The Buddha’s Middle Way - Experiential Judgement in his Life and Teaching - Robert M. Ellis

The Buddha’s Middle Way - Experiential Judgement in his Life and Teaching - Robert M. Ellis

Issues in the Buddhist Interpretation of the Middle Way

The Buddha’s Middle Way - Experiential Judgement in his Life and Teaching - Robert M. Ellis

Robert M. Ellis [+-]
Middle Way Society
Robert M Ellis has a Ph.D. in Philosophy and a Cambridge BA in Oriental Studies and Theology. Originally from a Christian background, he spent about 20 years practising Buddhism, including as a member of the Triratna Order. However, he now describes himself as a Middle Way practitioner without exclusive loyalty to any one religious tradition. Over the last 20 years he has developed Middle Way Philosophy, initially in his Ph.D. thesis. This is best described as a practical and integrative philosophical approach, incorporating many elements not only from Buddhism but also from psychology, neuroscience, and other aspects of Western thought. In 2013 he founded the Middle Way Society (www.middlewaysociety.org) to develop and apply Middle Way Philosophy beyond the limitations of the Buddhist tradition, both in theory and practice. Robert has earned a living for more than 20 years as a teacher and tutor of philosophy and related subjects. He has previously published both academic and introductory books about Middle Way Philosophy, and recently a parallel book on Christianity, ‘The Christian Middle Way’.

Description

This section offers arguments against several dominant but unhelpful interpretations of the Middle Way in the Buddhist tradition. Initially there are two basic philosophical issues to deal with: the misunderstanding of scepticism and the ontological obsession. Scepticism has been misunderstood in both West and East, because it is widely assumed to imply denial, indecisiveness or extremity, but scepticism merely implies the basic embodied recognition of uncertainty. Buddhist accounts of the Middle Way also unnecessarily focus on claims about how things are rather than on the process by which we judge them, resulting in an inefficient proxy for the Middle Way at best. There are then three aspects of the traditional interpretation of the Middle Way in Buddhism that are argued to be inadequate. The range of absolutes considered (so as to be avoided) is inadequate, because the absolutes considered by Buddhist tradition are often unnecessarily limited to those discussed by the Buddha, with a failure to update them to the wide range of absolutes affecting people today. It is also assumed that all absolutes must cluster into ‘eternalism’ and ‘nihilism’, but positive and negative absolutes can actually cluster in all sorts of ways that cut across this assumed defining pair. Buddhist tradition also often assumes eternalism is the second choice, so does not treat positive and negative absolutes even-handedly. ‘Skilful means’ arguments do not entirely justify the preference for eternalism.

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Citation

Ellis, Robert. Issues in the Buddhist Interpretation of the Middle Way. The Buddha’s Middle Way - Experiential Judgement in his Life and Teaching. Equinox eBooks Publishing, United Kingdom. p. 135-169 May 2019. ISBN 9781781798201. https://www.equinoxpub.com/home/view-chapter/?id=36785. Date accessed: 27 Sep 2021 doi: 10.1558/equinox.36785. May 2019

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