The world is filled with suffering; its cause is desire, selfishness,
the power of the illusory self. To remove an unwanted effect it is commonsense
to remove the cause. The ending of suffering, therefore, is achieved by the elimination
of desire. But how? By treading a Way, a Middle Way between all extremes. So taught
the All-Enlightened One, and he later described the Way as an eightfold Way, for
although perfection in any one step is perfection in all, yet there is an orderly
sequence in the task of self-perfection: the higher stages of mind-development,
for example, must wait, or should wait, for the purification of motive lest, when
achieved, they are used to selfish ends.
The Middle Way, however, is no mere
compromise between the "pairs of opposites." It is not a middle way
between good and evil, nor between too much effort and too little. The key to
its nature is in the word translated "Right." "Right" Views,
"Right" Motive, "Right" Action and the like mean these things
at their purest and best, and the Sanskrit word samma has affinities with the
Latin summus, meaning highest or best. When a thing is "right," (and
the etymology of this word is itself of the greatest interest), it is right in
place, time, author, purpose and method of doing. It is done by the right person
at the right time in the right place, for the right reason and in the right way.
Hence the saying that there are two ways of doing everything, the right and the
wrong way. As a car driver, I like the analogy of changing gears. When tried too
soon or too late there is a grinding of the delicate cogs of adjustment; when
done (without "effort") at exactly the right time, the shifting relationship
of parts makes way for the "perfect" act, and a new arrangement of parts
is born. Here is the motiveless act of the Bhagavad Gita, and the Taoist's WuWei.
So with each of the steps; each must be "right" of its kind.
Middle Way is far beyond the field of ethics. Ethics, the right relations with
one's fellow men, is an essential part of progress, but the ethically perfect
man may be a long way still from Enlightenment. When I joined the Buddhist movement
in England forty years ago I was told that the Buddhist was known by the fact
that he was a vegetarian, and wore no fur. Here is a principle sadly gone astray,
a deviation from the Middle Path to Enlightenment. Ahimsa. the doctrine of "no-harm,"
of doing no injury to any living thing, is excellent Buddhism. But it is far more
important to think harmlessly than to create rules for harmless action, and it
is more important still to think creatively and helpfully. The Buddhist about
to enter the final Path will, as a matter of course, have achieved the control
of sense desire and thought which will make it impossible for him to injure his
fellow beings, but "cease to do evil' is only the first of a threefold law.
The second step is to "learn to do good," and the third to "cleanse
your own heart," and thus develop awareness of the already possessed Enlightenment.
First, clean the bulb by all means; then make way for the Light.
Way is not the life of the crank, still less of the egotist. Before one can be
extraordinary one must learn to be extra-ordinary, to be as nothing in the eyes
of the world. Personal ambition is a bar to spiritual progress, not a way to it,
and the great men of the world have no desire for power in any of its worldly
forms. The Way is a way of experience, and to the Buddhist all that happens is
material for progress. We can learn something from everything, and "there
is nothing good or bad but thinking makes it so."
The first step on the
Path is obviously Right Views. There must be a reason for setting out on a long
and tiring journey. A knowledge of the Signs of Being and the Four Noble Truths
provides such a reason. Right Motive or Aims is the second step. At first men
do what they do because it pays, because it seems to serve the interests of the
self. Yet this is selfish, even if it is called "acquiring merit." A
nobler ideal is the service of life, of the common-weal, and this involves an
expansion of the self which is served, an enlargement, as it were, of the field
of selfishness. Last of all comes such a sense of wholeness that action becomes
motiveless. Thereafter there is just an awareness that something should be done,
and the time and place and means of doing it. It is done, and there is no sense
of purpose, still less of reward.
And so, with a right comprehension of first
principles, and a right purpose in view, the pilgrim begins the treading of the
Middle Way. It is interesting that the first fruits of its treading is given as
Right Speech. There are many reasons for this. We can wound with the tongue more
subtly and more deeply than with a knife. A knife wound hurts the flesh but slander,
bitter criticism, and even a deliberate snub can terribly hurt the mind. But nearly
as important is the task of diminishing the loss of power which comes from idle
chattering. Silence is more than golden; it is power, and in the ideal there should
be silence unless there is something useful to say. It is not for nothing that
the fourth of the five Precepts which a Buddhist repeats on many occasions is
the vow to abstain from evil speech in all its forms.
