thing and surely other places but i think it's long after theravada closed their canon. "skillful means: do whatever you want as long as it leads to nibbbana." come on, that attitude is so far from anything in the pali canon it's nuts.
The Pali word "Upaya" = "Skillful means. Using different resources to realise the teachings of the Buddha."
(from the glossary of "The Sound of Silence" by Ajahn Sumedho - Theravada Thai Forest Tradition Abbot )
i realize that, my definition was a playful version of the definition referencing what skillful means entails in the mahayana tradition. your definition surely is correct but that's not how the term is used in the mahayana. according to the lotus sutra lying is openly accepted as long as it leads to nirvana. this is quite the opposite of the buddha flat out saying that enlightened ones do not have the ability to lie.
""On this speech of the venerable Sâriputra the Lord said to him the following: Have I not told thee before, Sâriputra, that the Tathâgata preaches the law by able devices, varying directions and indications, fundamental ideas, interpretations, with due regard to the different dispositions and inclinations of creatures whose temperaments are so various? All his preachings of the law have no other end but supreme and perfect enlightenment, for which he is rousing beings to the Bodhisattva-course. But, Sâriputra, to elucidate this matter more at large, I will tell thee a parable, for men of good understanding will generally readily enough catch the meaning of what is taught under the shape of a parable...
Shariputra, suppose that in a certain town in a certain country there was a very rich man. He was far along in years and his wealth was beyond measure. He had many fields, houses and menservants. His own house was big and rambling, but it had only one gate. A great many people--a hundred, two hundred, perhaps as many as five hundred--lived in the house. The halls and rooms were old and decaying, the walls crumbling, the pillars rotten at their base, and the beams and rafters crooked and aslant. At that time a fire suddenly broke out on all sides, spreading through the rooms of the house. The sons of the rich man, ten, twenty perhaps thirty, were inside the house. When the rich man saw the huge flames leaping up on every side, he was greatly alarmed and fearful and thought to himself, I can escape to safety through the flaming gate, but my sons are inside the burning house enjoying themselves and playing games, unaware, unknowing, without alarm or fear. The fire is closing in on them, suffering and pain threaten them, yet their minds have no sense of loathing or peril and they do not think of trying to escape! "Shariputra, this rich man thought to himself, I have strength in my body and arms. I can wrap them in a robe or place them on a bench and carry them out of the house. And then again he thought, this house has only one gate, and moreover it is narrow and small. My sons are very young, they have no understanding, and they love their games, being so engrossed in them that they are likely to be burned in the fire. I must explain to them why I am fearful and alarmed. The house is already in flames and I must get them out quickly and not let them be burned up in the fire! Having thought in this way, he followed his plan and called to all his sons, saying, 'You must come out at once!" But though the father was moved by pity and gave good words of instruction, the sons were absorbed in their games and unwilling to heed them. They had no alarm, no fright, and in the end no mind to leave the house. Moreover, they did not understand what the fire was, what the house was, what the danger was. They merely raced about this way and that in play and looked at their father without heeding him. "At that time the rich man had this thought: the house is already in flames from this huge fire. If I and my sons do not get out at once, we are certain to be burned. I must now invent some expedient means that will make it possible for the children to escape harm. The father understood his sons and knew what various toys and curious objects each child customarily liked and what would delight them. And so he said to them, 'The kind of playthings you like are rare and hard to find. If you do not take them when you can, you will surely regret it later. For example, things like these goat-carts, deer-carts and ox-carts. They are outside the gate now where you can play with them. So you must come out of this burning house at once. Then whatever ones you want, I will give them all to you!' "At that time, when the sons heard their father telling them about these rare playthings, because such things were just what they had wanted, each felt emboldened in heart and, pushing and shoving one another, they all came wildly dashing out of the burning house."
this seems a reasonable scenario, however if a buddha literally cannot lie then this scenario could never involve an enlightened one and therefore is pointless as an example. if a non enlightened person lies while attempting to help someone reach nibbana then who is to say for sure if they are correct in their actions? they are not enlightened, how can they know it is appropriate and definitely leading to nibbana? let alone know whether or not it is worth breaking a precept?
when someone says or implies something like: "rebirth is not true, the buddha simply used it as skillful means to guide people to nibbana." this is what they're talking about, lying to guide people to nibbana. in the pali canon this is simply not something that happens and indeed the buddha clearly says that this is not possible for an enlightened person.