Alternative Sources of the Middle Way
Robert M. Ellis [+]
Middle Way Society
This section offers brief accounts of ten alternative sources for the Middle Way, to illustrate the ways in which it is universal and independent of Buddhist tradition. These alternative sources for the Middle Way are neither total nor exhaustive, and may need to be seen in relation to each other – but then the same applies to Buddhist sources. (1) Pyrrhonian scepticism involves a balanced avoidance of positive and negative absolutes, though it doesn’t entirely avoid a reliance on conventionality. (2) The potential for the Middle Way in Christianity can be found especially in the symbolism of Christ as going beyond human and divine absolutes, as well as in the sceptical emphasis in some of Jesus’ teachings. (3) The Middle Way is explicit in Jung’s ‘Red Book’. A Jungian account of absolutisation is the projection of archetypes as separate from us, and the Middle Way cultivates integration by acknowledging archetypes. (4) Falsificationism interprets science as making gradual progress by ruling out positive claims rather than confirming them, thus employing open rather than closed feedback loops. (5) Systems theory provides a powerful means of contextualising and critiquing absolutisations. The Middle Way can be seen in systems theory as the adaptation of an organism moving in the direction of (but not achieving) homeostasis. (6) ‘Cognitive linguistics’ shows our beliefs to be rooted in embodied meanings and thus that absolute metaphysical claims depend on mistaken assumptions about meaning as independent of the body. (7) A neuroscientific account of the distinct specialisations of the brain hemispheres support an understanding of absolutisation as created by the over-dominant left hemisphere, isolated over time and integrated by the right. (8) In the study of cognitive bias, ‘fast thinking’ as the cause of absolutising bias needs to be integrated by ‘slow thinking’, which allows wider attention rather than merely ‘rationality’. (9) Ellen Langer’s independently-researched Western ‘mindfulness’ involves cultivation of novel and creative distinctions. ‘Mindlessness’, on the other hand, involves absolutisation. (10) Finally, a series of Western thinkers, including Mill, Dewey and Sartre, have contributed to the liberal concept of individuality, developed through provisionality and integrative dialogue in democracy.