THE MIDDLE PATH AND THE MIDDLE DOCTRINE
( By Bhikkhu Seelananda , Paramita International Buddhist Centre Kadugannawa,Sri Lanka).
The Dhamma taught by the Buddha is the Middle Path . The doctrine is a doctrine of the Middle . Where there are two extremes ,there can be also a middle way .In the time of the Buddha , in India ,two extremes appeared to prevail in society; namely, sensual indulgence and self mortification. Prince Siddhartha Gautama realised the in-adequacy of such extremes and sought a middle Path for emancipation from suffering.
The Buddha preached a Dhamma the like of which was not heard before. According to the Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta of the Samyutta Nikaya , the Buddha disclosed the Middle Path between extremes . He said" Avoiding both these extremes, the Ta-thagata ,the Perfect One, has discovered the Middle Path; it gives vision, gives knowl-edge, and leads to calm , to insight, to enlightenment and to Nibbana"( etete ubho ante anupagamma majjhima patipada tathagatena abhisambuddha cakkhu karani nana-karani upasamaya abhinnaya sambodhaya nibbanaya samwattati ) .This Path enunci-ated by him is the Noble Eight fold Path, namely:
Right understanding(Samma ditthi)
Right thought(Samma samkappa)
Right speech(Samma vaca)
Right action(Samma kammanta)
Right livelihood(Samma ajiva)
Right effort(Samma vayama)
Right mindfulness(Samma sati)
Right concentration(Samma samadhi)
In the Discourse entitled "Delicately Nurtured" of the Anguttara Nikaya , the Buddha explained very clearly the luxurious life he led while he was at the palace as a Prince. He said "Monks , I was delicately nurtured , extremely delicately nurtured, delicately nurtured beyond measure….I had three palaces ,one for winter, one for summer, and one for the rainy season. In the four months of the rains I was waited on by minstrels, women all of them. I came not down from my palace in those months."
That is one extreme of life he had to confront, and on the other hand he underwent much suffering while he was practising austerities in association with some contem-porary ascetics. It is stated in the Maha Saccaka Sutta of the Majjhima Nikaya(Sutta No. 36 .Bodhi's Translation.BPS) as follows:
"I thought: 'Suppose I take very little food , a handful each time, whether of bean-soup or lentil soup or vetch soup or pea-soup. So I took very little food ,a handful each time, whether of bean soup or lentil soup or vetch soup or pea soup. While I did so, my body reached a state of extreme emaciation. Because of eating so little my limbs became like the jointed segments of vine stems or bamboo stems. Because of eating so little my buttocks became like a camel's hoof. Because of eating so little the projec-tion on my spine stood forth like corded beads. Because of eating so little my ribs jut-ted out as gaunt as the crazy rafters of an old roofless barn. Because of eating so little the gleam of my eyes sank far down in their sockets, looking like the gleam of water that is far down in a deep well. Because of eating so little my scalp shrivelled and withered as a green bitter gourd shrivels and withers in the wind and sun. Because of eating so little my belly skin adhered to my backbone; thus if I touched my belly skin I encountered my backbone and if I touched my backbone I encountered my belly skin. Because of eating so little, if I urinated or defecated , I fell over on my face there. Because of eating so little, if I tried to ease my body by rubbing my limbs with my hands, the hair , rotted at its roots, fell from my body as I rubbed.
Now when people saw me , some said : "The recluse Gotama is black". Other people said, "the recluse Gotama is not black , he is brown". Other people said: "The recluse Gotama is neither black nor brown ,he is golden-skinned". So much had the clear, bright colour of my skin deteriorated through eating so little"(p.339-340) .
Thus he practised austerities. But he was not be able to reach the goal. In the same Sutta he mentioned ," But by this racking practice of austerities I have not attained any super human states, any distinction in knowledge and vision worthy of the noble ones. "Finally the ascetic Gotama himself understood the vainness of austerities and the significance of practising the Middle Path, taking sufficient food . Having taken solid food he practised meditation and as a result he attained Supreme Enlightenment.
Let us now examine the Path in detail. The first step in the Path is Right Understand-ing. It is right because it is suited to the purpose .Right Understanding is the usual rendering of Pali Samma Ditthi .Ditthi is what is seen. Understanding can be what one realises for oneself, and also what one makes of what takes place in the inner world of society and what is "seen". Taking of another's belongings is not a desirable thing .This becomes an accepted position for a law–abiding citizen.That hurting another is not desirable similarly is an accepted position. These are what are "seen" as undesir-able. So Samma Ditthi is as much inner understanding as one's position in relation to the outer world. It is one's "views", what one "sees". In common parlance "views" are beliefs. A belief is what one "sees" as correct.
