(Read time: 9 minutes)
The Middle Way has seen multiple interpretations throughout the 2500-year history of Buddhism however simply put, the Middle Way explains the Buddha’s enlightened outlook of life and the actions that, if applied in a consistent and effective manner to the challenges of life and society, can lead to a lasting sense of contentment. To that effect, the Middle Way can be seen as the core teaching of Buddhism which represents the search for a life that brings fulfilment whilst relieving the symptoms of suffering.
As explained in the previous post, the fourth of the Four Noble Truths is Magga, more commonly referred to as the Middle Way. Often summarised by the Eightfold Path and the Threefold Way, Magga can be seen as a lifelong practice which is considered by many, the universal pursuit of Buddhism. The eight parts of the Eightfold Path are often grouped into the three elements of the Threefold way as shown below:
The Eightfold Path is not meant to represent a stepped sequential learning process, but more eight interrelated spokes of life which are to be integrated into daily life – this is often represented by the Dharma Wheel:
The Buddha taught a fundamental cause to human suffering is ignorance however being wise to such awareness can help overcome such trouble. Wisdom is a kind of knowledge which is gained through life experience and arguably can’t be immediately transferred from one individual to another. Furthermore, wisdom is the accumulation of experiences which is driven by keeping an open mind and being open to correction. The basis of wisdom is built and drawn upon having the right view and the right intention thus allowing one to see life from a wiser and admittedly healthier perspective.
Right View is about being able to see things for what they are and thus allowing one to recognise what truly matters. The Buddha is said to have explained that his teachings are a method to experience life and not life itself – he can point at the flower but eventually one has to look themselves to appreciate its colours. Ultimately, right view is the recognition, appreciation and application of the Four Noble Truths.
Right Intention is about attempting to maintain a tenacious outlook for life – whilst at the same time recognising the persistent individual effort required, respecting the obstacles and hurdles as they appear, and valuing and recognising the need for support from others. Right Intention refers to having compassion and sympathy, showing support and kindness, and approaching life’s encounters with the intention of goodwill – both towards others and yourself.
Living, involves a myriad of daily actions and reactions, all of which can have both beneficial and detrimental consequences for ourselves and others. Ethical conduct aims to maximise the beneficial consequences for the many out of compassion for the world. Compassion here represents kindness, acceptance and charity, all qualities from an emotional perspective whereas wisdom comes from an intellectual perspective. The basis of ethical conduct is driven from the union of right speech, right action and right livelihood.
Right Speech refers to the appreciation toward the power of the spoken word. As such, by refraining from lying, gossiping, repeating rumours and harmful speech, one is more likely to speak truth, speak with purpose and speak with meaning. Furthermore, one should not speak hastily, remaining conscious to speak when required and if nothing useful can be said, one should practice silence.
Right Action refers to the need to consider others and the world as a whole, the idea is to promote moral conduct by abstaining from doing physical and mental harm, abstaining from taking what is not given to us, abstaining from dishonest dealings and abstaining from sexual misconduct. The fundamental principle remains, attempt to conduct your dealings in an honourable and peaceful manner.
Right Livelihood refers to the manner in which one makes a living – wealth itself is not evil, the manner in which one obtains wealth and what they decide to do with it can fall into the classification of good or bad, albeit this too can be a matter of perspective. Livelihoods should be attained in a legal and peaceful manner where individuals are discouraged to deal in harmful endeavours or activities, in particular those dealings which would violate other spokes of the Eightfold Path.
Naturally there are many aspects of our lives both within and outside of our control, however is it possible to control the state of our mindset? Meditation is a method of transforming the mind where practices are aimed at encouraging and enhancing clarity, concentration and the ability to see things clearly. Meditation can have a transformative effect whereby it can enable one to navigate through life and its hurdles in a more efficient and effective manner. The basis of building such resilience is driven from practicing right effort, right mindfulness and right concentration.
Right Effort refers to maintaining the discipline required to follow the Eightfold Path. Indeed, doing the right thing isn’t always easy and is often harder, however, the short-term gains achieved from taking shortcuts won’t typically last in the long-term. What is the right level of effort? This varies from person to person and across different situations, yet we all know from experience the right level of effort is a fine balance, a balance of determination and patience, and a balance of hard-work and relaxation. To rid yourself of unwholesome states and to gravitate toward wholesome states is the fundamental basis of Right Effort, or in other words, positive intent with focused action.
Right Mindfulness is a little easier to explain however a little harder to truly understand, appreciate and implement. We all hear of Mindfulness and know the cliché statement of, being in the moment or being present, but in reality, what does this mean? There are some examples which do well to iterate Mindfulness in a slightly more practical way: one, have you ever driven from A to B and are unable to recall anything of significance from the journey because you were in a subconscious state throughout the journey, or two: have you ever listened to a song and not really listened to it where after years you notice something you hadn’t previously, or three: have you ever spent hours on your phone not really taking anything of significance away from the time? Right Mindfulness is not an attempt to remove the world and its problems, it’s in the fact the opposite, its intention is to ensure you experience every moment for what it is thus enabling individuals to see the world in a clear manner hence minimising the likelihood of escapism.
Right Concentration refers to the ability of directing all your mental strength toward a single focus. By doing so, the mind is in a better position to select wholesome directions and with the other spokes of the Eightfold Path, enable an individual to see things, not as we are conditioned, but for their true nature. Concentration allows an individual to move from being an observer to a participant of life, it allows an individual to drive when they drive, to listen when they listen and to live when they live.
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