The Middle Way
Articles By Christmas Humphreys
From The Way of Action
There is a Middle Way, O Bhikkbus, discovered by the Tathagata, a path which opens the eyes and bestows understanding, which leads to peace of mind, to the higher wisdom, to full enlightenment, to Nirvana . . .
This is the 'doctrine of the mean', avoiding all extremes of every kind, eschewing dogmatism, fanaticism and all intolerance, was described in the first recorded sermon of the Buddha, and is one of the basic principles of Buddhism. Here we are only concerned with it as an ingredient in Right Action, for no act is ideally right that swerves by a hair's breadth from the middle way between all the pairs of opposites which collectively portray the indivisible unity of the One, and still more falsely the Non- duality which lies beyond One and Two.
First we must face it, the dual fact that the right way lies between all extremes and that a million pairs of the opposites divide our interest every moment of the waking day. The duality is inevitable, and inherent in the manifestation in the universe of THAT. It is therefore useless to proclaim in any argument, 'There is no difference. It's all the same thing, really.' True, the opposites are as the two sides of the coin, complementary, but the two sides of a coin are different, as are male and female, night and day. Some tension between the opposites is equally inevitable. This twin polarity of the magnetic field, the positive and the negative terminals of that form of life we call electricity, the desire of the male and female for each other, these create tension which will never die until the two become one in a higher state in which both, though separate, are merged in a higher unity. In the same way, in-breathing and out breathing, work and rest are alternating states, and the presence of the one implies the existence, earlier or later in the illusion of time, of the other.
The 'Higher Third'
Meanwhile the human mind, dimly but deeply aware of its oneness with All-Mind, forever seeks the union. It will not find it either opposite, nor in both, and still less in attempt at compromise. God and Mammom are truly alternatives, and it has been interestingly said that compromise is the devil. Right can never be a mixture of right and wrong, and at any one moment we either create or destroy. The solution of the problem, the integration of the pairs, the release from the tension, is to be found in what I have elsewhere called a Higher Third, a point which makes a triangle with any pair, yet is not between them on their plane. As Jung pointed out in The Secret of the Golden Flower, no problem is ever solved on its own plane. Only when consciousness is raised to a higher level does the tension fade, and the problem, being seen in a new light, is no longer a problem. The faculty by which the opposites are finally transcended is the intuition, the instrument in man for the awareness of Prajna, the supreme Wisdom which, with supreme Compassion is one of the ultimate two. 'The Prajna-eye ', says Dr Suzuki, 'placing itself on the boundary-line of Oneness and Manyness . . . of Enlightenment and Ignorance, takes in these two worlds at a glance as one Reality. The Prajna is not on this side, nor on that side nor in the middle; when it is subjected to discrimination it is lost, it is no more there.'
In his Supreme Doctrine, Benoit calls this Higher Third the Superior Principle which reconciles the two inferior principles, and he adds a further point of importance. Man, he says, is apt to see them collaborating in this struggle. Yet the pairs are truly in collaboration to produce that which transcends them, and they can only die as duality in the arms of that which gave them birth.
There is a Buddhist scripture immensely popular in China and Japan which is variously translated, for the Chinese ideographs are highly compressed in meaning. In Dr Suzuki's translation we read,
'Pursue not the outer entanglements,
Dwell not in the inner void;
When the mind rests serene in the oneness of things,
The dualism vanishes by itself.'
In this serenity of mind or heart,
The pairs coalesce.
To set up what you like against what you dislike,
This is the disease of the mind:
When the deep meaning (of the Way) is not understood
Peace of mind is disturbed and nothing is gained.
But, When dualism no more obtains
Even oneness itself remains not as such.
The joy of flow
One way to achieve this peace of mind is to let go of either bank of the river and to be content, and it is a deep content, to flow with the stream. So long as a man walks on, or flows, or perceives his substance to exist of motion alone as modern scientists are bold enough to declare, much will happen. All flows; to stop illusion, and to stop on either bank of the river of flow is a cause of pain. The man who keeps moving, not in aggressive action but in full serenity of mind, has nothing to fear from anything in the world. He is impregnable, for he has no possessions to lose, no goal to attain. He has no feelings where he has no self to be hurt; balanced, he cannot fall, and he sees the field of action in its entirety. Thus his is one with that 'Power divine which moves to Good', the principle of Enlightenment which dwells in everything, and he knows, beyond all reasoning, that all is as it should be, that things indeed work well. If this is a hard saying it will seem less hard at a later stage of the of the journey. But the Middle way is a knife edge, to achieve and to maintain. 'A tenth of an inch's difference, and heaven and earth are set apart.' It moves between all extremes, 'between the carelessness of the average sensual man and the strained overeagerness of the zealot for salvation. To achieve it one must walk delicately, and to maintain it, must learn to combine the most intense alertness with a tranquil and self-denying passivity, the most indomitable determination with a perfect submission to the leadings of the spirit.' Yet even the knife-edge must not be sought too strenuously, for such effort might be may be born of self.