San-hoben 三方便

Three types of suitable devices (San Hoben; 三方便)

Hoben [方便] {JPN}, (upaya in sanskrit) which translates to “appropriate means”, “expedient means” or even “pedagogy“, according to Buddhism, is a  Bodhisattva‘s ability to ascertain exactly what is required to bring a mentee from his worldly slumber.
There is the Example of the Lotus Sutra, where a man who discovered that his house was on fire, tried to get their children out of it. However, they refused because they were preoccupied with playing. Then the man told the children that on the outside there was a lot of fun toys outside and managed in this way to get them out and save them. That is the man felt that a white lie was an appropriate means to save the children.

Accordingly, “hoben” is also in contravention of art. Hatsumi Sensei used to say that the densho lies, that is to say,  what the former champions have written is not always true. You can let the beginners practice and focus on one thing and let them think that it is important, while they unknowingly practicing also something else that is important later in the workout. Usually, all the techniques are an “overt (Omote; 表)” layer that all have access to, but it can also be one or more “covert (ura; 裏) layers.” The purpose of Hoben is thus to “awaken” the pupil, not always to teach a technical detail.

Rinmetsudojihonzon, reputed to be the Gohonzon (object of devotion, also known as a ‘script mandala’) that was with Nichiren at his bedside when he died. The central characters are the title of the Lotus sutra.

According to Tendai Buddhism (Something that Takamatsu sensei and Daisuke Nishima of Togakure-ryu were very privy to) Shakyamuni’s teachings are classified in three categories. Tendai interpret the title of the second chapter of the Lotus Sutra as “appropriate means” and categorizes them into three types:

  1. The first category is known as “adaptations of the Law expedient means” (hoyu-hoben; 法友方便), the teachings that were preached in accordance with the people’s capacities.
  2. The second is called “expedient means that can lead one in” (notsu-hoben; 野津方便), indicating the teachings the Buddha preached as a gateway to the true teaching.
    These first two expedient means correspond to the pre-Lotus Sutra teachings and constitute provisional teachings. They are what the Buddha refers to in the “Expedient Means” chapter where he says, “Honestly discarding expedient means, I will preach only the unsurpassed way.”
  3. The third category, or “secret and wonderful expedient means”(himyo-hoben; 秘妙方便), is the teaching that contains the truth. This expedient means indicates that the Buddha concealed, or kept secret (hi; 秘), the truth for the first forty-two years of his preaching life, expounding it only in the Lotus Sutra. When viewed from the standpoint of the Lotus Sutra, however, all the provisional teachings are included in the sutra as partial explanations of the truth. This inclusion is termed “wonderful” (myo; 妙). Unlike the first two expedient means, the third category is not only a means that leads people to the truth, but also the truth itself.

Nichiren (1222-1282) explains “secret and wonderful expedient means” with the parable of the jewel (gyo; 玉) in the robe from the “Five Hundred Disciples” (eighth) chapter of the Lotus Sutra, in which a poor man has a precious jewel sewn inside his robe but is unaware of it. Because he is unaware, the jewel is “secret,” but because he owns it, it is “wonderful.”

The jewel sewn in the robe indicates that Buddhahood is inherent in all people (wonderful), and the poor man’s ignorance of it, that ordinary people are unaware of their own Buddha nature (secret).

“Hi” and “myo” are terms that are also used in the classical Japanese martial arts, especially in Gyokko-ryu. Note also that “gyo” also means “jewel”.


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