Right Understanding is one of the most important factors for understanding the word of the Buddha .According to Buddhism one should not merely believe and worship or pray . But one should be mindful and alert . When one is mindful and wise one can understand things as they are . According to the "Right View Discourse" of the Majjhima Nikaya the Venerable Sariputta said " Friends, when a noble disciple under-stands what is unwholesome and the root of the unwholesome , what is wholesome and the root of the wholesome, in that way he becomes one of right view, whose view is straight , who has perfect confidence in the Dhamma and has arrived at the true Dhamma." Right view is a messenger of Enlightenment , Once the Buddha said, " O monks as the sun is the harbinger of the day , right understanding is the harbinger of Enlightenment. (Samyutta Nikaya)."
Thus when one has right understanding one concentrates on the proper path to deliv-erance and also practise generosity(dana) , a great virtue for developing unselfishness and detachment rather than the hoarding of wealth and property . Thus one gives things to others and practises renunciation which brings with it right thinking or right thought(Samma Samkappa). Right thought has three elements . One is Nekkamma Samkappa or a renunciation proclivity, the other is loving kindness(Avyapada Sam-kappa) or a proclivity to care and help .The third element is not resorting to violence (Avihimsa samkappa).
At this stage he knows well that hatred is never appeased by hatred but by loving kindness alone(metta). So he lives suffused with metta towards all living beings (sabba sattesu metta sahagatena cetasa viharati).Non-violence is a great concept de-veloped in Buddhism which was later on put into practice to the letter by Mahatma Gandhi. The Buddha never permitted any sort of violence to beings. Violence in any form is violence. Buddhism never accepts it in any form or by any other name. If one can cultivate these concepts of wholesome thoughts, one then moves on to the third step which is Right Speech .
Samma vaca or Right Speech is very important in our daily life because it is the way of communicating with others. Today most people do not talk with awareness of what they think . They deliberately tell lies ,carry tales from place to place, and cause dis-putes among the people. They use harsh words and spend much time in idle talks .As a consequence of this people suspect each other and do not believe others. So enmity, jealousy, anxiety, and unfriendliness arise as a result. If one refrains from telling lies one must speak the truth .If one refrains from carrying tales one should convey good-will and should promote peace and harmony among all. If one does not waste time on useless talk, then one could spend one's time on what is profitable, what is fruitful ,and what is right. Whatever we engage in our volitional actions can be categorised into three, namely:
1. Bodily actions (kayakamma)
2. Verbal actions(vacikamma)
3. Mental actions (manokamma) .
Our volitional or intentional actions have their results . Whatever we do with impure mind, the result will be unwholesome and will follow us like the wheel that follows the hoof of the bull. And whatever we do with a pure mind the result will be whole-some and will follow us like a never –departing shadow. Therefore, through our body, speech and mind, we should remember to do whatever is wholesome .If we are mindful of our actions and do what is right Sammakammanta, it will be Right Action .
Right livelihood is the next step in the Eightfold Noble Path. To lead a righteous life one should choose an occupation that does not cause harm, hurt or distress to anyone. Of cause it has to bring a good income because in these days of commercialism peo-ple also need money and so if one can sell Kasippu one can earn good money or if one can sell narcotics one can earn a lot of money. But these things are against the law and also do serious harm to people. What is harmful and condemned by many in society, is definitely not a righteous livelihood.
According to Buddhism farming is a desirable employment but rearing cattle for flesh or poultry farming is harmful to living things. It is not a right kind of employment .In the Anguttara Nikaya there are 5 kinds of wrong occupations which should not be taken up by a lay-follower of the Buddha namely:
1. Trading with weapons( sattha vanijja)
2. Trading in living beings(satta vanijja)
3. Trading in meat(mansa vanijja)
4. Trading in intoxicants (majja vanijja)
5. Trading in poison (visa vanijja)
So abstaining from an unrighteous life by fighting against consumerism and commer-cialism brings forth a righteous life and true happiness.
