The Middleness of the Middle Way ..by Venerable Maha Boowa
Translated from the Thai by Thanissaro Bhikkhu
Informal remarks after a talk, August 5, 1981
I can tell a resolute person when I see him -- like our Ven. Acariya Mun. It was intimidating just to look at him. How could the defilements not be intimidated by him? Even we were intimidated by him, and the defilements are smarter than we are, so how could they not be intimidated? They had to be intimidated. That's the way things have to be. A teacher who possesses the Dhamma, who possesses virtue, has to be resolute so as to eliminate evil. He has to be resolute. He can't not be resolute. The stronger the evil, then the more resolute, the stronger his goodness has to be. It can't not be resolute and strong. Otherwise it'll get knocked out. Suppose this place were dirty: However dirty it might be, we couldn't clean it just by splashing it with a glass of water, could we? So how would we make it clean? We'd have to use a lot of water. If this place were filled with a pile of excrement, we'd have to splash it with a whole bucket -- and not just an ordinary bucket. A great big one. A single splash, and all the excrement would be scattered. The place would become clean because the water was stronger.
Being resolute is thus different from being severe, because it means being earnest toward everything of every sort in keeping with reason. Take this and think it over. If you act weakly in training yourself, you're not on the path. You have to be strong in fighting with defilement. Don't let the strong defilements step all over you. If we don't have any way of fighting defilement -- if we're weak and irresolute -- we're good for nothing at all.
Those who want what is clean and good from the Dhamma: What is the Dhamma like? What did the Buddha teach? What sort of defilements are eliminated by what sort of Dhamma so that it deserves to be called the middle way? The Buddha taught, 'The middle way realized by the Tathagata -- producing vision, producing realization -- leads to calm, to direct knowledge, to self-awakening, to nibbana.' This is in the Discourse on Setting the Wheel of Dhamma in Motion. The middle way is what can cause all these forms of knowledge to arise. Realization: This is penetrative knowledge that's very subtle and sharp. Even discernment is less penetrating and sharp than it is. Self-awakening. Nibbana: This path leads to nibbana. All of these things without exception come from this middle way. They don't lie beyond range of this middle way at all.
What does it mean, the word 'middle'? Middleness as it is in reality and the middleness we hear about, study, memorize, and speculate about: Are they different? Very different. I'll give you an example. Suppose there are two soldiers, both of whom have studied the full course of military science. One of them has never been in the battle lines, while the other has had a lot of experience in the battle lines, to point where he has just barely escaped with his life. Which of the two can speak more accurately and fluently about the reality of fighting in a war? We have to agree without hesitation that the soldier who has been in battle can speak of every facet in line with the events he has seen and encountered to the extent that he could come out alive. If he were stupid, he would have had to die. He had to have been ingenious in order to survive.
So the middle way: How is it 'middle'? We've been taught that following the middle way means not being too lax, not being too extreme. So what way do we follow so that it's not too lax or too extreme, so that we're in line with the principle of middleness aimed at by the genuine Dhamma? When we've sat a little while in meditation, we get afraid that we'll ache, that we'll faint, we'll die, our body will be crippled, or we'll go crazy, so we tell ourselves, 'We're being too extreme.' See? Understand? If we think of making a donation, we say, 'No. That'd be a waste. We'd do better to use it for this or that.' So what is this? Do you understand whose 'middleness' this is? If we're going to follow the way of the Dhamma, we say it's too extreme, but if we're going to follow the way of defilement, then we're ready for anything, without a thought for middleness at all. So whose middleness is this? It's just the middleness of the defilements, because the defilements have their middleness just like we do.
When people do good, want to go to heaven, want to attain nibbana, they're afraid that it's craving. But when they want to go to hell in this very life, you know, they don't worry about whether it's craving or not. They don't even think about it. When they go into a bar: Is this craving? They don't stop to think about it. When they drink liquor or fool around with the ways to deprivation (apaya-mukha): Is this the middle way or not? Is this craving? Is this defilement or not? They don't bother to think. But when they think of turning to the area of the Dhamma, then it becomes too extreme. Everything becomes too extreme. What is this? Doesn't the thought ever occur to us that these are the opinions of the defilements dragging us along? The defilements dress things up just fine. Their real middleness is in the middle of the pillow, the middle of the sleeping mat. As soon as we do a little walking meditation and think buddho, dhammo, sangho, it's as if we were being taken to our death, as if we were tied to a leash like a monkey squirming and jumping so that we'll let go of the buddho that will lead us beyond their power. Whether we're going to give alms, observe the precepts, or practice meditation, we're afraid that we're going to faint and die. There's nothing but defilement putting up obstacles and blocking our way. We don't realize what the middleness of defilement is like, because it's been lulling us to sleep all along. formal wears for middle graduation
Just now I mentioned the two soldiers who had studied military science, one of whom had gone into battle while the other one hadn't. We can compare this to studying the texts. Those who have gone into battle -- who have had experience dealing with defilement and fighting with defilement -- are the ones who can describe the middle way correctly and accurately. If you simply study and memorize... Here I'm not belittling study. Study all you can. Memorize all you can. I'm not criticizing memorization. But if you simply memorize the names of the defilements -- even if you memorize their ancestry -- it doesn't mean a thing if you aren't intent on the practice. If you don't practice, it's just like memorizing the names of different criminals. What this or that gang of criminals does, how it makes its money, what it likes to do, what their names are: We can memorize these things. Not to mention just their names, we can even memorize their ancestry, but if we don't get into action and deal with them, those criminals whose names we can remember will keep on harming the world. So simply memorizing names doesn't serve any purpose. We have to get into action and lay down a strategy. Where do those criminals rob and steal? We then take our strategy and put it into practice, lying in wait for them this place and that, until we can catch them. Society can then live in peace. This is the area of the practice.
formal wears for middle graduation
The Middleness of the Middle Way ..by Venerable Maha Boowa