The difficulty of middle way thought

The challenge of the middle way

The challenge of the middle way

The challenge of walking the middle way is that extremists on both sides only see their enemy behind you

This thought came to me while taking a shower – not sure why, but probably as a result of being misunderstood and misrepresented by both sides in recent discussions I have had regarding Science vs Faith. Zealots on both sides have been so bound up in their own points of view that in each case, I have been perceived as representing the opposition.

Science, or more accurately, scientists (also many athiests – more accurately described as anti-religionists), still predominantly regard matter (physical phenomenon) as the ultimate reality. This mind set believes we are independent of one another, that boundaries exist between us, and that when we die there is nothing but oblivion.

On the other hand, there are those who believe the ultimate truth to be that nothing really exists outside the mind’s faculty of discrimination – that phenomena fade in and out of existence constantly, depending on causes and conditions, and that existence like the perception of the flickering picture on a TV screen is only perceived to be solid and real. The only thing that is eternal (yet constantly changing) is our karma. This nihilistic view can be overwhelmingly negative.

Thanks to Nagarjuna, we have a cohesive understanding of our lives in the Buddhist middle-way philosophy that posits reality as we experience it in human form displays both of the above aspects – conventional reality, and emptiness, or sunyata – like two sides of a coin. It’s fascinating to see that as modern quantum physics has unfolded how similar notions of interconnectedness, non-reality, relativity, wave/particle non-duality etc. initially confronted with doubt and resistance, have come to be accepted. Thats is to say, phenomena (that are in themselevs an ultimate truth) manifest different aspects depending on our relative observation.



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9 Responses to The difficulty of middle way thought

  1. Brandon April 5, 2013 at 5:15 am #

    Hey Steve!
    Check out this book by Fritjof Capra called The Tao of Physics. It is an amazing exploration of the parallels between modern physical discoveries and ideas that lie at the root of ancient traditions such as Taoism and Buddhism. I think you’ll like it. I have for years been fascinated with the discoveries of quantum physics concerning sub-atomic mass. Scientists and anti-religionists regard matter as the ultimate reality, but ignore the fact that the more we learn about matter, the less we understand it. When we break it down far enough, matter is capable of doing things that have been previously understood to be scientifically impossible. Subatomic particles have been known to travel through time, exist in multiple locations in the same moment, and even respond to the expectations of observers. Wikipedia Relational Quantum Mechanics and you’ll find an entire scientific discipline “which treats the state of a quantum system as being observer-dependent, that is, the state is the relation between the observer and the system.” Sounds like what you just said!

    • steve April 5, 2013 at 8:35 pm #

      I’ll look it up, although I expect its write is leaning on an open door as far as I am concerned. Science is the pursuit of understanding of the observable. It is necesarilly subjective – or relative. That’s not to say it is false – but it is limited in it’s value for human happiness at this time. We simply ain’t ready for what we have learnt. Give a typical science “fanboy” the answer to unlimited energy and you get the nuclear bomb. What good is that? Science has many answers, but it is not more equipped to save humanity [from itself] than fairies and pixiedust.

  2. Brandon April 6, 2013 at 4:44 am #

    Then maybe The Universe in a Single Atom by the Dalai Lama might be more up your alley. It is about how it is necessary for humanity to accompany its ongoing pursuits of science with a sense of ethics and universal responsibility. Incidentally, science is a subject the Dalai Lama has always been interested in and found value with. Science is the pursuit of the observable and therefore subjective, but only in the way that every pursuit of understanding is subjective. Buddhism has a rich tradition of seeking to observe reflections of truths discovered within the self in the observable universe. Just like anything, science isnt inherently bad or anything anything. The very fact that scientists will use the amazing things they discover to find new ways to destroy the world and human beings is the foremost reason that we need to reconcile spirituality with scientific pursuits. I think youre wrong about one thing; science is perfectly equipped to save humanity from itself. The reason it hasnt is because it is does not presently tie its knowledge and power to a sense of ethics and universal responsibility. So dont be so quick to dismiss science and scientists. You have the insight to help them prevent baby-eating.

