The Middle Way
"The Buddha was a keen observer of the workings of his consciousness and all that affected it."
by Ken Russell
The Buddha's teachings are sometimes called the Middle Way. This Middle Way is not some insipid averaging, leveling, or compromising but a dynamic, deeply fulfilling way of living. It is a finely attuned responsiveness to life that acts according to the needs of the situation, not to preconceived ideas or beliefs or hopes. It deals with what is rather than what should be or what is hoped to be. It is a paradoxical state, described as intense calmness or conversely as calm intensity. To the typical excitement-addicted mind, it may seem dull and uneventful—indeed, the very sort of life you have been trained to avoid. This speaks to the topsy-turvy values of the modern world.
When Prince Siddhartha was on the way to becoming the Buddha, he left behind the opulence and affluence of a king's son and adopted the strict austerities practiced by the yogis he studied with. The result: he almost died of malnutrition. It became apparent to him that neither a life of indulgence nor a life of extreme restriction would bring him to the goal he sought—self-realization. He found that some comforts were necessary so that he could maintain his body and meditate well; but he also found that some activities needed to be eliminated so that his meditation would go deep. He found a balance—the Middle Way—by keenly observing the effects of his actions on his practice. He did not figure this out intellectually. He observed what actually happened when he performed certain acts or had certain thoughts and feelings. The Buddha was a keen observer of the workings of his consciousness and all that affected it.
The Buddha sought, through his teachings, to impart to others the ability to investigate their lives so that their suffering could be reduced and, in time, eliminated. His teaching was, interestingly enough, scientific rather than faith based. He wanted people to be their own teachers rather than to believe or trust what he said or what was written. In the Kalama sutra he explicitly says not to believe anything unless you find it to be true in your own experience. He knew that every person was capable of becoming a buddha. Through his teachings he hoped to point to a way for others to realize themselves.
The Buddha teaches a way of living in which people are free to investigate for themselves what works and what doesn't work. Indeed, people are encouraged to take the initiative in exploring what happens in their consciousness. The intent is to free up awareness so that it can function as your teacher. To do this, you need the right tools and understandings so that you can undertake your own investigations. This necessitates finding a qualified teacher who can provide those tools and understandings to you. Then you will learn to follow a developing inner sense, akin to intuition, of what does and does not work for you. The teacher will not give you fixed dogma or programmed responses; you will not be told what should or should not be, leaving you free to discover what is best for you. Thus, your response to any situation is a function of that specific situation and is appropriate to it. Your response is balanced and harmonious, a constant adjustment to life in order to ensure the most satisfactory way of living. The lack of prepackaged responses and rules and dogma allows a grace and fluidity in living whose inner experience is rich and nourishing.
The middle way is not static
But dynamic, moment to moment.
There is a balancing between
Like and dislike
Passion and detachment
Attraction and aversion
Activity and passivity
To find what works.
A calm intensity prevails—an intensity that is neither hot nor cold but warm. You are not detached from life, unresponsive and uncaring, which would be cold. Nor are you titillated and enthusiastic about life and its goodies, which would be hot. You are just there for life, available for what is, neither caring excessively for some aspects of it nor going to lengths to avoid or resist other elements of it. Life is enjoyed but you are not attached to enjoying it. You are just present, experiencing it moment to moment. You live in a flowing non-attachment that allows you to do just what is needed in each situation.
The Middle Way is not an average nor a medium nor a compromise.
The Middle Way is vitally alive and intensively appropriate and deeply fulfilling.