three expedient means ［三方便］ ( san-hōben): Also, three types of expedient means. A classification of Shakyamuni’s teachings into three categories, set forth by T’ien-t’ai (538–597) in The Words and Phrases of the Lotus Sutra. In that work, T’ien-t’ai interprets the title of the second chapter of the Lotus Sutra, “Expedient Means,” with his three types of expedient means. Expedient means indicates the teachings the Buddha expounds in order to lead people to the true and supreme teaching. The first category is known as “adaptations of the Law expedient means” ( hōyū-hōben), the teachings that were preached in accordance with the people’s capacities. The second is called “expedient means that can lead one in” (nōtsū-hōben), 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.” The third category, or “secret and wonderful expedient means” (himyō-hōben), is the teaching that contains the truth. This expedient means indicates that the Buddha concealed, or kept secret, 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” (myō). 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 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).