Right Effort is the sixth step in this graded Path . Everyone makes an effort to go for-ward, to become rich and to be cultured in society. In Buddhism there is nothing to gain without effort. Suffering itself has to be eradicated by effort(viriyena dukkham acceti).The Buddha always exhorted us to make an effort to eradicate all defilements. "Heedfulness is the path to the deathless. Heedlessness is the path to death. The heed-ful die not. The heedless are as if dead already" said the Buddha. When taking his last breath he said " Now, monks , I declare to you: all conditioned things are of a na-ture to decay, strive on untiringly "(Vayadhammasamkhara appamadena sampadetha) .By "untiringly" here means "with the utmost effort".
In this context, the function of Right Effort has four aspects:- the effort to prevent what is unwholesome ,the effort to abandon what is unwholesome, the effort to de-velop what is wholesome and the effort to maintain the wholesome . Here prevention means the prevention of the arising of evil ,unwholesome thoughts, that have not yet arisen . Abandoning is the abandonment of evil and , unwholesome thoughts that have already arisen. Development here means the putting forth of effort to produce and de-velop wholesome thoughts that have not yet arisen .And "maintaining " is to make an effort to keep the mind all the time on a favourable object of concentration .
Sammasati ,the seventh step is right mindfulness . This is the most crucial step for one who wishes to attain and abide in the bliss of Nibbana .According to the Maha Satipatthana Sutta of the Digha Nikaya "mindfulness" should be maintained in four ways, namely:
Mindfulness of body (Kayanupassana )
Mindfulness of feeling (Vedananu passana)
Mindfulness of consciousness (Cittanupassana)
Mindfulness of Dhamma (Dhammanupassana)
In the Dhammapada it is said "If you hold yourself dear, watch yourself well"
( Attanam ce piyam janna rakkheyyana surakkhitam . 157 Vr)Mindfulness, complete awareness, and clear comprehension, these are the ways with which one brings medi-tation to fulfillment. He who is mindful and aware of himself at all times is already at the gates of the Deathless. Referring to the fourfold foundations of mindfulness the Buddha said "O monks this is the Only Way for the purification of beings"(-ekayano ayambhikkave maggo sattanam visuddhiya-)There is no meditation, no way of purifi-cation without the Four Foundation of Mindfulness. Thus mindfulness or meditation is the life-blood of Buddhism.
Right concentration (Sammasamadhi),here means the fourfold meditative absorption (Jhana).It is a state of mental purity where disturbing passions and impulses are sub-dued and calmed down, so that the mind becomes unified and collected, and enters into a state of clear consciousness and mindfulness. By developing Jhana one can gain psychic powers which enables one to perform many types of miracles and reflect upon one's previous lives and see things far away etc.
The Buddha himself practised these and finally he realized something else, something beyond that through insight meditation namely Right Knowledge ( Samma Nana )and Right deliverance( Samma Vimutti), that is the complete eradication of suffering (Asawakkhaya).The Path enunciated by the Buddha is Eight-fold. The last two(Samma Nana and Samma Vimutti) are the fruits .Thus Samma Samadhi,in is not just Jhanas , it is the Knowledge and attainment of Nibbana.
Referring to the Middle Doctrine and addressing Kaccayana ,once the Buddha said, "The World, in general Kaccayana, inclines to two views, to existence or to non-existence(atthita ca natthita ca ). But for him who ,with the highest wisdom, sees the uprising of the world as it really is, "non existence of the world" does not apply ,and for him who, with the highest wisdom, sees the passing away of the world as it really is, "existence of the world" does not apply. …..'Every thing exists' ,this is one extreme and 'nothing exists' this is the other extreme. Avoiding both extremes the Tathagata teaches a doctrine of the middle" .Thus the Middle Path is quite a sophisticated con-cept though we generally explain it as some thing between pleasure and mortifica-tion. Initially for us the notion of avoidance of pleasure and mortification is enough. As we develop we will see the depth of the concept.
The Buddha always denied extremist idealism and he emphasised a middle way of thinking and conduct in society. In his teaching he proved it on many occasions. In the Acela Kassapa Sutta of the Samyutta Nikaya ,the Buddha said the same thing in a different manner ,"Suffering caused by oneself" this amounts to the Eternalist the-ory… "Suffering caused by another" this amounts to the Annihilation theory. Avoid-ing both extremes, Kassapa, the Tathagata teaches a doctrine of the Middle." Here again we have a hint of the depth of the concept.
Considering all these teachings of the Buddha , we see that the Noble teaching of the Buddha is a Middle Path(Majjhima Patipada) because it avoids two extremes ,and on the other hand, as it is free of all types of 'isms' or 'views' it is a Middle Doctrine (Ma-jjhima Desana).Thus it is also a concept of great potential realisable as we proceed .