Tuesday, December 25, 2007

A Preamble to the Bodhi Path, an Effort at Translation and Actualization

An Anthology on Middle Contemplation and Life, a Chinese Buddhist book by Mr. Huang Kuo Tat, printed by the Buddhist Association of the United States (2005) has been in wify's collection of Buddhist books for some time now. We could not recall how the book ended up there, but chances are we must have picked it up at an exchange service of free Buddhist books, which is an integral part of many Buddhist centers.

Anyway, when we started to participate in the activities of the Middle Way Buddhist Association (MBWA), I started to delve further into what Middle Way entails. One obvious reference is Wikipedia, which casts Madhyamaka (the Sanskrit term) as “the rejection of two extreme philosophies, and therefore represents the "middle way" between eternalism (the view that something is eternal and unchanging) and nihilism (the assertion that all things are intrinsically already destroyed or rendered nonexistent”. While this is precise enough as definition goes, I wanted to understand it better as a lay believer.

And the first paragraph in Sub-section A (The Wisdom of Middle Way) of Section 1 (On Middle Contemplation) in the First Chapter (The Chan Practice of Middle Contemplation) of the above-mentioned book, as available online here, but I first saw it here, definitely put me on the right frame of mind. An excerpt of the text, translated in English, follows:

Buddhism speaks of the Middle Way as the avoidance of extreme views and behaviors. What then is the true meaning of the Middle Way? The Middle Way is defined as following the middle of the path as appropriate, without landing on either side. In this respect, Shakyamuni Buddha had cited the following illustration:

For a timber log to be transported smoothly from upstream via a river to a downstream destination, it has to follow the flow of the main stream so as not to be grounded in the shallows near the bank, nor sunk to the bottom. Middle Way is also akin to playing a harp, the sound is discordant when the strings are either too taut or too loose. Melodious sound will only ensue from strings that are neither taut nor loose.

In practice, Shakyamuni Buddha demonstrated the Middle Way as seeking neither suffering nor happiness. Neither the fruitless self-afflicting way of the ascetic, nor the indulgent, carnal way of the hedonistic can lead to liberation of the mind, which can be accomplished only through living the wisdom embodied in the Middle Way

I particularly like Section 3 of Chapter 3 (Integrated Discussion) entitled The Unperturbed Mind/The Bodhi Path with the tag-line, On Freedom and Responsibility. Both are deemed important human attributes in Buddhism but neither is absolute nor driven by a sense of mission borne of chauvinism. Both are relevant, if not integral, to the many personal struggles that we undergo on a daily basis, as well as to the intra- and inter-national and racial conflicts befalling the world today. Through dealing with life's challenges, the section expounds on how cultivating the Unperturbed Mind and actualizing the Bodhi Path can help bring the conflicts to some satisfactory resolution.

And that, meaning doing the English translation of Section 3, I will do in the next several blogs because of its length.

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