Right Action is the key
to progress. We are a restless, active people, not easily trained to contemplation
or devotion. But we understand good deeds, and the Dhammapada is a famous hand-book
for the practice of right action, even as the Bhagavad Gita proclaims the philosophic
principles on which right action is founded. In the perfect act there is no room
for self, and where there is no self to receive the consequence of an act, the
law of karma, the law which brings us back to earth again and again for fresh
experience, has ceased to operate. Hence the saying that the perfect act has no
Right Livelihood is a logical extension of the ideal of the perfect
act. One's working day, and the reasonable reward attaching to it, should be in
the first place harmless. A Buddhist would not be a butcher, and there are other
employments, ranking highly in the social scale, which it is difficult to defend
from the Buddhist point of view. If possible, one's job should be one which is
helpful to others. Healing, teaching and all forms of social service are clearly
a higher form of livelihood than manufacturing something which is of no service
on the Way to any man. But we all have our individual karma to perform, and duties
have a way of conflicting.
Right Effort is important, for wrong effort, particularly
on the later stages of the Path, may do vast damage to the doer and to the receiver
of the deed. It is not enough to "mean well." Karma takes an accurate
record of all actions, "good" or "bad," and an act done with
the best intentions will, if wrong in fact, bring painful consequences. Thus a
mother may love her children, but love unillumined with common sense may do great
harm to the child. Much folly is committed in the name of love, and those who
think they love their neighbours, but in fact merely love interfering in their
lives, bring hatred on themselves for their mis-spent effort.
The last two
stages on the Eightfold Path are Right Concentration and Right Samadhi, an untranslatable
term for the highest state of consciousness which precedes Nirvana. Concentration
is the forging of the instrument, the acquiring of control of the mind until,
like a searchlight, it can be used to illumine the subject chosen, and to exclude
all others from the field of consciousness. Just as the modern searchlight throws
a beam where chosen, and can be turned on, moved about and then turned off at
will, so must the trained, controlled and developed mind be an instrument in the
hands of will. One cannot meditate until one has learned to concentrate, for meditation
is the right use of the mind as an instrument for Enlightenment. First must come
control of sense, that is, of the mind's reaction to outside stimuli. Then comes
emotional control, the power to refuse to react to the forces of doubt, delight,
conceit, despair and many more which surge into the beginner's mind. Then at last
comes mind-control, and the task is the task of a life-time.
the profound concentration of the poised and directed mind on the seed or object
of thought. To be useful it should be regular, for the mind works easily in habits,
and the place, the posture, the time and the "devices" used, should
be, at any rate in the early stages, the same. Later, all devices will be discarded,
and the mind will "meditate" with ease in any place or time. The level
of consciousness will have begun to rise, and its habitual focus-point be higher
than the average level of those about one. Sense, emotion and thought will be
under some sort of control, and a sense of synthesis, of the wholeness of life,
begin to replace the destructive, analytic habits of the mind. When this much
is achieved there will be time enough to consider the higher stages of the Middle
Way, for this is a Middle Way wherein the whole man must develop equally, and
no stage on the Path can be avoided. It is easy to lose oneself in dreams of a
far ideal, but while the head is lost in the clouds, the feet must still "walk
on," and Nirvana is a state of consciousness beyond description by the intellect
and therefore beyond words, blind symbols of the intellect, to describe. Yet Nirvana
is not here nor there, nor placed in time. Each moment of the day we enter Nirvana
whenever a higher thought replaces a lower or feeling guides an action into "right"
and therefore nobler ends. Nirvana is no far off heaven; it is the state when
life is "rightly" lived, and may be won in its entirety, as the Buddha
won it, on earth.
So much for the first two of the Triple-Gem of Buddhism,
the Buddha and his Teaching. There remains the Sangha, the Order which he founded,
first of men and later of women followers. The Buddhist Bhikkhu, clad in the Yellow
Robe which meets the eye all over the Buddhist East, is no mere "priest."
He makes no claim to stand between man and his divinity, still less between a
man and the God in whom, as a Person, he does not believe. But he has left the
world of men to tread more strenuously than other men the Middle Way, and to the
extent that he is an example to all men of the Buddhist life he is respected and
revered. He is the teacher of children and the teacher of men. His words are those
of the Blessed One, his deeds an attempt to live in accord with them. So long
as he lives a self-controlled, unworldly life he advances the cause of Buddhism.
When he fails, from laziness, or from dabbling in mere wordly affairs and politics,
he is unfaithful to the Robe he wears. But the Sangha is still the shrine of the
Dhamma which the Buddha gave mankind, and so long as the Triple Gem is a force
in the world, so long will its followers tread the Middle Way to the heart's enlightenment.
to all Beings!