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Not this Not That – The ‘Middle Way’

Excerpted from Stephen Fulder’s book:What’s Beyond Mindfulness: Waking Up to This Precious Life. Watkins Publishers (2019).

A basic objection to any kind of extremism or radicalism is a corner stone of Buddhist teachings. In fact The Middle Way has become a commonly used title for the whole path. Defining the middle way as a place of the middle, we may see it wrongly as a weak compromise, but according to the Buddha it is not a compromise but the best and wisest place to be. A story about the life of the Buddha illustrates the unique place of the middle way.

The story tells how Gautama, also during his ascetic period, felt stuck in his practice. Suddenly, he remembered that once, as a child, he was sitting under a tree on a beautiful sunny day while his father was supervising agriculture in the fields, when he spontaneously fell into deep concentration, peace and happiness. When recalling this, he said to himself: “if I felt this feeling as a child, perhaps Nirvana is already within me, and I shall find it again by ease rather than intense striving.”

We may have a bit of antipathy and resistance to middles. The Middle Way might seem something for the Middle Classes, for older people that are settled and don’t like extremes, the bourgeoisie who are scared of wildness, or those who live with moderation. We may think it is a kind of average. Pushing our limits is exciting, adrenaline is addictive when young, and going to extremes made life interesting. I remember that feeling when I was young during the crazy times of the 60’s. It felt that going to extremes, living beyond boundaries and conventional restrictions was sacred. Religious fundamentalism, which is rearing its ugly head again today draws its attraction from an intoxication with extremes, which are justified as God-given.