Saturday, March 03, 2007

The Middle Way

This morning we crossed over to Pinellas Park to attend the first of the Meditation and Discussion on Buddhism series organized by the Middle Way Buddhist Association under the able management of Sister Lily and Brother Tom and located at Chinese Community Church, 4600 78th Ave. N., Pinellas Park. Themed “Peace and Harmony”, the sessions are aimed at “Transforming worry, anxiety, and vexation into wisdom”, “Changing our lives to be really happy and living in harmony” through “Meditation” and Buddhist teachings that “help us to have a calm and peaceful mind”. The meditation is taught by Bhante Dhammawansha (an ordained Sri Lankan monk whom we have met previously as blogged here) while the discussion sessions are led by Bhante in English and Brother Shieh from Orlando in Chinese.

The traffic on the Gandy Bridge was light, which was usual on a Saturday morning. Soon we were at our destination, a single storey building set in a quiet neighborhood. We were the first few to arrive and entered into a spacious hall with a raised stage. There were paper-made decorations hung from the ceiling and its walls were lined with Chinese calligraphy in red background reflective of the Chinese New Year mood. A row of class rooms at the back houses the Chinese School which will be used for the discussion sessions. So would the tasty vegetarian lunch, we would find out later.

Bhante, in his pre-meditation address, imparted the following sage advice in consonance with the teaching of Buddha:

You can plan for tomorrow, but live now.

Yesterday is history; tomorrow is a dream; and today is a gift.

If you can defeat the enemies in your mind, you are the greatest victor.

Do not reject negative emotions, address them;
Do not credit positive emotions, observe and let go

There are enough external builders, we need to develop our inside.

I did not stay for the ensuing meditation session, but instead helped arrange for the lunch setting prepared by a French chef and his wife, who are Sister Lily’s students in the Adult Chinese class.

I’m no stranger to Brother Shieh’s delivery of Buddhist lessons, having attended a couple as blogged here and here. In this morning session, he reiterated the three elements of learning Buddhism: learning, thinking, and practicing, each of which is essential to attaining Buddhahood.

On the Middle Way (or Middle Path), Brother Shieh explained that the notion is more than that embodied in the philosophy of moderation as expoused by the Confucian school of thought. The emphasis in moderation is the avoidance of extremes, implying that there exists a middle-of-the-road approach. One example is social drinking, a habit that prevents inebriation and at the same time enjoys the medically supported benefits of promoting blood circulation.

In Buddhism, the Middle Way is to keep away from the edges (extremes) and yet not fixated on being in the middle. It symbolizes stillness, calmness, two mind states that we as laypersons can readily identify with. In the spiritual sense, the Middle Way is an avenue toward nirvana, an enduring, transcendental happiness integral to the calmness attained through enlightenment that is free from suffering and defilements.

Not only do we have to refrain from doing harm, but we need to do good proactively. As Master Hong Yi has forcefully implored:

Doing good/the virtuous is refraining from committing crimes on humanity and the environment when having the power to do so; and
Doing bad is electing not to do good/the virtuous when having the means to do so.

The admonition against clinging is not tantamount to doing nothing, nor is it the right way to contemplate absolute emptiness only; but we should not deny its existence.

In Brother Shieh’s view, we have to know, then understand, and then realize the teaching of Buddha in order to effect a thorough transformation of our inner self manifested through self actualization. In other words, we are to be personally responsible for our own life and action.

The primacy of practicing, of applying the teaching of Buddha in real life was stressed again during the free exchange among the attendees, organizers, and speakers after the vegetarian lunch. As one elderly attendee aptly intoned, algebraically:

K + A = S; K – A = 0

And in words, knowledge with/plus action equal success (or other positive/desired outcome) while knowledge without action amounts to nothing. The mosaic below shows Brother Tom, Brother Shieh and Sister Lily addressing the group in turn. Thus ended the very first Buddhist session under the banner of the Middle Way Buddhist Association on a very encouraging note as marked by the enthusiastic turnout and the stimulating exchange.

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