Is Middle Way the Noble Eightfold Path?

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This topic contains 8 replies, has 3 voices, and was last updated by  Robert M Ellis 9 months, 1 week ago.

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  • #6909


    Hi everyone, I received the following article from a friend. Could I have your comments? Thanks.
    Is The ‘Middle Way’ the eightfold path? By Paul Hess.
    Our dualistic thought process, the ‘Dhamma’ or the ‘Dependent Origination’ is the creator of our world the ‘Samsara’ the arising and passing away of conditioned phenomena, an empty process we in our ignorance cling to as ‘I’. It is strictly a dualistic process where the term ‘extreme’ has no relevance.

    The “Middle Way’ revealed by Siddhartha leads the seeker to the realization of the ‘Ultimate Truth’ of our so-called existence which is nothing more than an empty process where there is no ‘self’ but energy reacting on energy, a very personal experience. Unlike the Buddhist eightfold path, ‘Middle Way’ is not a ‘way out of suffering’ for where there is suffering there is bliss, back to square one.‘Samsara’ is neither suffering nor bliss but just what it is, the Dependent Origination the Universal law. The ‘Middle Way’ is the only way to neutralize this dualistic world the ‘Samsara’ we have created for ourselves due to our inability to grasp the process of ‘Dependent Origination’ for what it is, an extremely complex process beyond the comprehension of the present state of our mind. It has nothing at all to do with the Buddhist ‘Patticca-samupada’ a vicious cycle, a mockery.

    To guide ourselves on the ‘Middle Way’ unique to each and every one of us, away from our world of duality Siddhartha disclosed a set of tools the ‘Mental Factor’ the inseparable concomitance Sila, Samadhi, Wisdom for the Seeker to neutralize his creator the ‘Dependent Origination’ the Dhamma. His creator is neutralized and he creates no more. This process can be compared to walking a tightrope. Either one is on the rope or on the ground, there are no extremes to avoid. The ‘Middle Way’ is a way to go beyond duality. Unlike the Buddhist so-called Eightfold Path, there are no divisions in the ‘Middle Way’ as the ‘Ultimate Truth’ is one. “The Dhamma divided is the Dhamma destroyed”. Said Siddhartha.

    The Dhamma is ‘Dependent Origination’ a process where there is no beginning or no end, whereas Buddhism is a ‘Chakka’ meaning a wheel, a circular path where there is no way out. They are worlds apart and have nothing in common. Can you honestly see a way out in this circular path? It is a vicious cycle. Therefore the so-called ‘Four noble truths’ and the ‘Noble Eightfold Path’ are irrelevant to a seeker of the ‘Way’ revealed by Siddhartha.

    ‘The ignorant seek the Dhamma in temples, monasteries, meditation centers, sacred books, jungles and caves. However, a seeker knows his Dhamma is within and to be sought within, wherever he is’.

  • #6911

    Robert M Ellis

    Hi Bradley,
    Thanks for your input. The way I’ve tried to interpret the Middle Way puts a lot more emphasis on immediate practical judgement than this does. I don’t think we’re in a position to draw any conclusions about ‘all phenomena’ on the basis of our limited experience, nor are we in any position to identify ‘ultimate truth’, or indeed to judge the claims of anyone else who claims to have it. It is not essential to talk in this way or hold beliefs about it in order to practice the Middle Way. ‘Dualism’ might usefully be a way of talking about the opposing extremes of absolute belief we encounter, but only if we avoid turning our avoidance of these extremes into more metaphysics.

    I don’t think the Middle Way ‘goes beyond’ duality as a whole, but is merely a way of judging in a less dualistic way on each occasion when we might be tempted to frame our understanding of the situation only in terms of opposed absolutes. I’m not really sure what the text you quote is trying to say, but presumably he is trying to revise Buddhism. He seems to be doing this in a rather absolute way. Rather than saying that the Four Noble Truths and Noble Eightfold Path are completely irrelevant, I’d say that their relevance and helpfulness depends entirely on how you interpret them (as do the relevance and helpfulness of teachings in other religions). If you interpret them as absolutes, they become unhelpful, but the Eightfold Path, particularly, outlines a set of helpful practices. The Middle Way is needed to interpret those practices.

    For more details on these lines you might be interested in my book ‘The Trouble with Buddhism’.

