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Posts Tagged ‘the Middle Way’

Emerson: “The mid-world is best. (page 30)”[1]images

Zen: “It was this balanced ‘middle path’ approach, avoiding the two extremes of stagnation and excessive striving, which had enabled him [Siddhartha Gautama] to gain awakening (page 38).”[2]

The extremes of our life are what causes most of our pain and suffering.  How often have we gone to excess in even the simplest things, too much food at a restaurant or a family dinner or community pot luck supper?  How often have we spoken out of turn and thus hurt our self or another?  How often have we put so much time and energy into our work or a hobby that our family and personal lives suffered?

Many people have gone to the extreme with a way of living, eating, exercising, working, or fasting. I once had a congregant who would only eat dark green leafy things and I had a friend in college who thought that if one glass of carrot juice was good for her six a day would be even better. They both ended up with vitamin K poisoning and almost died.  Too much of a good thing can kill you!

“The Buddha pointed out that by avoiding stagnation and excessive striving he had been able to ‘cross the flood’ which similarly recommend neither going too far nor lagging behind (page 39).”  In his life he had tried every different religion or path to find “enlightenment.”  He even practiced aestheticism to such a degree that he was eating only one grain of rice a day. Needless to say he was visiting death’s door as the story goes.

“About this time a young girl came by and offered the emaciated Siddhartha a bowl of milk and rice.  At this point, Siddhartha had realized the path to awakening was a ‘middle’ way between extremes of self-denial and self-indulgence.”[3]

As Emerson says, “The mid-world is best.”  Take some time today and find your extremes and ask yourself are they helping or hindering you.  If they are hindering you decide today to begin living the “middle way.”  Whether your extreme behavior is too little or too much find the middle way and a wonderful balance will appear in your life.

Soon you will live a life where you feel fulfilled. The fruits of the middle world will appear. You will discover that life can actually be fun!

Try it I think you’ll like living in the middle world!  Let me know how it goes.

In gassho,   Shokai

[1] Dillaway, N. (1949) The Gospel of Emerson. Wakefield, Mass: The Montrose Press

[2] Analayo (2003) Satipatthana the Direct Path to Realization. Cambridge, England: Windhorse Publications

[3] http://buddhism.about.com/od/buddha/fl/The-Enlightenment-of-the-Buddha.htm

 

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“Faith in Mind” [1]
Attributed to: Seng’tsan, 3rd Chinese (Sosan, Zen) Patriarch

When the deep meaning of things is not understood
the mind’s essential peace is disturbed to no avail.

The way is perfect, like vast space
when nothing is lacking and nothing is in excess.
Indeed, it is due to our choosing to accept or reject
that we do not see the true nature of things.
Live neither in the entanglements of outer things,
nor in inner feelings of emptiness.
Be serene without striving for activity in the oneness of things
and such erroneous views will disappear by themselves.
When you try to stop activity to achieve passivity
your very effort fills you with activity.
As long as you remain in one extreme or the other
you will never know oneness.
Those who do not live in the single way
fail in both activity and passivity,
assertion and denial.

These verses may seem to be very confusing at first glance. It seems to be saying in one line that when we do not understand something our mind is “disturbed to no avail” and yet a few lines later we read we are being asked to try not to be bothered with knowing and not knowing, so which is it? Know, not know, understand, not understand? Seems to me that Buddhism is the best philosophy on the planet, knowing and not knowing are both okay. Right can be wrong, and wrong can be right on any given day. Black and white do not exist, life is filled with shades of every color on the spectrum of light.

And yet he writes, “As long as you remain in one extreme or the other you will never know oneness.” Thus many have called this path the “middle way.” That is something I can grasp. I can see that in my life when I have taken my thoughts and feelings too far in one direction or the other I have either been in “heaven” or “hell.” I may choose the heaven over the hell, but eventually even that means that I’ve decided on “preferences.” If you read my previous blog you’ll see how that can cause problems in our lives as well.

So what is the answer? Let’s go back to this line for a minute: The way is perfect, like vast space when nothing is lacking and nothing is in excess. Too much of anything can be a bad thing from too much love which can end up suffocating us or too little love which can end up creating feelings of unworthiness and self-doubt. But just the right amount like these lyrics illustrate “a spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down, in a most delightful way,” as Julie Andrews sang so beautifully in the Mary Poppins movie. Not too much sugar and not too little, just “one spoonful” was just right. The best medicine of life is to find balance and equilibrium though the middle way: Just enough, not too much and not too little in life of challenges, love, contentment, peace, joy, happiness, and sadness.

