INTERMEDIATE LEVEL ARTICLE
The Buddhist middle way is normally defined as avoiding the extreme of self-indulgence or self-mortification. The middle way is also applicable to our state of being.
Each of us have a state of being.
This refers to our perception and beliefs about our state of existence. Due to ignorance in our mind, we do not know for sure. Our belief about who we are becomes our spirituality.
There are generally, two extreme states of spirituality.
In this belief, a person feels that existence is limited to this life only. One is nothing but a result of cells and biology. He therefore celebrates the modern catchphrase “You Only Live Once” also popularly known as YOLO. This view may lead a person to pursue 2 extremes. One is the pursuit of self-interest at all cost. Since there is only one precious existence, let’s enjoy it to the fullest without any regards for the afterlife. In this manner, the Buddhist teaching of karma and its effect on future rebirth is being rejected. An extremely selfish person would pursue self-interest at the cost of harming others. The other extreme from such a spiritual positioning is suicide. When life becomes unbearable due to sufferings, a person who doesn’t believe in the afterlife may wrongly conclude that suicide is the stop button.
Buddhism taught that there is an afterlife. After death, we are reborn again and we can be reborn is any one of the six realms of existences.
This refers to a belief of an unchanging being. Also known as the belief of a soul. Some culture believe the soul lives on eternally in the nether realm after death. Some religions advocate an eternal heaven or hell. Most of the time, people are taught to be obedient or behave well in this life, so that they can gain entry to a place of eternal happiness. They imagine themselves becoming a spectra copy of their current self and travelling to a faraway place to be reunited with their dead family and friends.
However, Buddhism taught that rebirth can be in different planes of existence. We will not be going to the same place after death. For a Buddhist beginner, we may conclude that we have a soul that is being reborn. We tell ourselves, okay we believe there is a rebirth. There is an “I” being reborn. Our “soul” simply goes into another body and we “transform” into another being.
That is not a Buddhist belief, and we have fallen into the extreme of believing in a permanent “I”. It is falling into the trap of thinking there is a permanent self. That is eternalism. We are still “cling” to a state of an imaginary state of being. An imaginary “I”
In short many beginners cling to this belief or spirituality of an “I”. Aka a soul.
When a Buddhist teacher introduces the topic of non-self, no-soul or no “I”, we become bewildered. We ask, “If there is no I, who is being reborn?” “If there is no “I” who is creating karma?”
If you ask a zen master, maybe he will say that is a good question and send you to contemplate ” what is my face before I am born”. The Vajrayana master will probably guide you in a massive ritual and teach you to imagine yourselves becomung a beautiful deity and ultimately being empty. While the Theravadian master will teach you to examine yourselves after your mind is sufficiently focus,
In short, it is not easy for most of us to switch our mentality to a belief that there are rebirths and yet also believe that there is no “I” being reborn!
The Dharma is profound, isn’t it?
The Buddhist approach to spirituality is the middle way too. Unfortunately, it is hard to understand.
So what do we do as a beginner in Buddhism?
The most important thing is to develop a mentality to think that rebirth is bad!
We don’t want rebirth.
Therefore, although we believe there is rebirth, we tell ourselves that rebirth is bad.
That is a kind of mid-way solution for balancing our thoughts.
On one hand we avoid thinking that we cease to exist after death and on the other hand, we tell ourselves that rebirth is bad. Therefore, we should not “crave” for an existence. We slowly reprogram our mind not to desire an ‘I’ and learn to let go of our imaginary self.
That is our beginner’s “middle way” approach towards spirituality.
May all be well and happy.