  • #6962


    Hi Robert,
    Is Middle way the eightfold path?
    Thanks for your comments.
    I am not an authority on this subject or for that matter Buddhism. To my limited understanding, I agree with you that the human mind is incapable of coming to any conclusion about all phenomena or identifying the ultimate truth. Therefore, it is obvious anyone who claims to possess such abilities is a fake.
    As to the article, I do not think the author is trying to revise Buddhism as you say but rather reject the notion ‘Buddhism is the word of Siddhartha’. The main caption of the article ‘Is Buddhism the word of Siddhartha?’ clearly reflects his thinking on the subject matter. According to him what Siddhartha revealed was not Buddhism but the ‘Dhamma’ the Universal Law the process of Dependent Origination and a way out of it the Middle Way’ which is beyond space and time. Hence it is not a religion, philosophy, science or anything conceived by man but something unique. It cannot be sought by cultivating wisdom as in Buddhism or by way of frivolous religious practices but by experiencing it within each and every one of us because we are the manifestation of our ‘Dhamma’.
    Appreciate your thoughts. Regards. Bradley

    I thought the following verse also sent by Paul could help shed some light on this subject.

    The world of ignorance.
    The ‘Dhamma’ is ‘Dependent Origination’
    The creator of the elusive ‘self’ the ‘I’
    Where there is nothing to be defined
    But just an empty process of energy reacting on energy
    It cannot be created nor can it be destroyed
    But it certainly can be neutralized
    And the way is the ‘Middle Way’, beyond space and time
    Superficial religious practices are worthless to this ‘Way’
    Hence this ‘Way’ is beyond the comprehension of the ‘blind’
    Therefore, the ‘Dhamma’ will always remain a mystery
    To the world, as Siddhartha said, “Steeped in ignorance”.

  • #6975

    Robert M Ellis

    Hi Bradley,
    I’m left unsure about your own view of this. Are you supporting what your friend wrote or questioning it? What he wrote does seem to be making claims about all phenomena and ultimate truth.

  • #7011


    Hi Robert,
    Because of my religious background, I was initially confused. But after browsing through his other articles I am somewhat beginning to have faith in his rather pragmatic approach. However, at present, I am unsure whether I am supporting him or questioning him. Maybe both.
    By the way, on 14/6 I submitted one of his articles entitled ‘The Dhamma’ to your email address: for your comments. Did you receive this article? I believe it provides a lot of food for thought.

  • #7015

    Robert M Ellis

    Hi Bradley, Yes, I did get your email thanks. I guess I thought of my first post above as responding to it, as it’s saying similar things to what you posted above.

    There are many religious movements that are in some way reforms of what went before – indeed both Buddhism and Christianity themselves can be seen as reform movements of the religions that preceded them. In their context, they usefully point out limitations in what went before, especially rigidities that have become ill-adapted to new circumstances. However, those reform movements in turn then tend to become rigid and to be overturned by new reform movements. You can also see a similar pattern with political and artistic movements. There’s a co-dependent pattern here: the reform movement needs the rigid tradition and vice-versa. For individuals, though, there’s a cycle of moving from one rigid view to its opposite, then possibly back again.

    The sorts of claims that lead to this pattern involve one absolute being supplanted by another, and I notice this in Paul’s writings, as he calls the dhamma he wants to point out an ‘ultimate truth’. I’m sure he may have other practically helpful things to say, but it’s this kind of claim that tends to lead people, over time, into new absolute positions. What started out as merely a prompt for questioning today’s dogmas easily ends up becoming a new dogma.

    I don’t know whether humans can entirely avoid that pattern, but I think we can probably do rather better with a bit more awareness. I think what will help most is to avoid such ‘absolute truth’ claims, and to formulate the Middle Way in terms that are entirely about the process of judgement in experience. That’s because the process of applying the Middle Way is not about finding a new ‘truth’, or even a new falsity, but rather about learning to keep making subtle corrections in a provisional course. The best Buddhist practice, like the best practice in other traditions, does do this, but it unfortunately seems to be accompanied by absolutisations that also undermine it.

  • #7016

    Richard Flanagan


    Just a response to the main question ‘Is the Middle Way the Eightfold Path’? The simple answer for me would be ‘no’. However I do think that, if interpreted in a way that avoids absolute claims or metaphysics, the Eightfold Path offers a practical way to conduct oneself in a way that is compatible with the Middle Way.