So when you find yourself moving too far in one direction or the other remember Mary Poppins and your life will be lived “in a most delightful way.” Remember also these words of Seng’tsan, “The way is perfect, like vast space when nothing is lacking and nothing is in excess.” The middle way: Try it I think, like Mary Poppins, you’ll love it!

In gassho,

ingassho

Shokai

[1] Osho (2014) Hsin Hsin Ming, The Zen Understanding of Mind and Consciousness. Osho International Foundation

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The next lines of the Heart Sutra that I will be writing about in Part IV are below:

O Shariputra, all dharmas are forms of emptiness,
Not born, not destroyed;
Not stained, not pure,
Without loss, without gain:
So in emptiness there is no form,
No sensation, conception, discrimination, awareness;

Shohaku Okumura in his wonderful book Living by Vow A Practical Introduction to Eight Essential Zen Chants and Texts, writes this about emptiness:

When we say form is emptiness, we negate this body and mind.  When we understand that emptiness is form, we negate emptiness.  Negate means to let go.  To let go of thought means to become free from both sides.  Then we can see reality from both perspectives without being attached to either.  The wisdom of Avalokitesvara is the Middle Way that includes both sides.  It is not something in between this side and that.  From the middle path we see reality from both views, relative and absolute.  We simultaneously negate and affirm both sides.  To let go of thought means to become free from both perspectives and simply be in the middle (reality) (page 154).”[1]

Wow, for me this is a very difficult thing to do.  I have opinions about everything and live my life usually from one side, the left, and the philosophy of Emerson and Thoreau’s Walden Pond. One of my favorite pieces by Emerson was his graduation talk at Harvard that got him kicked out and was not to be invited back to the campus for many, many years.

So it is a challenge for me to be able to do as Okumura says, “become free from both perspectives and simply be in the middle (reality).”  But when we use mindfulness and meditation as a center for our lives it can become easier and easier each day.

My friend Dan Huston, has written a wonderful book that is being used in colleges to teach a different kind of communication skills, Communicating Mindfully, Mindfulness-Based Communication and Emotional Intelligence. He writes about a young student of his who found an opportunity to use what he taught her—merging mindfulness and communication skills—during a speech that one of her classmates was giving on a subject that she held the opposite view point.  The techniques worked and after the class she was able to have a very serious but mindful conversation with her classmate.

Dan wrote:

“That is an important distinction because mindfulness meditation is not about picking and choosing what we want; it is about accepting the reality of each and every moment and making a distinction between what is really happening in those circumstances and what we layer on top of it with our reactions—in this case, the circumstances of her reality were growing potentially hostile because of the addition of Jill’s [the speaker] anger and frustration.  Fortunately, she [the listener and mindfulness communication student] was able to recognize those feelings as they emerged.  She accepted them but did not encourage them with self-talk that could have fueled the fire within her; consequently, those emotions were not allowed to grow in intensity.  She noticed them, and let them go (page 239).[2]

Remember what Okamura said: To let go of thought means to become free from both perspectives and simply be in the middle (reality). So the next time you get the opportunity to listen remind yourself of what Stahl and Goldstein recommend in their mindfulness training manual A Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Workbook, “We all want to be heard. It’s essential to feeling understood, accepted, and loved.  When we sense that others are truly listening, our fears and defenses tend to fade away, paving the way for greater connection, empathy, and peace in the relationship (page 164).”[3]  And it helps us live the middle (reality) way—without loss, without gain!

Things to focus on this week:

1.  I will begin listening in the “middle way” to everyone I meet.

2.  I will remind myself that doing this can help me create greater connections, empathy and peace in all of my relationships.

3.  When I get stuck I will remember that I can “negate” those thoughts, I can let them go, and free myself from “both sides.”

4.  Lastly, I will keep a journal of the opportunities that have been presented to me so I can keep track of my progress and my opportunities for growth.

 


[1] Okumura, S (2012) Living by Vow A Practical Introduction to Eight Essential Zen Chants and Text. Wisdom Publications: Somerville, MA

[2] Huston, D. (2010) Communicating Mindfully Mindfulness-Based Communication and Emotional Intelligence. Cengage Learning: Mason, Ohio

[3] Stahl, B. and Goldstein, E. (2010) A Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction Workbook. New Harbinger Publications, Inc.: Oakland, CA

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