The Middle Way is a Buddhist term with rich connotations. Most simply, it implies a balanced approach to life and the regulation of one’s impulses and behavior, close to Aristotle’s idea of the “golden mean” whereby “every virtue is a mean between two extremes, each of which is a vice.”
In philosophy, especially that of Aristotle, the ‘golden mean’ is the desirable middle between two extremes, one of excess and the other of deficiency. For example, in the Aristotelian view, courage is a virtue, but if taken to excess would manifest as recklessness, and if deficient as cowardice.
While the word middle denotes balance, however, the Middle Way should not be confused with passivity or a kind of middle-of-the-road compromise. To tread the Middle Way rather implies ongoing effort.
Buddhism itself is sometimes referred to as “the Middle Way,” indicating a transcendence and reconciliation of the extremes of opposing views.
The entity of life, which T’ien-t’ai called the Middle Way, exhibits two aspects–a physical aspect and a non-substantial aspect. Ignoring or emphasizing either gives us a distorted picture of life. We cannot, for example, realistically conceptualize a person lacking either a physical or a mental/spiritual aspect. T’ien-t’ai thus clarified the indivisible interrelationship between the physical and the spiritual. From this viewpoint stem the Buddhist principles of the inseparability of the body and the mind and of the self and the environment.
an entity that transcends and harmonizes apparent contradictions
a path between the extremes of religious asceticism and worldly self-indulgence.
According to Buddhism, individuals and societies as a whole have a tendency toward either a predominantly material or spiritual view of life. The negative effects of the materialism that pervades the modern industrialized world are apparent at every level of society, from environmental destruction to spiritual impoverishment. Simply rejecting materialism out of hand, however, amounts to idealism or escapism and undermines our ability to respond constructively to life’s challenges.
The historian Eric Hobsbawm titled his volume on the 20th century The Age of Extremes. Indeed, the violence and grotesque imbalances of that era drive home the need to find new ways of peacefully reconciling apparent opposites. What is most essential, if humanity is to find a middle way toward a creative global society in the 21st century, is a new appreciation and reverence for the inviolable sanctity of life.
Zen embraces the two opposites and integrates the two to bring about a condition which can help an individual reach the highest dimension, mushotoku. Zen, in contradiction to modern civilizations, is beyond any dualism.
The European civilization, on the other hand, is based on dualism. Materialism, for instance, is at cross ends with spiritualism. Buddhism, however, believes in oneness of the spirit/mind and the body. And to understand this oneness, a person must tread The Middle Path. It can help the person understand how spiritual can become material and vice versa.
By “middle”, Buddha merely meant that we need to embrace both- spiritualism as well as materialism, just like the front and back sides of a paper.
“No one can serve two masters. For you will hate one and love the other; you will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.
– Matthew 6:24