  • #7018


    Hi Robert,
    I submitted your last comments to Paul for his opinion and this is what he had to say.
    “The process of ’Dhamma’ is beyond comprehension to our dualistic mind. It is beyond words and discursive understanding. Even language as a medium of expression is virtually incapable of communicating our inner experience the Dhamma. We must be aware of its limited capabilities as language is subject to change, dependent on condition, unreliable and most importantly based on false judgment. Such terms ‘absolute, phenomena, extremes, metaphysic, ultimate truth etc. are meaningless in Dhamma. They are creations of the world of duality. Hence, no credence should be given to such terms by a seeker, although they may be useful in this dualistic world to highlight the significance of a given term for instance ‘ultimate truth’ where the term ‘truth’ on its own may not clearly convey its intended meaning.
    The ‘Middle Process’ revealed by Siddhartha is not a ‘way’ but a process for the seeker to experience firsthand every moment to comprehend the utter emptiness of the process of Dependent Origination the source of our thought process we in our ignorance cling to as ‘I’, by turning our gaze inwards to neutralize the creator of ‘Samsara’ the realm of birth and death to go beyond ‘mind and matter’.
    A one who claims to have acquired a clear comprehension of the process of Dhamma through intellectual means is sadly living in a world of fantasy. Unlike religions, the Dhamma is not a dogma. It is strictly for self-realization for it is about you. Siddhartha was not a teacher or a preacher, never uttered a word than necessary that would lead the seeker astray. He never showed us the ‘Way’ but provided us with tools and clues and insisted the seeker finds his own ‘Middle Process” because it is unique to each and every one of us.
    ‘Samsara’ is based on ‘Cause and Effect’ where ‘you and I’ exist the world of duality the ideal conditions for religions to thrive by offering hope where there is no hope. However the Dhamma, on the other hand, is Dependent Origination an empty process where there is nothing to be defined, neither ‘you nor I’ and beyond the comprehension of those who are trapped in ‘Samsara’.
    However, to a seeker of ‘Dhamma’ the ‘Middle Process’ is the only process available to him to seek the light at the end of the tunnel the renunciation of the world of duality the ‘Samsara’. The final deliverance.”

  • #7019

    Robert M Ellis

    Hi Bradley,
    This sounds like a fairly standard Buddhist view to me. It contains a number of contradictory attitudes that I’ve ceased to accept. One of these is the constant use of intellectual argument to decry intellectual argument, and another is the exceptionalism that implies ‘everyone else’s intellectualisations are invalid, but ours are special and different’. Intellectualisations are indeed not ultimate truths, but the reason for that is just because we have bodies, not because of a contrast with an enlightened state that gains some sort of ultimate truth but only in a wordless way. Any useful theory involves the recognition of the limitations of intellectualization (together with a positive understanding of its value within the terms of its models and assumptions), and needs to be related to practice in order to be properly understood and applied. Buddhism or ‘Dhamma’ does not have a monopoly on such helpful approaches, and they need to be judged by their effectiveness rather than their source.

    ‘Way’ is indeed a metaphor, and ‘process’ would be another way of expressing its meaning, but any metaphor is only useful as long as we bear in mind its limitations.

    Paul writes “no credence should be given to such terms by a seeker, although they may be useful in this dualistic world to highlight the significance of a given term”. But that’s the rub. When one tries to apply such ideas in a Buddhist context, one finds that what is ‘useful’ is not judged entirely on grounds of usefulness as we incrementally come to experience it, but rather on grounds of authority that take for granted a metaphysical ‘truth’ in the form of an enlightened source for that authority.

    If “no credence should be given to such terms”, then no credence should be given to such terms – full stop. The judgement about what is useful as an alternative needs to be a pragmatic one, but traditional Buddhist authority tends to substitute an absolute source for incremental human judgement. The results of this approach can be seen in the way the tradition justifies all its weaknesses: the twin-track monastic-lay system, attachment to karma and rebirth, the continuing deification of gurus even when they are inadequate or even abusive, the contestable reliance on scriptural information and the formulations found in it that were much better suited to a very different context. All of these depend on the appeal to enlightened authority of some kind. There are also lots of useful ideas and practices to be found in traditional Buddhism, but it is pragmatic judgement that allows us to think them so, not enlightened authority. Mere declaring that such enlightened authority is not ultimate (as many Buddhist sources do) is often just a spoiler meaning very little: it is what assumptions Buddhists make when they apply these ideas in practice that are much more important, and test out whether the supposed non-ultimacy means anything.

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