This rare sutra, ancient but timely, has long been treated with
circumspection because of its liberal attitude toward sexuality and other
ethical concerns. One of the original statements of the early Mahayana
School, it is here collated from Chinese and Tibetan translations, and from
passages that remain in the original Sanskrit. Originally part of a larger
sutra on the six perfections that included the well-known perfection of
Wisdom sutra, the Skill in Means sutra explicates the other five
perfections of the bodhisattva. The translator has traced its source to
verses of the Ratnagunasamcaya-gatha that have no counterpart in the
Perfection of Wisdom. The Skill in Means is also found as part of the
Ratnakuta collection of sutras, under the title "The Question of
In Part One, this Sutra establishes the liberal, even anti-monastic
observance of Bodhisattva ethics, especially in matters of sexual
involvement, introducing 'skill in means' into the fabirc of Buddhist
ethical life. Parts Two and Three constitute a reinterpretation of the life
of the Buddha, demonstrating his motivation by 'skill in means'; this is a
primary source for the Buddhology of the Mahayana.
The older and newer versions are translated side by side; extant Sanskrit
passages are included. An introduction places the text in historical and
literary prospective. There are copious notes, indexes and a bibliography.
This little volume is a valuable contribution to the textual and doctrinal
history of early Mahayana Buddhism.
JOURNAL OF THE AMERICAN ORIENTAL SOCIETY
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