6-8: The Middle Way

莫逐有縁     Neither pursue existence

勿住空忍     Nor dwell in emptiness

一種平懷     Carry oneness serenely in your breast

泯然自盡     And dualism will vanish by itself

止動歸止     Stop motion, and you stop it over and over

止更彌動     The harder you try, the more the motion

唯滯兩邊     If you are merely in one or the other

寧知一種     How will you know oneness?

一種不通     Not understanding oneness

兩處失功     You miss it in two ways

遣有沒有     Pushing away existence, you are without existence

從空背空     Pursuing emptiness, you never catch it

His followers said to him: When will the rest for the dead take place, and when will the new world come? He said to them: What you look for has come, but you do not know it. – Yeshua (Gospel of Thomas 51)

It is easy in the world to live after the world’s opinion; it is easy in solitude to live after our own; but the great man is he who in the midst of the crowd keeps with perfect sweetness the independence of solitude. – Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Self-Reliance”

One should first investigate the nature of the ego-soul and rid oneself of attachments; to try to go beyond without this investigation is of no value. – The Lankavatara Sutra (1932, p. 371)

The Buddha Realm is right here in the world;
There is no awakening apart from this world.
To search for enlightenment somewhere beyond this world
Is like looking for a horned rabbit. – Hui-neng (Verhoeven and Sure, 2014)

SN 12.46 Annatarabrahmana Sutta: A Certain Brahmin

At Savatthi. Then a certain brahmin approached the Blessed One and exchanged greetings with him. When they had concluded their greetings and cordial talk, he sat down to one side and said to him: “How is it, Master Gotama: is the one who acts the same as the one who experiences?”

“The one who acts is the same as the one who experiences: this, brahmin, is one extreme.”

“Then, Master Gotama, is the one who acts one, and the one who experiences another?”

“The one who acts is one, and the one who experiences is another: this, brahmin, is the other extreme.”

“Without veering towards either of these extremes, the Tathagata teaches the Law by the middle way: With ignorance as condition, expectations; with expectations as condition, consciousness . . . . Such is the origin of this whole mass of suffering. But with the remainder-less fading away and cessation of ignorance comes cessation of expectations; with cessation of expectations, consciousness; . . . . Such is the cessation of this whole mass of suffering.”1

When this was said, that brahmin said to the Blessed One: “Magnificent, Master Gotama! . . . I seek refuge in Master Gotama, in the Dhamma and in the Community of Monks. From this day forward, may Master Gotama remember me as a lay follower who has sought refuge for life.” (http://www.suttas.com/chapter-1-nidana-samyutta-on-causation.html)

Suzuki (1953):

Tai-hui declares that mere quiet sitting avails nothing, for it leads nowhere, as no upturning takes place in one’s mind, whereby one comes back into the world of particulars with an entirely different outlook.* Those quietists whose mental horizon does not rise above the level of the so-called “absolute silence of unfathomability” grope in the cave of eternal darkness. They fail to open the eye of wisdom (prajna). This is where they need the guiding hand of a genuine Zen master.

Tai-hui then proceeds to give cases of satori realized under a wise instructor, pointing out how necessary it is to interview an enlightened master and to reject once and for all the whole silence-mechanism, which is inimical to the growth of the Zen mind. This upturning of the whole mind is here called by Tai-hui, after the terminology of a sutra, “Entering into the stream and losing one’s abode,” where the dualism of motion and rest forever ceases to obtain. (p. 27)

*This new outlook is no small thing: Suzuki is talking about enlightenment.

Yuan-chon Hsueh-Yen Tsu-ch’in (d. 1287)

At nineteen I was staying at the monastery of Ling-yin when I made the acquaintance of the recorder Lai of Ch’u-chou. He gave me this advice: Your method has no life in it and will achieve nothing. There is a dualism in it; you keep motion and stillness as two separate poles of thought. To exercise yourself properly in Zen you ought to cherish a questioning spirit (tai-i), for according to the strength of your questioning spirit will be the depth of your enlightenment. (Suzuki, 1953, p. 117)


It is essential that you neither reject nor grasp for either the realm of activity or that of quietude, and that you continue your practice assiduously. Frequently you may feel that you are getting nowhere with practice in the midst of activity, whereas the quietistic approach brings unexpected results. Yet you should know that those who use the quietistic approach can never hope to enter into meditation in the midst of activity. Should by chance a person who uses this approach enter into the dusts (six sense-phenomena) and confusions (delusion) of the world of activity, even the power of ordinary understanding which he had seemingly attained will be entirely lost. Drained of all vitality, he will be inferior to any mediocre, talentless person. The most trivial matters will upset him, an inordinate cowardice will afflict his mind, and he will frequently behave in a mean and base manner. What can you call accomplished about a man like this?

