So many people interpret the Buddha’s teachings of the Middle Way as walking between two extremes, of finding a middle ground between points of view. However, Thay talks about how we need to throw out all duality in order to truly understand the Middle Way. We do not walk between two extremes, but instead we throw out the concept of the extremes. We let go of dualistic points of view, and in doing so we are further able to release notions of the self in order to fully integrate with the world.
This has resonated so deeply with me, as for the past couple of months I have been exploring the release of the self and integration with the natural world as a result. To walk the middle way, we must, as Thay suggests “throw out” instead of letting go – as letting go still concedes to a dualistic nature of existence, and a self that is separate from nature. If we throw out all these ideas we are left with nothing but possibility.
The idea of the Middle Way, of changing the way that you think by throwing out dualities, has some other very interesting concepts to chew on. What happens if you throw out anger and joy? What happens when you throw out pain and bliss? Walking the Middle Way is not about never getting angry, or upset, or joyful, or blissful. It is about releasing ideas of opposites, and seeing the potential that is created in doing so.
How does this work then? If we throw out ideas of birth and death, we are simply left with manifestation of existence in all its forms. This reaffirms my belief that life does not begin when we are born, nor stop when we die: we simply change form, decomposing into the soil, molecules breaking down, chemical reactions occurring. We are released into the air through the plants growing around us, released into the water table, we fall as rain or snow, we are in the wind. There is no beginning and no end. When the conditions are right we manifest in different forms, whether that be human, water molecule, etc. When we strike a match, the flame does not come out of nowhere: the right chemical reaction must occur. When the flame is blown out, it does not disappear into nothingness, but simply ceases in that manifestation. When the conditions are right, it can appear again. As Thay puts it – clouds cannot die.
For me, this is the concept of reincarnation, exquisitely explained.
With regards to the self, we can take this further, realising that there is no separate self. We are beings that, like everything else on this planet, require the existence of other things in order to manifest. We are entirely co-dependent, there is nothing on this planet that can exist without other things. A cloud needs water and other elements in order to be. Humans needs water, food, shelter, oxygen and a host of other things in order to exist. Everything is interconnected. We cannot separate one thing from another – it is simply impossible. When we realise the interdependence of existence, we see that there really can be no separate sense of self – we are made up of millions of other human and non-human elements.
Thay goes further into describing all these other elements as having their own vitality, their own purpose, their own consciousness. Each thing is equally important in the manifestation of all existence.
For me, this is animism, exquisitely explained.
It is so wonderful when concepts that you hold so dear to your heart, concepts that you regularly meditate over, are expressed within a different religious path so eloquently. It shows a shared human experience, and a shared global manifestation of consciousness.
Thay is currently in hospital, aged 88 having suffered a brain haemorrhage. He is making progress, and we all wish him the best in his recovery, should that happen. Whatever may happen, we wish him peace and love. His teachings have made him a true hero of our time.