When Buddha attained enlightenment, his first teaching was “the middle way,” his term describing the path which led to liberation. He referred to it as life of moderation between the radical paths of sensual indulgence and asceticism.
In a dharma talk on Saturday by Darlene Cohen, she warned us not to mistake this teaching as a literal mandate to walk right down the middle of everything, striking an absolute compromise. As she impishly said, “This is not the beige of Buddhism!”
The Middle Way is not an average, a mean. It is an inclusion of every possibility, all the time. As an example, she said that many of us had just returned from sesshin, following an ascetic schedule for four days. At sesshin, we eat what is served to us. We sit until the bell rings, walk kinhin until the bell rings again, sit again. We forsake personal choices, and take assignments. we sleep and eat communally, and do not speak.
But at the end of sesshin, we go back to our ordinary lives. We return to our jobs, our families, our everyday cares and concerns. And at another point in time, perhaps we will revel loudly and gaily, eating more than we need, spending money on lavish things. Even then, we can still be a Buddhist.
I like the idea of variability, of change. In the same talk, Darlene also discussed equanimity. Again, equanimity does not mean a constant state of sameness, one stable emotion. Instead, it is a steadiness developed from long-term sitting that allows every emotion to be experienced fully, so that we shy away from none of them, permitting each to wash over us as it arises, and then naturally passes away.
Begone, beige! Hello, technicolor!