Some legends tell that Siddartha Guatama (later known as The Buddha) spent 6 years of his life in a forest meditating with his first followers, a group of five ‘ASCETICS’. Ascetism is a lifestyle of denial; a simple life with no luxury and ostentation. During their meditations, it is said, they drank only rainwater and ate only a grain of rice a day. Their meditation was an attempt to use the mind to overcome suffering and pain. Some say that Siddartha would hold his breath for as long as he could to overcome the pain.
One day, as he sat under a tree by the river, it is said a passing boat was carrying a musician and his pupil and Siddartha heard the teacher’s words of wisdom; “If you tighten the string too tight it will snap and if you make the string too loose it will not play…”
Thus Siddartha discovered the ‘Middle Way’ and from that moment he gave up the ascetic lifestyle, realising that to reach enlightenment his body would need to be nourished and cherished. The middle way is to lead a path neither hedonistic nor ascetic. A moral lifestyle joined to mindful meditative practice. In this way, Siddartha later found enlightenment beneath the famous tree in Bodh Gaya, were he found ultimate detachment in the moment and defeated desire, the cause of suffering.
You might be wondering why I have told this story on my blog. I will say that I am not a Buddhist, but I do like the stories and the Buddhist way of thinking. Like many of us westerners I have grown up in a country with a Judeo-Christian culture. So many of our norms and values stem from biblical teachings. Again I will say that I am not a Christian.
One of the things that stems from Christianity is the idea that we should work hard. Work is seen as virtuous and a duty by many. Some call this the ‘Protestant Ethic’ – that it is good to work hard and that there is something perhaps wrong with people who don’t. For example I live in the UK, a Protestant country which has the lowest amount of public holidays in the whole of Europe and people who cannot work through no fault of their own (illness, disability etc.) are popularly seen as ‘shirkers’.
This idea now seems to go beyond chastising the merely ‘lazy’ and has perhaps latched itself onto the idea of ‘ambition’. In some western circles those who do not harbour ambition are seen as lazy. In this sense I am describing ‘ambition’ as the desire for things such as a better job, bigger house/car/holiday and more money. Shallow and materialistic as it seems this is how we are judged in western society. Western society is about ‘becoming’ as measured by the ‘bling’ of shiny expensive designer baubles. Desire, its seems, is our downfall.
Such ideas have led to the fact that in EVERY job I have ever had I have been pushed by those above me to better myself, to seek promotion, to do things differently (in the sometimes misguided idea that somehow ‘change’ must always be better). And I am judged by some against such ideas.
Governments follow this doctrine to. They feel they must tinker and change things and make us work harder to make things better. Whatever happened to ‘if it ain’t broke don’t fix it’? Western society seems to be one where the strings are tuned far too tightly – perhaps they will snap?
Sometimes I just feel I want to stop the world; it’s time I got off! I am often tired. Do you feel this?
So I like my simple version of the Buddha’s ‘middle way’. That is not because I am lazy or lack ambition. It’s just that in my own simple little way I strive to be mindful. I strive to rest as well as work as well as play. For me this life is hopefully one of ‘being’, being in this moment, because this moment is all there actually is. This is not to say I am not on a journey seeking to better myself but when I am mindful I can see the MIDDLE PATH.
To me it all seems to me to be about balance. A balance that is illusive sometimes…
Are your strings finely tuned?
© 2012 Simon Poore