It is extremely important to understand that the many skillful means are always within the One Buddha Way, not alternatives to it. The many skillful means are “skillful” only because they skillfully lead to the One Way, and the One Way exists only by being embodied in many skillful means. Understanding the One Way and the many skillful means as separate, alternative ways has been a great mistake, a mistake that has sometimes led to disrespect, intolerance, and disdain for others.
One of the important insights to be gained from the teaching of skillful means is that many things that are not the whole truth are nevertheless important truths. Just as we should seek the potential to be a Buddha in ourselves even though we are far from perfect, we should seek the truth, even the hidden truths, in what others say, in their words and in their stories.
Sometimes we like to take the shortest, most direct, way to the solution of a problem, just like the father shouting at his children. Often such direct orders do not work, not because the prescription is incorrect, but because it is not presented skillfully, that is, in a way that will be accepted and acted upon. It takes skill to figure out not only what is needed, but what will be effective.
Skillful means must be effective. They work. …In Buddhism, intentions are very important but the Dharma Flower Sutra places much more emphasis on results. The Sutra…is even more concerned about what we do with our bodies, that is, with how we behave, with how we live our daily lives.
What the Sutra condemns is not lesser vehicles but arrogance, especially the arrogance of thinking one has arrived at some complete truth, at some final goal. Rather, we are called upon by this Sutra to be “lifetime beginners,” people who know they have much to learn and always will. The five thousand who walk out of the assembly in the second chapter are said to be like twigs and leaves and not really needed, but apparently in Chapter 9 they too are told that they will become Buddhas.
Source: The Stories of the Lotus Sutra