The 6th International Conference Buddhism & Australia
Chinese Buddhist Encyclopedia Illustrations
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The Middle Way or Middle Path (Pali: majjhimā paṭipadā; Sanskrit: madhyamā-pratipad) is the term that Siddhartha Gautama used to describe the character of the path he discovered that leads to liberation.
- Monks, these two extremes ought not to be practiced by one who has gone forth from the household life. (What are the two?)
There is addiction to indulgence of sense-pleasures, which is low, coarse, the way of ordinary people, unworthy, and unprofitable; and there is addiction to self-mortification, which is painful, unworthy, and unprofitable.
- Avoiding both these extremes, the Tathagata (the Perfect One) has realized the Middle Path; it gives vision, gives knowledge, and leads to calm, to insight, to enlightenment and to Nibbana.
Thus, it is this personal context as well as the broader context of Indian shramanic practices that gives particular relevancy to the caveat against the extreme (Pali: antā) of self-mortification (Pali: atta-kilamatha).
But the absence of an eternal atman does not mean there is no-thing at all. Early Buddhism adheres to a realistic approach which does not deny existence as such, but denies the existence of eternal and independent substances.
- The understanding that sees a 'person' as subsisting in the causal connectedness of dependent arising is often presented in Buddhist thought as 'the middle' (madhyama/majjhima) between the views of 'eternalism' (śaśvata-/sassata-vāda) and 'annihilationism' (uccheda-vāda).
- The Tathāgata teaches the Dhamma by the middle without veering to either of these extremes – eternalism or annihilationism – having abandoned them without reservation. He teaches while being established in the middle way.
In the Visuddhimagga the following is found :
- 'Dependent origination' (paticca-samuppada) represents the middle way, which rejects the doctrines, 'He who acts is he who reaps' and 'One acts while another reaps' (S.ii.20) ..."
- Conditioned Arising is a 'Middle Way' which avoids the extremes of 'eternalism' and 'annihilationism': the survival of an eternal self, or the total annihilation of a person at death.
Conditioned arising also describes the twelve factors of conditioned origin of suffering (dukkha) leading to rebirth, from ignorance (avijja) to aging and death (jaramarana), and the parallel reverse-order interdependent cessation of these factors (see Dependent Origination and Twelve Nidanas).
Nagarjuna's influential Verses on the Middle Way deconstructs the usage of terms describing reality, leading to the insight into emptiness. it contains one reference to a sutta by the Buddha himself, namely the Samyutta Nikaya's Kaccāyanagotta Sutta:
- 'Everything exists': That is one extreme.
- 'Everything doesn't exist': That is a second extreme.
- Avoiding these two extremes,
- The Tathagata teaches the Dhamma via the middle...."
- If one asks about the worldly, use the paired opposite of the saintly; if asking about the saintly use the paired opposite of the worldly.
So, for a single question, a single pair of opposites, and for other questions the single [pair] that accords with this fashion, then you do not lose the principle.