13. The Middle Way

Buddhist texts also define the noble eightfold path, which describes how an enlightened human would act regarding eight different forms of action. It is therefore not a prescription, but merely a description of how an enlightened human would act, and offers indications which behavior could possibly, together with gaining insight, lead to enlightenment. This noble eightfold path is not a mandatory path, but a possible path. As mentioned earlier, enlightenment is not an intellectual exercise but experiential knowledge. The internalization of the insight into reality is becoming aware by observing and acting upon it.

Of course, you can not live without desires. You would only suffer in trying to do so, and that is not what this is about. People who follow the path of enlightenment strive for a life where they can deal flexibly with situations from reality, where their equanimity is disturbed as little as possible. Thinking is also necessary for acting with the knowledge that there is a future. There is only one past, one present, and one future, this is the space-time continuum. The future comes as it occurs to you through your senses. How you deal with it is dependent upon your consciousness. That is why Buddhist texts describe the middle way. Enlightenment is the middle way.

However, the future is uncertain, you can not know what will happen in the future and you can not control it. Because you think that you are separate from your so-called environment, and that this environment or so-called others can behave, develop, or react differently in the future, than what you desire would happen; doubt arises, and thereby thoughts, or possibly even fear. The fear of rejection by others, for example, arises from the desire for approval. The fear of illness or injury comes from the desire for health. The fear of pain comes from the desire for pleasure or comfort. The fear of loss arises through the desire for gain or possessions. The fear of loneliness arises through your desire for understanding, company or love. The fear of selflessness arises through the desire for a self (identity). The fear of death arises through the desire to live. 

All concepts that are based on a subjective state of feeling get meaning through their contradiction; good-bad, successful-unsuccessful, rich-poor, happy-unhappy, beautiful-ugly, strong-weak, big-small, intelligent-stupid, capable-incapable, etc. These feelings do not arise because of a single objective sensory stimulus, as with pain or hunger, but arise because you want to determine your place in the world through the interpretation of observations.  The meaning you give to these concepts exists in its contradiction; you feel good relative to bad. This contradiction is as a spectrum and reaches from one end to the other. The one can not exist without the other. You can not experience only the positive and not the negative. To know what really good is you need to know what really bad is. You look for a concept to describe a feeling because these concepts give you a sense of grip. By defining your feeling you give meaning to yourself. You create your own experience of reality, and you can grow as an individual in your own world. This gives you the illusion of grip, security, meaning, and identity, because you grasp these concepts.

You are looking for grip because you live in an uncertain world which is constantly moving. You also look for grip because you think reality exists on its own and you can give meaning to this. Because you think reality exists on its own, you might have the assumption that reality is more steady than it actually is. Because the world and your surroundings are constantly changing, you have to constantly measure your feelings with your surroundings to find grip. If you hold on to yourself while your surrounding is changing, your worldview does not reflect reality anymore. Trying to define your feelings in a reality which is of mutually dependent origination is an impossible and never ending task, because the essence of reality is empty. You will constantly doubt yourself and others, and will keep looking for yet another opinion or confirmation.

Distinction between yourself and, so called, others is the fundament for the contradiction between these concepts. For example; you might feel successful because you compare yourself with others, or you compare your feeling with an earlier feeling. In the past you were unsuccessful, but only because you saw others who were successful in your eyes. If you feel successful because you reach your own goals, you are living in your own world. The concepts which define your feeling, also define yourself, creating a distinction between yourself and others through a contradiction. The greater the contradiction in your feeling, the greater the distinction between you and others. You compare yourself with others based on a certain belief. These believes are the same as with the dependent arising of the self; religion, cosmological convictions, political views, economic points of view, ecological viewpoints, ethical viewpoints, aesthetic preference, own superiority through the origin, sex, race, education, intelligence, knowledge, experience, power position, etc.;

You feel successful because you see failure in others. If you feel rich, this is because you have others in your surrounding you perceive as poor. This surrounding can be as wide as you decide it to be; this can be your social circle, all the people in your country, or all the people in the world. Your desires and learned behavior are the only thing separating you from others. You feel successful or unsuccessful because you want to be successful. You determine the standards with which you measure whether you are successful compared to others.

If you feel bad, you only see the positive in others. It is hard to let the negative go, as you are comparing yourself to multiple others. Thereby, possibly increasing your negative feelings. You only feel good again when you match the ones with who you compare yourself with. That is, if you do not feel negative compared to others. You have to work your way up against all others in your social environment. Also, you can become jealous of others or create a resistance against them because you think they make you feel worse. By doing this you can create a gap between you and others, whereby you prefer to be alone so you feel less bad. You might even look for ways of distraction, or you seek refuge in drugs. This has at most only a temporarily damping effect and will not release your negative feelings in the end. It causes you to get deeper in trouble because you greaten the distance between you and others, while the solution lies in cancelling this distance. If you let go of your self, you will also let go of others. If you let go of the desire for the positive, you will also let go of the negative.

