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(Skt.; Pāli, majjhimā-paṭipadā). The ‘middle way’ or ‘middle path’ a term which resonates at many levels in Buddhism. In the first place it stands as a synonym for the totality of Buddhist doctrine and practice. Second, it emphasizes the nature of Buddhist practice as a via media, that is to say, a spiritual path that lays emphasis on moderation, and endeavours always to steer a middle course in the face of conflicting extremes. The emphasis on moderation stems from the Buddha's personal experience of a life of ease and comfort as a prince followed by six years of hardship and austerities as an ascetic in the forest. Realizing that neither of these extremes was profitable he abandoned them in favour of a moderate lifestyle, and from that moment made rapid spiritual progress culminating in his enlightenment (bodhi). This sense of the term is not dissimilar to Aristotle's notion of the ‘golden mean’. Third, it is used to validate Buddhist doctrines on the assumption that the truth always lies between extremes. The teaching of no-self (anātman), for example, is said to be the middle way between belief in a permanent soul (ātman) that is eternal (the so-called doctrine of ‘eternalism’ or śāśvata-vāda); and the view that the individual is wholly annihilated at death (the doctrine of annihilationism or uccheda-vāda). As Buddhism developed, various attempts were made to use the principle of the Middle Way as the touchstone for the authentication of doctrine. Nāgārjuna, for example, the founder of the ‘Middle School’ (Madhyamaka), claimed that his radical doctrine of emptiness (śūnyatā) was the authentic interpretation of the Buddha's teachings on causation or Dependent Origination (pratītya-samutpāda) because it steered a middle course through dialectictically opposed positions.

Subjects: Buddhism.

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