  3. Brandon April 6, 2013 at 10:28 am #

    Id like to amend what i said before. I disagree with what you said about science being unequipped to save humanity from itself, but i agree with what i think you meant, which is that science by itself is unequipped to do so.

    Science, like buddhism is made up of people. No people, no science. Since science is made up of people, and the actions of science are nothing more than the actions of people, science has as much potential to relieve suffering as it has to do harm. You are fond of commenting on buddhism by saying that buddhism is about getting up and taking action to help those who need compassion or have lost their way.  The fact is that science has infinite potential to touch human lives on a huge scale. Science can and does do this every day. The problem is that science has lost its way when we started to see it as its own entity rather than as a different tool for addressing the same questions.

    Just like people, when science does things to harm humanity or the earth, it is usually because its actions lack mindfulness. This is not surprising, considering how far we as a global culture have divorced science and spirituality in our minds.  It is important to keep in mind that this is a distinction which used to be nonexistent.  Science branched from philosophy which branched from spirituality.  Isnt buddhism also the pursuit of understanding the observable?  Science and Buddhism exist to address the same questions, but approach them from two different directions: what is the nature of the universe we live in and what is the meaning of human existence in this world?

    Since science is nothing but people, and people are spiritual beings, the potential of science to benefit mankind is huge. Anyone who dismisses science as an unworthy cause, or as incapable of benefitting mankind does so at his own risk, especially considering how quickly we are accelerating ourselves toward massive destruction of life on this planet. To dismiss science in this way is to ignore all the things science has done to relieve human suffering.  It is akin to dismissing the SGI as a cult because of its unrighteous elements while conveniently ignoring the fact that the SGI has helped millions of people become happier and more compassionate. 

    But even more than that, a buddhist dismissing science in this way widens the perceived distinction between science and spirituality, the very same distinction that deprived science of morality in the first place. Spirituality dismissing science effectively destroys the vast potential that science has to benefit mankind because it is an acknowledgement that science will always be divorced from ethics. Saying that science will always be divorced from ethics basically frees scientists from ethical responsibility and gives them free reign to destroy people however they wish. But imagine if we were able to reconcile the vast potential of science to affect peoples lives with the vast compassion cultivated by Buddhists and spiritual seekers. What kind of world would that be? One that I want to live in. So what attitude should spiritual seekers take toward science? I think we should take the same attitude we would take toward anyone who is suffering.

    • steve April 17, 2013 at 8:02 am #

      Hi Brandon, thanks again for your comments. I don’t remember dismissing science. After spending most of my life in technical jobs, I think it would be hypocritical of me. Science, as you point out, does not exist apart from people. To think in that way is dualistic, and that is what I was trying (perhaps badly) to purvey. I think you cannot compare science to the SGI, because science is dynamic (meaning changeable, flexible, without dogma) – tomorrow, it could say that black is white. Perhaps science has a doctrine, but that doctrine is only the pursuit of truth through theory and experiment. The SGI (not necessarily some of the individuals that make it up) is fundamentally different.

      Of course, science holds the material answers to our current crisis, but as you point out, without an ethical base it is a neatral force – able to cause as much suffering as happiness – just as the wheel solved the crisis of our ancestors. The answer as always is whether that wheel is on a hay cart or a battle tank 🙂

  4. Mark June 17, 2015 at 11:13 am #

    All this talk- It makes me appreciate all the more -the quote-

    When I speak – it’s silent-
    When I’m silent- it speaks-

  5. caroline September 29, 2015 at 8:49 am #

    Science + Spirituality = Super Souls! ?

  6. steve June 24, 2022 at 7:37 am #

    Thank you – have a wonderful day!

  7. steve June 24, 2022 at 7:38 am #

    Again, thank you 🙂 Peace

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