On the middle way there is no reference point that you are looking for and want to cling to. You open yourself up to all feelings that you experience, without wanting to place, define, or remove them. Of course, using one’s wisdom, if you feel pain because you get burned, it is wise to avoid this. If you feel hungry, it is wise to eat. If you feel tired, it is wise to eat or rest. If you sleep a lot and eat healthy but still feel tired, it is wise to look for the cause somewhere else. However, the urge with every unpleasant feeling is to look for ways to eliminate this feeling. Even if you already know in advance that the solution is only temporary and that this may even increase the unpleasant feeling in the future.

From the interpretation of whether an observation is pleasant or not, the self grows, through which you like to strive for the pleasant and avoid the unpleasant. The self grows because your interpretation of observations develops into a conviction, as a result, this conviction becomes mentally separate from the observation itself, because you define it; ‘something’ is pleasant or unpleasant. The conviction from which you pursue the pleasant and avoid the unpleasant originates from the interpretation of earlier observations, which you have interpreted as pleasant or unpleasant. You are therefore looking for continuous confirmation of earlier interpretations of observations, based on your conviction. As a result, a person can seem to be boundlessly convinced of him- or herself, if the person gets enough confirmation, based upon his or her own interpretations, by pursuing his or her own convictions.

The above shows how difficult it is to see through the self. It is like trying to explain someone that what he or she believes in only consists out of his or her own interpretations. This goes against your belief, but seeing through the self is about the opposite of what you believe; non-belief. A person consists completely out of his or her convictions in what he or she believes and pursues this belief throughout his or her whole life. This person will continually strive for confirmation of him- or herself, on the basis of his or her own convictions.

A person will always have a tendency to avoid the unpleasant and to pursue the pleasant. He or she will want to condition him- or herself in a state where he or she only experiences pleasant things and no unpleasant things. This makes the person inflexible to deal with situations that are unpleasant, or which gets him or her out of their conditioned state. The person is therefore stressed more quickly if unpleasant situations occur, and will have more trouble dealing with them. In life, unpleasant things will always happen, so it is more convenient to accept this and learn how to deal with them, than to try to create a conditioned state where you do not hope to experience them, by avoiding them. A contradiction in, or doubt of, your conviction will be experienced as something unpleasant and will be avoided. The aforementioned ensures that seeing through the self is made even more difficult by your convictions, which form the self.

You will feel loneliness, for example, and if you experience this as unpleasant, you will have a strong urge for possible ways to get rid of this unpleasant feeling. Perhaps you try to find refuge in distractions, friends, a relationship, sex, family, or in narcotics. Since there are only a few ways in which you can resolve your feeling of loneliness, chances are that the unpleasant feeling will come back later and becomes even worse. This in turn will reinforce your desire to get rid of this feeling. As a result, you may start to doubt yourself and wonder if there is anyone in the world who understands or needs you, or that you will always remain alone.

The feeling of loneliness belongs to man, every person experiences loneliness to a certain degree. We are born alone after all and company is only temporary. Even in company one can feel lonely. However, if you realize that your desire for understanding, company, or your desire to be loved, is the cause for your unpleasant experience of loneliness, you can let go of this feeling by letting go of these desires. The main focus of the middle way is to learn to let go. To be alone without experiencing it as something unpleasant, for example, or to eat a lemon and not define it as awful or experience it as unpleasant.

Therefore, the insight into the nature of reality is necessary. It gives you the deep-inner confidence in that which comes, because everything came mutually dependent into existence. Also, the development of focus and equanimity is important. This way, you do not go into despair when strong feelings arise, causing you to seek refuge in a reference. The world is not a perfect place; there is war, injustice, abuse, suffering, hunger, destruction, poverty, etc. Besides, the world will never become a perfect place. Just like your life will never be perfect. Only if you desire this, you will feel uncomfortable. A clear observation of reality is an intense perception, accompanied by strong feelings, which, if they are unpleasant, you want to avoid. However, you will be able to enjoy reality in a more intense manner if you don`t try to interpret it all the time.

For a satisfying life, you will have to overcome fears. In other words, you will have to let them go. Your urge for security and certainty causes pain, fear, frustration or dissatisfaction. If you let go of a desire, you also let go of a dissatisfaction or possible fear. That is the way to true freedom, contentment, and a clear awareness; freedom from fear, freedom from the desire for meaning, freedom from your chain of thoughts, freedom from your desire to have a grip, freedom from dissatisfaction, freedom from egocentric emotions, and freedom from frustrations due to a world view that does not correspond with reality. However, the aforementioned is not a permanent state, since everything is impermanent. The entire universe is constantly in motion, and therefore nothing is permanent, not even your feeling. By practicing and developing focus, and equanimity, you will be able to move flexibly in the flow of reality.

Go to Chapter 14