Thursday, January 19, 2012

The Middle Way

So often in my life I have felt like an extremist. I have continually been drawn to the most radical views, the most fringe life-styles, and I have cherished the most extreme experiences. As a child I felt inside like I was extremely weird and different from everybody else. As an adult I have somewhat consciously longed for the most extreme results for the future of humanity. In many ways all of this is still the case for me. At the same time I am having a dawning appreciation for something else – balance.

“Buddhism” can mean many different things to many different people, but one key idea in it is that of “The Middle Way”. This idea got started as being about the “middle way” between hedonism and asceticism, indulgence and denial. But this can also be interpreted as being about the “middle way” between nihilism and absolutism, atheism and theism. This interpretation is one that has particular resonance for me right now.

A lot of the time my view-points tend to fall into the extremes of nihilism or absolutism, despite my conscious wishes to the contrary. “Everything is shit”, especially everything that we see in this world – nihilism. Or, “here is The Answer”, and over the years I have posed so many things as being that – absolutism. Back and forth, back and forth I’ve gone, sometimes reflecting a kind of internal mood swing in the process. At times I’ve also seen anarchism as by necessity incorporating these two elements, as being a kind of marriage of nihilism and absolutism. I don’t think that that approach really works, at the very least it is sort of crazy-making, but more than that there are other approaches out there.

A “middle way”, or balance, can be an integration of the two in the sense that it recognizes and acknowledges the best aspects of both. When something is destructive, it is seen as such, no need to deny it. When something helps with health and well-being, then that is acknowledged as well. There is no need to find fault with everything, nor is there a need to find the bright side of everything. Although both faults and bright sides do exist, when they exist, and that is recognized. An approach of balance would then be based on a profound acceptance of what is. There is no need for rose-colored glasses, or dark-tinted glasses either.

This is definitely an area where it is far easier to talk about it than to actually practice it. As I write these words even, I see within myself a desire to put up “The Middle Way” as being “The Answer”, my old absolutest approach. Swirling around this are my critiques of all that’s surrounding, something that can very well lead to an “everything is shit” conclusion, my old nihilist friend. I am so used to either trying to recruit everybody to The Righteous Cause For a Better Tomorrow, or to rain on their parade and dynamite their hopes & dreams. The radical notion for me then is to do neither, or aspects of both. There is nothing to be recruited to but there are better ways to live. There are flaws and draw-backs to everything, but not to the point of everything being worthless.

Perhaps the most difficult thing to grasp, or at least one of them, is that there are no beliefs that can console you. Nothing can really comfort you, for it is all an illusion in the end. This is one of the great back-handed gifts of nihilism. This sentiment is best expressed by this poetic phrase by Vasily Rozanov:

"The show is over. The audience get up to leave their seats. Time to collect their coats and go home. They turn round...No more coats and no more home."

Conversely, the Buddha is claimed to have said:

“Make an island of yourself, make yourself your refuge; there is no other refuge. Make truth your island, make truth your refuge; there is no other refuge.”

In other words, stark reality is to be faced, point-blank, as it is. It is not to be denied, nor is it to be all puffed up with some grand theory of something-or-other. Perhaps it is not as bad as one makes it out to be, perhaps "making it out to be" anything is actually part of the problem. Straight down the middle, with no hiding from it or craving for something else, a balance can be found. That is the middle way.


Editor B said...

Taoism and contemporary paganism also make a big emphasis on balance. I suspect indigenous shamanistic practices may as well.

NatureWriter said...

Ian, you're awesome (you know, inasmuch as "you" exist, life being so transient and amorphous and all that jazz...). Here's a quote for you:
"In dark night live those for whom
The world without alone is real; in night Darker still, for whom the world within Alone is real. The first leads to a life of action, the second to a life of meditation. But those who combine action with meditation cross the sea of death through action And enter into immortality Through the practice of meditation. So have we heard from the wise." --Isha Upanishad, 9-11, trans. Eknath Easwaran