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

Interpreting Buddhist Teachings

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 ( 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’.


This section explores the implications of using the Middle Way as the starting point for interpreting the other teachings in Buddhism – ones that have often been interpreted without it, and given unhelpful priority over it. Conditionality teachings can reflect the ontological obsession, and thus be a placeholder for provisionality. However, they can also offer helpful ways of interpreting phenomenal relationships. In terms of the Middle Way, dukkha implies the inadequacy of closed feedback loops, anicca the need for a wider temporal perspective, and anatta the need for agnosticism about metaphysical claims. Buddhist confusion about whether there are ‘good’ and ‘bad’ forms of desire can be resolved by an integration model in which it is the association of desires with absolutisations that makes them impossible to integrate. Karmic claims can only avoid absolutisation if they are general and provisional rather than top-down deductions. Rebirth can symbolise closed feedback loops but cannot be an object of belief. The recorded historical Buddha has a degree of credibility rather than absolute authority. As an image he also has a function similar to that of the God archetype. It is most helpful to interpret the Buddha-image as an archetype of the Middle Way itself. The ambiguities between three senses of ‘dharma’ are very likely to lead Buddhists to take it absolutely as ‘truth’ and to discourage provisionality: so it may be better to avoid the term. The discontinuity between monastic and lay Buddhism reflects the absolutisation of enlightenment, maintains power structures and does little to address group biases. Commitment is necessary to spiritual practice, but in Buddhism it too often takes an absolutised form as belief in the Buddha’s enlightenment. The Refuges could be helpfully interpreted as commitments to the Middle Way, its potential and supporting community.

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Ellis, Robert. Interpreting Buddhist Teachings. The Buddha’s Middle Way - Experiential Judgement in his Life and Teaching. Equinox eBooks Publishing, United Kingdom. p. 193-241 May 2019. ISBN 9781781798201. Date accessed: 28 Oct 2021 doi: 10.1558/equinox.36787. May 2019

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