The Middle Way

Our lives are filled with extremes. Joy and sorrow, love and hate, all these emotions, when taken to the extreme bring us suffering. The Buddhadharma encourages living in the middle way.

Twice a year, at the Spring and Fall equinoxes, we hold a special service called O-Higan. During these times of year, the days and nights are of equal length. The temperature is moderate, between the heat of Summer and the cold of Winter. This balance represents the middle way. O-Higan means “to cross over.” A river is often a symbol used to explain our lives. Our ego driven desires trap us on the “shore of illusion.” Our ignorance causes us to see things as we want, not as they are. We run aimlessly up and own this shore trying to find a way to cross over to the shore of enlightenment. Only when we cross over will we be liberated from our suffering.

The middle way is not a life of compromise. The middle way is a life of awareness of the extremes, and by being aware, avoiding these extremes. When we think of hate and sorrow, seeing them as a cause of suffering seems obvious. Taken to the extreme, and allowed to linger, they almost certainly guarantee suffering. Sorrow, as a natural response to loss, can bring a sense of closure. Attachment to sorrow leads to misery. What about love and joy? How can such positive emotions be the cause of suffering?

When one lives in the middle way, there is an understanding that everything is impermanent. The past is gone. The future is yet to come. Only the eternal now exists. A joyful experience must be recognized as fleeting. Relish this joy while it lasts, but do not become attached to it. Attachment to joy only leads to suffering once the joy has passed.

Love of another person can be the source of great happiness. However, obsessive love results in jealousy, possessiveness and despair. Love of country or religion can be a rewarding and fulfilling experience. Fanatical love, leaving no room for the beliefs of others, has been the cause of countless wars all the way to the present

To live in the middle way is to realize our interconnectedness with all of life. The events in our lives, be they good or bad, are the result of all that has come before. How we react to these events influences the future. The choice is always ours. An awareness of the present moment, distinct from the past and future, helps us avoid extremes.

In our ignorance, we think life is about us. The Buddhadharma shows us that this is not the case. We are a part of the universal oneness, the infinite light and life, wisdom and compassion. This is the “shore of enlightenment.” The middle way is our bridge to this other shore.

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