And what, monks, is the Middle Way realized by the Thus-Come-One, which gives vision and understanding, which leads to calm, penetration, enlightenment, to Nirvana?
It is just this Noble Eightfold Path, namely: Right View, Right Intention, Right Speech, Right Action, Right Livelihood, Right Effort, Right Mindfulness, and Right Concentration. – The Buddha, Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta
Since starting this site I’ve always felt too close to write about The Middle Way. I asked a friend, Gary over at Buddha Space, if he’d share what The Middle Way meant to him. This is his fantastic reply. 108 bows to you Gary.
The Middle Way lies at the very heart of Buddhism, as indicated in the words above, taken from the Buddha’s first sermon, given by the Thus-Come-One over two-and-a-half thousand years ago in North India. Since then, Buddhism has transformed itself many times as it has spread all over the Orient from Sri Lanka to Japan, and has now taken root in the Occident, from England to Australia. Yet, despite the global nature of the Buddhadharma these days, and its diverse forms such as the orthodox Theravada, the devotional Pure Land, the esoteric Vajrayana, and the prosaic Zen, the Middle Way remains a central theme that all Buddhists take heed of, one way or another.
According to the Buddha, the Middle Way is a life lived between the extremes of self-denial and self-indulgence. Neither hedonist nor ascetic are to be imitated, for the Noble Eightfold Path weaves its way through life avoiding both these unenlightened lifestyles. To see the world in the light of the Buddhadharma is to have Right View, not only recognizing the suffering that is caused by desire, but also the Path that leads to the ending of all such suffering, based in the Right Intention to let go of lust, ill-will, and cruelty. In other words, to lead a harmless life. Right Speech, Action, and Livelihood grow out of such an intention, directing one’s lifestyle in a more selfless, rather than selfish, direction. Right Effort is the avoidance of unwholesome states and the cultivation of wholesome ones. Right Mindfulness and Concentration take this well-directed mind and hone it to the point where it is on the precipice of the great void that is known as Nirvana. The perfection of the Path (that is, the Middle Way), is the ripening of the spiritual life; it becomes a fruit ready to drop into the infinity of enlightenment…forever.
Living the Middle Way can take many different forms – not surprising when the many strands of the Buddhadharma are taken into account, along with the many types of people there are – but all are ultimately intent on its original and continuous objective: Nirvana. To cultivate a moral lifestyle hand in hand with a mindful meditative practice is to walk the Middle Way, which gives vision and understanding, as the Buddha put it. This vision is to see things as they are, rather than as we think or want them to be, and this understanding is the knowledge that in the things of the world there is no salvation or enlightenment; awakening to the silent wisdom within is to experience the calm mind that penetrates to the core of our being: the Buddha.
The Middle Way is not only the recommended manner of living given us by the Buddha; it is also the realization that beyond these limited erroneous egos and puffed-up personalities we are the Buddha. To truly walk the Middle Way is to traverse this world in the knowledge that we are already enlightened – we just have to enlighten ourselves to the fact! Openly reflecting on the Way is to share with all sentient beings this wondrous hidden truth, helping us to let go a little of our greed, hatred, and delusion, the three poisons that tie us to a life of suffering. For, as the Buddha so wisely taught all those centuries ago, it is in the walking of this Middle Way that one discovers Nirvana, releasing the pain and anguish of the ego into the serenity of our Buddha-nature.