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The Middle Way: A Buddhist philosophy

Updated on August 9, 2010

The Philosophy of the Middle Way

 "Beginnings and Endings are easy. The middle is always the hardest part to write." Charles Dickens.

Finding balance is a difficult thing to do, both as individuals and as a culture. We're all struggling to find balance in a world out of balance. Moderation is very difficult in a world that insists on pushing us to the extremes.

The original Buddha, Shakyamuni, was a spoiled Prince who's early life was one of indulgence.  Despite being shielded from the dark chaos of the outside world, Shakyamuni finally became aware that so many people were suffering, he gave up his privileged existence to go on a spiritual quest that led him to live an ascetic lifestyle, starving and punishing himself. When he became so weak that he was near to death, but still hadn't found the spiritual enlightenment he sought, he came to realize his error. Neither the extreme of self mortification nor the excessive indulgence of his youth was the correct path. There had to be a better way. A middle way.

Buddha told his followers, "Avoiding these two extremes is where you find the enlightenment of the middle path, which brings insight and knowledge and leads to higher consciousness and Nirvana."

So how do we find the middle ground in our lives today? We're living at a time where the country is polarized politically either to the far right or the far left. The gap between the rich and the poor has never been wider. Some religions speak in the extremes of purity or sin. Our leaders tell us we have to choose between conquering or being conquered. If we don't work enough hours we can't make a living but we're working so many hours many of us don't have a life.

So wheres the middle ground in all this? Wheres the midway view that the Buddha spoke of between poverty and wealth. Between up and down. Where?

Terrorism is a word we've all become very familiar with over the last eight years. Terrorists are an example of an extreme viewpoint. Its good to fight for a cause but 9-11 shows that even a cause can be taken way too far. It takes a wise man to find a middle path between passive acceptance and and violent overkill. People like Gandhi or Dr. King were smart enough to find the middle path between bloodshed and surrender. Avoiding both extremes is the path of the middle way.

Too many of us have the same trouble finding that center balance. We're too high or too low. Too slow or too fast. Far left or far right. Workaholic or indolent. Too aggressive or too wimpy. Too clingy or unfaithful. You think of all the things we go through in our lives and you wish that you could live in-between. If only we can find the peace of a balanced universe. The center will hold, if we can just find it.  


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    • Robwrite profile image

      Rob 6 years ago from Bay Ridge Brooklyn NY

      Hi formosangirl; Moderation and middle ground is on a lot of people's minds now that the distance between the rich and poor, as well as between the right and the left, is so far it seems irreconsilable.

      Thanks for reading,


    • formosangirl profile image

      formosangirl 6 years ago from Los Angeles

      Great hub.

      I have had moderation on my mind and wrote about it, too.

    • Robwrite profile image

      Rob 6 years ago from Bay Ridge Brooklyn NY

      Hi Corey. No, balance is never easy but it's important and worth striving for. The goal is to do everything in moderation until it becomes natural. Even pleasure should be regulated in moderation, otherwise wild and sensualist behavior can get out of hand.

      It's a long process and hard to do but it's a good way to live.


    • profile image

      Corey 6 years ago

      I have realized that going forward in this life is hard enough without carrying on the added wait of pain and suffering. My question to you is how do we know when to moderate pain and pleasure? To stop everything your doing and attempt to end your pain and suffering you don't progress in the real world which causes pain and suffering. Balance is not easy.

    • Robwrite profile image

      Rob 7 years ago from Bay Ridge Brooklyn NY

      Good to hear from you, GG. It is very hard to stay grounded in the modern world which keeps pushing us toward extremes. Your bi-polar disorder makes it that much harder. I found that Buddhism helped me a lot. It isn't the path for everyone but in today's world, I find it the best answer for finding inner peace.

      Thanks for reading, GG.

    • gg.zaino profile image

      greg g zaino 7 years ago from L'America- Big Pine Key, Florida

      Hi Rob, great topic and anecdote. The Buddha was a sharp cookie, but he too had to learn difficult life lessons before achieving enlightenment, didn't he.

      i need to be grounded at times and sometimes i will become... overly enthusiastic, for lack of a better description.

      i recognize though that many times it's just the bipolar disorder kicking in. one extreme or the the other with short periods of peace in between. such is life. i deal with it. i enjoy the creative side.

      i have adjusted well and find the path you chose a wonder in its simplicity.

      society suffers the same mania and depression i believe, the impairment can be overcome. i am in agreement with you totally on that.

      I must finish reading the remainder of your writings on this very exciting news.

      thanks brother- peace ~ greg

    • Robwrite profile image

      Rob 8 years ago from Bay Ridge Brooklyn NY

      I'm very glad to hear that this registered with you, JB. Balance is so important in a chaotic world. Extremes are never good. Finding the middle ground is a vital part of finding that balanced life between accomplishment and yet serenity. Its hard, I know, but if we can stay centered, we can focus on living in the moment and dealing with important things in a non-frantic way.

    • JBeadle profile image

      JBeadle 8 years ago from Midwest

      Man, this speaks to me. My mom just died. I'm unemployed but for the time being okay. Hassles of family, job searches, administrations and their paperwork to get benefits I have earned but have to fight for... Wrapped up in politics or religious debates at time. No middle. Just back and forth lately. And I can tell. Thanks for a piece that reminds me to stay centered. Deal with the stuff bit by bit in a positive manner always. Words I know but don't always live by! Nice hub. Would like to hear more.