The Middle Way

To call themselves a “Buddhist”, a Buddhist usually declares that they hold key Buddhist concepts such as “The Triple Gem” , “The “Middle Way”, “The Eight-fold path”, “Karma” and “Four Noble Truths”.  But each Buddhist sect give their own unique interpretation of these concepts, sometimes at such variety that the unity of Buddhism becomes rather blurry.

This post consists of my notes on one of these concepts: “The Middle Path“.  Below you will see that “The Middle Way” can be used in very different senses.

“Middle Path” or “Middle Way” are English translations of: Pali: majjhimā paṭipadā; Sanskrit: madhyamā-pratipad;
s. paṭipadā: 1. ‘Road’, ‘path’
sanskrit: magga = ‘path’
I am not sure of the difference here.

Tantric Middle Way: Ngakpa Chögyam (“Wearing the Body of Visions, p.9)

Tantra doesn’t exclude hedonism, but neither does it encourage it.  It is very much the ‘middle way’ that characterises all Buddhist vehicles.  This middle way should not be understood as some sort of spiritual or existential compromise.  It has nothing at all to do with adopting a centralised stance, in order to reach a dubious equanimity or suspect equality of experience.  Such equanimity would merely be a ‘cosmic’ flatness of affect; a spiritual anæsthetic; a lack-lustre quilted carpet-slipper philosophy for the sedate and sensible.  The ‘middle way’ might be better translated as: ‘the way that rejects all referential co-ordinates’ – ‘the way that doesn’t seek to locate itself in known or knowable territory’.  This is the way that doesn’t hold any kind of position or stance for establishing a fixed definition of being.  However; just as it doesn’t seek extremes, it doesn’t avoid them either.  It merely avoids attaching to them as ultimate definitions.  It avoids utilising experience of any kind as a means of concretely defining the nature of reality.  It doesn’t say: “I am here because that is there”; “I am now because I was then, and so I will be in the future“.  It doesn’t say: “I think therefore I am.”  In fact – it simply rejects all ‘therefores’.

Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta Middle Way (Pali Scriptures quoting the Buddha):

“Bhikkhus, these two extremes should not be followed by one gone forth (into the homeless life). What two? That which is this pursuit of sensual happiness in sense pleasures, which is low, vulgar, the way of the ordinary person, ignoble, not connected to the goal; and that which is this pursuit of self-mortification, which is painful, ignoble, not connected to the goal. Bhikkhus, without veering towards either of these two extremes, the One Attuned to Reality has awakened to the middle way, which gives rise to vision, which gives rise to knowledge, which leads to peace, to higher knowledge, to full awakening, to Nibbāna.”

Kaccayanagotta Sutta:: “The Middle Teaching”  (majjhena dhamma: Pali later scriptures) Another version of the meaning.

“‘Everything exists’: That is one extreme. ‘Everything doesn’t exist’: That is a second extreme. Avoiding these two extremes, the Tathagata teaches the Dhamma via the middle:

Mādhyamaka (wiki): (Sanskrit: माध्यमक, Mādhyamaka, Chinese: 中觀派; pinyin: Zhōngguān Pài; also known as Śunyavada) refers primarily to a Mahāyāna Buddhist school of Buddhist philosophy systematized by Nāgārjuna.  According to the Mādhyamikas, all phenomena are empty of “substance” or “essence” (Sanskrit: svabhāva), meaning that they have no intrinsic, independent reality.

Hindu Middle Way: The Bhagavad Gita (6th chapter)

This middle way notion exists also in Hinduism, it seems — from whence Buddhism emerged.

“Yoga is not for him who eats too much or does not eat at all, nor sleeps too much or does not sleep at all.”

And again

“But Yoga becomes the discipline for the destruction of sorrow for him who moderate in eating and recreation, moderate in work and sleep and walking.”

The Confucian Middle Way: 551 BC – 479 BC (wiki)

The Doctrine of the Mean (Chinese: 中庸; pinyin: zhōng yōng), is both a concept and one of the books of Confucian teachings.

The Golden Mean of Aristotle 384 BC – 322 BC (wiki)

The golden mean is the desirable middle between two extremes, one of excess and the other of deficiency.

The Dalai Lama’s “Middle Path” approach to China:  see  We can see how the word is used in political ways here.  People grab “sacred phrases” to make them their own.

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