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The Middle Way

In spiritual life as well as in meditation we may strive to accomplish the middle way. That is the middle way between opposite extremes. This is the way of moderation in all things. We can find a middle way in our self-discipline, our concentration in meditation, and in the nature of reality.

In our self-discipline we wish to be determined, but not too hard on ourselves, Joyful, but not too lax. For those who evoke a zeal for practice it is easy to fall into the trap of becoming too self-critical, to serious, or to contrived. Self-discipline should be married with naturalness and a sense of honest self-expression. We want to evoke our true self, not suppress it. We ought to be delighted in our practice, having what Buddhism calls joyful perseverance, having an innate feeling of joy in cultivating ourselves in virtue. We should not be lazy or careless, but we ought to feel our heart's delight in its true freedom to express itself. Not too high, not too low, an even pace is preferred for self-discipline, one that is not just good at saying what ought to be true, but listening to the authenticity of our being for leadership.

When we practice concentration in meditation we ought to have a well-developed balance. Too strict, and there is too much tension in the mind, no peace. Too loose and the object of attention becomes out of focus. An even-ness of attention on the object of observation is best. This is also true for our level of energy. Too much anxious energy brings about a hyperactive mind and distractability. Too low energy and we may feel dull or tired, unable to focus well. Being fresh and awake with a sense of ease and naturalness is the way to practice.

The path of Buddhism, and what the historical Buddha taught, is called the Middle Way. One reason why is that for spiritual aspirants he taught to go beyond all extremes of the mind. This also included the extremes of sensual overstimulation and hedonism versus ascetic mortification and starvation. A moderate path was to be adopted that saw that all of the needs of the body were fulfilled in order that meditation practice might be fruitful. Another reason why it is called the middle way is because of how it describes the nature of reality. We think things have a stuck essence that doesn't change and is independent like a chair or like “me”. We think therefore that these things have an absolute existence separate from everything else. The reality is that all things are constantly changing moment to moment and are dependent upon other causes and conditions, therefore they are not absolute and separate, but relative and dependent. They do not exist absolutely, nor do they not exist at all. Beyond these two extremes is the true nature of reality: The Middle Way. Thing exist relatively dependent on other causes. There is no absolute chair, only one named so based on causes and conditions. There is no absolute “me”, only a relative one.

The Middle Way is the way to walk the true path in life. It allows us to see when we are swayed by the extreme states of mind like attachment and aversion, which give rise to all the extreme ways of thinking about ourselves, others, and the world. May you come to know The Middle Way for your own life, and may you learn to dance in the middle instead of falter on the edges.

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