THE CONNECTIONS BETWEEN
THE MIDDLE WAY and THE THIRD TRUTH

Please read the Short Summary Version first

Dukkha and Sukkha

Originally the word Dukkha (suffering) described when a wheel was problematic or not running smoothly.

There is another important word in Buddhism: Sukkha. Sukkha described when the wheel is running smoothly. A good wheelwright would not only cure Dukkha, he would make a wheel Sukkha.

Buddhas's message was about far more than how to stop "suffering". Buddha found the answer to fulfilment in life; he found not only the answer to Dukkha, but also the way to make things Sukkha.

The Middle Way and the Third Noble Truth are both about a way to get life to run smoothly, to make it Sukkha.

Buddha's Early Life and The Middle Way

Buddha started his life as a Prince and enjoyed all the pleasures of this world.

When he was around thirty years old, he left his home to search for truth. He followed the Hindu path, renouncing all attachments and abstaining from any sensory pleasure, and he became an ascetic (hermit) for many years.

So, he had experienced both sides of life – the two extremes of unrestrained sensual pleasure and sensual withdrawal. Then he realised there was a third way to look for and find happiness and fulfilment in life. He called this 'The Middle Way'.

It is clearly written and unquestioned by all Buddhists that The Middle Way is a way between the two extremes of sensual indulgence (as a prince) and sensory withdrawal (as an ascetic). It is usually understood as a mental and emotional approach to life to do with moderation.

The Third Noble Truth

Most versions of the Third Truth are short, and these endorse renunciation.

However the Mahāsatipaṭṭhāna Sutra's Third Truth : The Cessation of Dukkha, tells us that Dukkha will cease when craving ceases, and craving may be eradicated wherever in the world there is delight and pleasure (ref).

The want (or craving) for worldly delight and pleasure can be stopped by most forms of meditation, prayer, selflessness, renunciation, devotion, worship, or love. The Mahāsatipaṭṭhāna's version of The Third Truth includes all of these possibilities.

The subject matter in the full text of the Third Truth (and the Second) of the Mahāsatipaṭṭhāna, is incredibly long-winded. It connects the Aggregates (now expanded to a list of Ten Aggregates), to each of the six senses; it lists sixty steps in the sensory process. It describes something which happens not only with the mind, but also with the eye, the ear, the nose, the mouth and the tactile sense.

My Reasoning : The Connection

The Middle Way and the Third Truth are both about a way to get life to run smoothly, to make it Sukkha.

So i wanted to know if or how the Middle Way could be applied to the Third Truth.

When applied to the mind, i could only understand the Middle Way as an attitude to life involving moderation or non-attachment, and there are many other possible applications. But there was nothing decisive, nothing definite, just a broad area in between the two extremes.

When applied to the body, it seemed to indicate taking care of it, not ignoring it or delighting in it. Again, this left a broad area of moderation.

But then i asked myself, could the two extremes of sensual indulgence and sensory withdrawal be applied to the physical senses? ... What else could i do with my eyes apart from focusing with them or closing them? ... And immediately i thought of how some birds and horses see their entire visual field without focusing on anything special, with their so-called peripheral vision. This was a clear and specific third way.

I call it panoramic sensing, and my first experiments with this are described in the opening paragraphs of Going on the Lookout. At first i didn't think any more about it, i was just curious about how animals used this way of sensing. It took several months, even years, for me to realise that the idea was correct.

Panoramic sensing fulfils the criteria of the Middle Way perfectly. This is a practical expression of The Middle Way. Panoramic sensing is a way of using the senses, without any sensory indulgence or sensory withdrawal.

Panoramic sensing also belongs to the list of conditions which fulfil the Third Truth, it is a way of relating to the world without wanting anything from it. The only thing panoramic sensing leads to, if it is pleasurable, is more panoramic sensing.

Please continue with Desire is Dependent on Focusing

Here is a dividing line.

Reference: The Third Truth - from English Translations, Ref 1: Pali Tipitaka

"And what, monks, is the Noble Truth of the Cessation of Suffering?"
"It is the complete fading away and cessation of this very craving, forsaking it and giving it up; the liberation from it, leaving no place for it. But where may this craving, monks, be eradicated; where may it be extinguished? Wherever in the world [of mind and matter] there is something enticing and pleasurable: there this craving may be eradicated and extinguished."

The Mystery of The Middle Way

The Middle Way is usually understood as either moderation, occasionally as renunciation, and sometimes it is thought to be the same as the Eightfold Path. It seems the teaching is either lost or shrouded in mystery.

The Eightfold Path is already an alternative name for The Fourth Noble Truth, it seems doubtful Buddha would use yet a third name and also call it The Middle Way. However panoramic sensing is an ideal example of mindfulness and absorption, the last two steps of the eightfold path.

Moderation has many advantages. Many wise local rulers and teachers would have known about the value of moderation, even intelligent everyday workers and househoders know this; and there were inevitably many people who practiced something inbetween the two extremes of asceticism and householder, long before Buddha's time.

Buddha first announced the Middle Way at the same time as the Four Noble Truths directly after his enlightenment, in the Sermon of Bernares. These teachings were about something new and special. So, it seems highly unlikely that the Middle Way is anything to do with moderation.

Renunciation was already practiced in ascetic Hinduism, it is an integral part of the ascetic way, and therefore one of the two extremes which the Middle Way avoids.

However, the panoramic way of receptive sensing without wanting is a practical basis for any renunciation. And, it's impossible to be anything but moderate, when action is balanced with panoramic sensing.

Please continue with Desire is Dependent on Focusing

Back to Chapter Four : Buddhism and Wheels