Middle Way Buddhism

Middle Way

The middle path, median path or middle way (Pali: majjhimā-patipadā; Sanskrit: madhyamā-pratipad) is the term used in Buddhism by Siddhartha Gautama in his first sermon referring to the Noble Eightfold Path, a path avoiding extremes, which leads to awakening and liberation from suffering.

The Mādhyamika school, through Nāgārjuna, developed a metaphysical conception of this middle path.

Between complacency and mortification

The term middle way is rooted in the story of Gautama Buddha's life. He experienced two excesses: first, he lived as a prince in a palace and observed sensual indulgence, attachment to the senses. This extreme would be the greedy search for material pleasures.

Then, Gautama Buddha practiced "austerities", asceticism. But almost dying, he barely escaped, he also gave up these practices (his companions at the time understood this reversal as an abandonment, a defeat, and left him alone).

Only then did Gautama Buddha attain enlightenment, nirvāna. The Buddha's first sermon, recorded in the Dhammacakkappavattana sutta, announces this Middle Way as the fourth noble truth that corresponds to the Noble Eightfold Path:

"And what, monks, is this Middle Way that the Tathagata has discovered and which lavishes vision, which gives knowledge, which leads to quietude, to direct knowledge (Abhijñā), to enlightenment and emancipation? It is only the Noble Eightfold Path ".

The middle path thus means avoiding extremes in order to attain enlightenment.

Theravada Buddhism

According to the Visuddhimagga: "Discipline (sīla) consists in rejecting the extreme attitude of attachment to sense pleasures. Concentration (samādhi) consists in rejecting the other extreme attitude: the practice of mortifications. Wisdom (paññā) is to follow the middle path " (see also: Noble Eightfold Path).

Some approaches to Theravada Buddhism recommend the practice of dhutangas. Fasting is sometimes practiced.

Ajahn Chah presents the expression middle path as an image: the Buddhist tends to abandon desire, both love and hate, or, in more precise terms, both attachment (rāga) and aversion (dveṣa).

The two attitudes to be avoided are in this case two psychic attitudes determined by an intention. Here we recognize the teaching of karma as a consequence of volition (cetanā) - the thought determines the karmic fructification of the act - or, in the words of a child: "it is the intention that counts."

Mādhyamika School

Madhymika extends the concept of the middle way to its worldview, rejecting the extremes of affirming the intrinsic existence of reality and denying it. There is only "emptiness", i.e. co-production in dependence, or conditioned co-production: not "this is [in the absolute]" or "this is not [in the absolute]", but "if this appears, then that appears".

Here the middle way goes beyond the framework of simple practice, work on oneself, effort to know one's mind, to assert itself as philosophical reason and non-duality. Knowledge, understood as lucidity on one's own blindness, is the median way.

The median way of the Dalai Lama

The expression "middle way (Umaylam)" (དབུ་མའི་ལམ།, Umaylam) also refers today to the Dalai Lama's attempts to negotiate the Tibet issue with China.

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