What is the Middle Way in Buddha Teaching?June 28, 2021
Gautama lived in luxury early in his life.
In this luxury, he has the opportunity to taste all kinds of sensory pleasures. However, he realized that these alone did not bring happiness, and he became deeply aware of the sufferings in the world; witnessing diseases, deaths, old age and poverty, he thought that these prevented happiness.
He realized that submitting to sensory pleasures in order to relieve these pains provides very temporary happiness. Buddha shaved his head as part of his withdrawal from worldly blessings. According to Buddhist teaching, anything seductive is the source of all suffering, and it is necessary to resist their seductive power. But the Buddhist teaching also states that completely withdrawing from the blessings of the world will cause unhappiness in the same way.
Buddha thus concluded that there must be a middle ground between surrendering to worldly pleasures and suffering. According to him, this middle way is the way that will lead people to true happiness and enlightenment. To discover this path, one must reason from one’s own experience.
Realizing that suffering is a universal emotion, Buddha sees it as an integral part of existence. The root cause of this pain is that we cannot meet our desires and expectations. These desires, which Buddha called “devotion,” include not only sensual desires and worldly ambitions, but also self-preservation as a basic instinct. Satisfying these attachments will only open the door to short-term happiness. This will not bring relief to our minds. Here is the permanent attainment of happiness can only be by finding the middle way.
The next step in Gautama’s chain of reasoning is the elimination of attachments in order to thwart disappointments and thus end suffering. To achieve this, we need to get down to the root causes of our attachments—our selfishness. What Gautama means by selfishness is more than our tendency to seek gratification. According to him, this selfishness is the state of self-centeredness and self-devotion that we call “ego” today.
It is not enough that we simply renounce our desires to free ourselves from attachments that cause us suffering; we also need to overcome our attachment to the one who desires them—the self. So how can this be achieved? Desire, ambition and expectations are part of our nature, the reason for living for most of us. Gautama’s answer to this is that the ego’s world, which he again shows through reasoning, is illusory. According to him, nothing in the universe happens spontaneously, everything is the result of a previous action and each of us is a temporary part of this eternal process, ultimately not permanent and real. Thus, there really is no ‘self’ that is not part of a larger whole – or ‘non-self’ – and suffering comes from our failure to understand it. This does not mean that we deny our existence or identity, but rather understand what they really are—temporary and unreal. Realizing the concept of being part of an eternal ‘non-self’ rather than clinging to the notion of being a unique ‘self’ lacks this commitment. It is the key to recovery and relief from pain.
Prepared by: Sociologist Ömer YILDIRIM
Source: Omer YILDIRIM’s Personal Lecture Notes. Atatürk University Sociology Department 1st Year “Introduction to Philosophy” and 2nd, 3rd, 4th Grade “History of Philosophy” Lecture Notes (Ömer YILDIRIM); Open Education Philosophy Textbook