Buddhism and the Middle Way Audio

These recordings are taken from the talk and discussion from the first day of the Middle Way Study Retreat, which took place in August 2013. A single longer recording has been split into sections. The day as a whole is concerned with the Buddha and the Middle Way, the conflicts between the Middle Way and elements of traditional Buddhism, and with an overall sketch of the Middle Way as a universal principle beyond Buddhism.

Part 1: The Buddha and the Middle Way: this discusses the Middle Way in the life story of the Buddha, and some of his parables and teachings. It also discusses how the Middle Way is required to succeed in Buddhist practices.

Part 1 as audio only:

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Part 2: The Middle Way versus Buddhist Tradition: This discusses alternative principles that are used by many traditional Buddhists, such as the Four Noble Truths, Conditionality and the Three Jewels. It is argued that all of these require the Middle Way to be interpreted in a way relevant to our experience.

Part 2 as audio only:

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Part 3: Problems with the Buddhist Middle Way: This looks at the traditional Buddhist understanding of the Middle Way, and argues that a more universal interpretation is needed, less stuck in the specific concerns of the Buddha’s time.


Part 3 as audio only:

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8 thoughts on “Buddhism and the Middle Way Audio

  1. I found the three talks very interesting indeed. Several questions came to mind, firstly, does having a grasp of the basic teachings of Buddhism, Christiantity or any other belief system, put us in a stronger position to question the premises set out in their texts or scriptures. Once questioned, certain aspects can be dropped, while others are kept, such as the parables, which are helpful metaphors? On the other hand, is it possble for someone, without any previous knowledge or interest in a belief system, be equally at home with the idea of searching for a Middle Way? I would like to think so. Can Middle Way philosophy reach a wider audience and result in a more integrated society? Will the very word ‘philosophy’ put them off?
    There has been a proliferaton of new beliefs, some stranger than others! I can understand why many people search for direction and why they go down many routes in that search.

    1. Hi Norma,
      I think I’d agree that probably having some grasp of the teachings of a religious tradition is very helpful in understanding the Middle Way. Because the Middle Way is so much about a process of sifting the dogma from the metaphor, one probably needs something to sift in the first place. I feel that I have the advantage of perching between two traditions, having been brought up in a Christian household (being a son of the manse, in fact) and then practising Buddhism during adult life. It’s difficult to imagine what it would be like to have a religious blank slate, and my guess is that most people have some relationship to a religious or philosophical tradition, even if a vague and loose one. In some cases people may even need to strengthen that relationship in order to have something to work with.

      I also do hope that Middle Way Philosophy can reach a wider audience. My general approach so far has been to expect that people will come from some sort of background and will have to understand the Middle Way in relation to that background, but that the society can nevertheless provide a common point of reference for people approaching the Middle Way from very different angles.

      There will be another talk up soon (well, a recorded discussion from the retreat) about the question of whether religion can be understood in this flexible way or whether it is essentially metaphysical, as many people assume. To approach the Middle Way from a variety of backgrounds does assume that there is still something valuable left in a religious tradition when you take the metaphysics away – something I am quite confident of, but it is not obvious to everyone.

  2. These talks it seems are Buddha Dhamma reflecting back on itself. There is nothing that Buddha Dharma would not itself examine or question. There seems no reason to reject Buddha Dhamma in these reflection, other than to hold to the acceptance of a radical not knowing that accepts that there is ultimately no Buddha Dhamma.

    May our understanding be held in kindly awareness in this not knowing.

    1. Hi James,
      I’d agree that this ‘not knowing’ is theoretically present in many traditional expressions of Buddhism. The problem is how consistently it is applied. In my experience, many dogmatic Buddhist doctrines that conflict with ‘not knowing’ are in practice asserted and used as a basis of judgement, without considering the implications of ‘not knowing’. Whilst Buddhists continue to assert metaphysical ‘truths’ alongside ‘not knowing’, the ‘not knowing’ is only selectively appealed to when convenient, rather than applied through provisionality and incrementality.

      1. Thank you for your reply. Your view is a welcome clarification.

        What are your thoughts that you discourse is a valid expression of the Buddha Dhamma reflecting back on itself.

        Kind Regards

        James

      2. I think that depends entirely on what you think ‘Buddha Dharma’ is. If it involves any kind of appeal to tradition, then Middle Way Philosophy is not a reflection of it. If you interpret ‘Buddha Dharma’ as universal and critical, not dependent on a particular cultural or religious tradition, then it can be interpreted as such. However, I also think the Middle Way could in a similar way be taken to be ‘a valid expression’ of other traditions, particularly those of scientific enquiry, of psychotherapy, of Pyrrhonian scepticism, or of the mystical traditions in theistic religions. It all depends on what you think provides ‘validity’.

      3. Thank you again for the clarification.

        The end of suffering that arises upon the clinging to conditioned existence through fixed view of the nature of conditioned existence is, in this context, Buddha Dhamma.

        The Middle way as you lay it out expresses this Dhamma in a critical understanding of the Buddha Dhamma itself.

        Other traditions, when they assist this end of suffering without delusion of a fixed view are also Dhamma.

        The Buddha Dhamma is founded upon this intention to end the suffering of fixed view explicitly reflecting it upon itself in questioning its own validity and other world views, so that we can all can become all independent in our understanding.

        I rejoice in your endeavour to open up the Buddha Dhamma wherever it is found.

        Please accept this kindly just as it is with its many faults.

        Kind Regards

        James

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