Issues in the Buddhist Interpretation of the Middle Way
Robert M. Ellis [+]
Middle Way Society
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.