Finding the Middle Way

I think many of us who were brought up in strongly traditional religions, become disaffected when we find out that our religion, its precepts, its history, and its practice are not ‘true’, in the sense of being factual or even enlightened.  Disaffection becomes a disease that cancors us, so when we try to participate for good reasons, we have those face palm moments where someone will teach or preach complete fiction as if it were fact.

It becomes really insidious when those in leadership position insist on the members adopting the position of false fiction, because to do otherwise would not be faith promoting.  For example, many believe that God created the earth in a relatively short period of time, but the facts show that the earth is very old, and that evolution is very much part of the process — and of course, this puts a lie to the mythological account in Genesis.

Some of these Church leaders insist that there is “no middle way”: either you fully beleive and accept doctrine as taught, or you are not a member of the church.  Others, who become disaffected, will claim there is no middle way, for to continue to participate in a religion you know is false is to be “Intellectually dishonest”.

So, is it really true that there is no Middle Way?  I think there is.

Confucius’ key philosophy on how to live a rich and full life was based on something he called “the Middle Way”. This is represented in one character “Zhong” (中) which means “the Middle”, “Middle Way”, or “the Center”. The book by Confucius on this topic typically has the english title “Doctrine of the Mean”, where “Mean” is used in its sense of being the average of things — this isn’t what Confucius was saying.

The Middle Way of confucius is a balanced, centered life. The explicit statement, coming from the first chapter is as follows (my translation):

The mandate of heaven is called “Nature” (性 xing),
Following nature is called “the Way” (道 Dao),
Cultivating the way is called “Learning”. (教 Jiao)

The Way cannot be departed from for a moment
If you could depart from it, it would not be ‘the Way’.

When one sets aside extremes, e.g. joy, anger, sorry, and pleasure; this is called ‘The Middle Way’ (中 zhong).
In the Middle Way, when one can express emotion yet remain centered, this is called “Harmony” (和 he).
The Middle Way is the root of all things under heaven.
Harmony is the realization of the Way.
When the Middle Way is actualized with Harmony, All things thrive.

To be on the Middle Way as applied to being in a religion: the True Believing aspect of our faith is one of absolutes, of extremes: If you are not with me, you are against me. It’s either all true, or all fraud. Be ye therefore perfect, as your Father in Heaven is perfect. “I KNOW” the church is the only true church on the face of the earth… etc.

Once a True Believing member realizes that there are profound problems with the historical and current truth claims of the church, it is highly likely that the True Believer goes to the other extreme of emotion: hatred. So one emotional extreme morphs into another: joy in the gospel that everything is wonderful turns into rabid hatred of the church. These two extremes are not on the Way as Confucius would point out. He suggests that instead of starting from a position of one pole, it’s better to center your life — to calm the mind of emotion, and find the pivot point of the Way: the Middle/Zhong. From this position of the Middle, Confucius is saying that it’s ok to send out emotion, but you remain anchored in the Middle Way.

In this sense, to be on the “Middle Way” is to be balanced in one’s view of the church: to be in harmony with the Spirit of the Gospel, while recognizing that the physical manifestation of that spirit is subject to a lot of human error. It is to be open minded and not strident in one’s beliefs, to accept the value in both the church as well as other belief systems, while being true to one’s authentic self and the truth.

There are so many writings in asian culture about this concept. Buddhism, Taoism, Japanese culture and tradition are all based upon an idea that detachment from extreme emotion allows one to be authentic in one’s emotions. It’s a deep paradox. Wuwei of the Taoist, Buddhiyogaad of the Hindu, Dharma of the Buddhist — while being a bit different in extended meaning, all start from a position of detachment in order to connect.

I am truly suggesting that the Middle Way is more enlightened and divine than a position of extreme and Blind Faith in the Church and it fundamentalist-styled teachings; or, on the other hand, divorcing oneself entirely from the church in anger. I’m also saying that by adopting Confucius’ Middle Way, you can better see the truth in the church, and not react to its problems through another extreme emotion: hostility. The Middle Way is to be balanced, to be centered: what the Bhagavad Gita calls “Yoga”: the unity of mind and spirit.

This “Middle Way” is not a movement or an organization — it is not anything organized at all — it is an individual approach to life that finds the center, the pivot point of the Way, and then joyfully expresses thought and feeling from the authenticity of the center of one’s soul.

Laotzu says, “名可名,非常名” – “The names that we can name are by no means constant names”, meaning that labels are insufficient to accurately and completely define a thing. If we struggle for a name of something, like the “Middle Way”, it’s because the concept is much broader than the words imply. Confucius Middle Way is a state of sattori — peaceful enlightenment, where emotions are at rest, and being at rest, one is free to be authentic in one’s emotions and expressions. It may be better to say, “I am centered”, which better implies this state of harmony (和).

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