The Zen Master Ta-hui has said that meditation in the midst of activity is immeasurably superior to the quietistic approach. Po-shan has said that if one does not attain to this meditation within activity, one’s practice is like trying to cross a mountain ridge as narrow as a sheep’s skull with a one-hundred-and-twenty-pound load on one’s back (one’s body). I am not trying to tell you to completely discard quietistic meditation and that you should seek a place of activity in which to carry out your practice. What is most worthy of respect is a pure koan meditation that neither knows nor is conscious of the two aspects, the quiet and the active. This is why it has been said that the true practicing monk walks but does not know he is walking, sits but does not know he is sitting. (Orategama)

Meister Eckhart: Sermon Nine

“You are among things, but they are not in you,” for those who are careful are unhindered in their activity. They are unhindered who organize all their works guided by the eternal light. Such people are among things and not in them. They are very close (to the world), and yet have no less than if they were up yonder on the circle of eternity. Very close, I say, for all creations are means (to get to God). There are two kinds of means. One means, without which I cannot get to God, is work or activity in time, which does not interfere with eternal salvation. Works are performed outwardly, but activity is when one performs with care and understanding inwardly. The other means is to be free of all that. For we are set down in time so that our sensible worldly activity may make us closer and more like to God.

Meister Eckhart: The Talks of Instruction

The more he regards everything as divine—more divine than it is of itself—the more God will be pleased with him. To be sure, this requires effort and love, a careful cultivation of the spiritual life, and a watchful, honest, active oversight of all one’s mental attitudes toward things and people. It is not to be learned by fleeing from the world, running away from things, turning solitary and going apart from the world. Rather, one must learn an inner solitude, wherever or with whomsoever he may be. He must learn to penetrate things and find God there, to get a strong impression of God firmly fixed in his mind.

Lester Levenson: (1993)

Q: How do you go about it? Just by meditating?

Lester: No. By seeing what we are. See, the word, meditation, is a word that doesn’t mean the same thing to everyone. But by discovering what we are, we discover that we have all power, all knowledge, that we are unlimited.

Q: How am I to discover what I am if I don’t know what I am?

Lester: By turning all your attention on you, with the question, What am I? and quieting the mind enough so that the real you is obvious. When your mind is quiet enough, your real being is obvious to you; and when it is, you know, and you know that you know, and that’s it. So, the way is to keep that question going: What am I? And as disturbing thoughts come up you look at them and drop them. And if we keep that going, we reach a point where they don’t come up any more and then the mind is quiet. Then we can see what we are. Then we can undo the balance of the mind. Finally, we can wipe out the entire mind in one stroke. Then we’re totally free. (Seminar recorded in 1969)

Adi Shankara:

11. Knowing is not brought about by any other means than enquiry, just as an object is nowhere perceived without the help of light.

12. Who am I? How is this created? Who is its creator? Of what substance is this composed? This is the way of that enquiry.

13. I am neither the body, a combination of the elements, nor am I an aggregate of the senses; I am something other than these. This is the way of enquiry.

14. All things are produced by ignorance, and dissolve in the wake of knowing. The stirring of the mind must be the creator. Such is this enquiry.

15. The substance of everything is the undifferentiated, subtle and unchanging That, just as clay is the substance of the jar, fibers are the substance of cloth, gold is the substance of an earring, water is the substance of waves, wood is the substance of a house, and iron is the substance of a sword. This is the way of that enquiry.

16. As I am also the undifferentiated, the subtle, the knowing, the witness, the ever-existing, and the unchanging, so there is no doubt that I am That. Such is this enquiry. (https://www.shankaracharya.org/aparokshanubhuti.php)

1. “And what, monks, is dependent origination? With ignorance as condition, expectations come to be; with expectations as condition, consciousness; with consciousness as condition, name-and-form; with name-and-form as condition, the six sense-domains; with the six sense-domains as condition, contact; with contact as condition, feeling; with feeling as condition, craving; with craving as condition, grasping; with grasping as condition, existence; with existence as condition, birth; with birth as condition, aging and death, sorrow, lamentation, pain, suffering, and despair come to be. Such is the origin of this whole mass of suffering. This, monks, is called dependent origination.” (Samyutta Nikaya 12.1)

Blakney, Raymond B. (1941). Meister Eckhart: A Modern Translation. New York: Harper & Row.

Verhoeven, Martin J. (2014). The Sixth Patriarch’s Diamond Jewel Platform Sutra (3rd Edition). Burlingame, California: Buddhist Text Translation Society.

Levenson, Lester (1993). Keys to the Ultimate Freedom: Thoughts and Talks on Personal Transformation (edited by George A.Cappannell). Sedona, Arizona: Sedona Institute. (keys-to-the-ultimate-freedom)

Suzuki, Daisetz Teitaro (1953). Essays in Zen Buddhism (Second Series). London: Rider and Company.

Suzuki, D. T.  (1932). The Lankavatara Sutra: A Mahayana Text (Based upon the 1923 Sanskrit edition of Bunyu Nanjo). London. (http://lirs.ru/do/lanka_eng/lanka-nondiacritical.htm)

Yampolsky, P. B. (1971). The Zen Master Hakuin: Selected Writings (Translated by Philip B. Yampolsky). New York: Columbia University Press. (https://terebess.hu/zen/Orategama.pdf)

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