Dharma Topic: Finding the Middle Way

Dharma Topic: Finding the Middle Way

Discussion date: Thu, Nov 02, 2006 at our weekly Thursday evening practice

Dear Still Water Friends,

According to legend, the Buddha was raised as a prince and lived hisearly years indulgently, amidst great luxury. When he was 29, however,he realized there was no deep or lasting joy in his life. For the nextsix years he practiced as an ascetic, denying himself basic needs aswell as pleasures. This too, he found, did not bring lastingsatisfaction.

On the night of his enlightenment he looked deeply into hisdissatisfaction and realized there was another way, a way of beingwhich led to a deep and abiding joy. As he explained soon after to theascetics he had traveled with,

… please listen, my friends. I have found the Great Way, and I willshow it to you. You will be the first to hear my Teaching. This Dharmais not the result of thinking. It is the fruit of directexperience.  . . .

My brothers, there are two extremes that a person on the path shouldavoid. One is to plunge oneself into sensual pleasures, and the otheris to practice austerities which deprive the body of its needs. Both ofthese extremes lead to failure. The path I have discovered is theMiddle Way, which avoids both extremes and has the capacity to lead oneto understanding, liberation, and peace. It is the Noble Eightfold Pathof right understanding, right thought, right speech, right action,right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, and rightconcentration. I have followed this Noble Eightfold Path and haverealized understanding, liberation, and peace.

Brothers, why do I call this path the Right Path? I call it the RightPath because it does not avoid or deny suffering, but allows for adirect confrontation with suffering as the means to overcome it. TheNoble Eightfold Path is the path of living in awareness. Mindfulness isthe foundation. By practicing mindfulness, you can developconcentration which enables you to attain Understanding. Thanks toright concentration, you realize right awareness, thoughts, speech,action, livelihood, and effort. The Understanding which develops canliberate you from every shackle of suffering and give birth to truepeace and joy. [From Old Path, White Cloud, by Thich Nhat Hanh]

This week, as my wife Ann-Mari and I talked about how to respond tosomeone close to us suffering from an addiction, I thought about theimportance of the Buddha’s teaching on the Middle Way. The addictedperson is usually entirely focused on a short term desire for pleasure(or a short term desire to avoid pain). There is little room for alarger understanding of what will bring a deeper satisfaction toourselves and others.

Once I saw the “avoiding or denying” of suffering in addictions, I alsobegan to see it more clearly in many areas of my own life:

  • When I procrastinate, such as when I put off a writing project
  • When I make unhealthy food choices
  • When I turn away from (or dampen) the suffering of others, because staying with them is unpleasant
  • When I look for ways to distract myself from my fear, anxieties, or sadness

In each case I am trying to avoid facing theunpleasant feelings in front of me. I am not willing or not motivatedto fully experience them. I don’t yet see that whether I recognize itor not, avoiding and denying inevitably makes it harder for myself andothers.

Our orientation to pleasure and pain is deeply rooted in our psyches,usually well beneath our conscious awareness. This Thursday, after ourmeditation period, we will explore together the lessonsabout pleasureand pain we learned growing up, and the experiences we’ve gained infinding a middle way which reduces our suffering and the suffering ofothers.
A related quote from Pema Chodron is below.

We will begin this Thursday at 6:30 pm with an orientation toMindfulness Practice and the Still Water community. Everyone is welcome– please consider joining us or bringing a friend.

Warm Wishes,


The Root of Suffering

What keeps us unhappy and stuck in a limited view of reality is ourtendency to seek pleasure and avoid groundlessness, to seek comfort andavoid discomfort. This is how we keep ourselves enclosed in a cocoon.Out there are all the planets and all the galaxies and vast space, butwe’re stuck here in this cocoon. Moment after moment, we’re decidingthat we would rather stay in that cocoon than step out into that bigspace. Life in our cocoon is cozy and secure. We’ve gotten it alltogether. It’s safe, it’s predictable, it’s convenient, and it’strustworthy. If we feel ill at ease, we just fill in those gaps.

Our mind is always seeking zones of safety. We’re in this zone ofsafety and that’s what we consider life, getting it all together,security — that’s what makes us anxious. We fear being confused andnot knowing which way to turn. We want to know what’s happening. Themind is always seeking zones of safety, and these zones of safety arecontinually falling apart. Then we scramble to get another zone ofsafety, which are always falling apart. That’s the essence of samsara– the cycle of suffering that comes from continuing to seek happinessin all the wrong places.

Discussion Date: Thu, Nov 02, 2006