All the teachers and people I have read, talked with and listened to, emphazises that Buddhism is the Middle Way.

Is this the right way to see it? If so, what is the most important or central aspect of The Middle Way?


8 Answers 8


It would be very arrogant on my part to assume I can explain exactly the very same true meaning of the Middle Path... but I can share what I think:

Remember what I said about existence and nonexistence. I think most people fall into all kinds of extremes. Taking a simplistic position of any kind, however small, is already a kind of extreme. When you fall into an extreme, you are no longer free. Your choices are now defined by that position, by that extreme. In a way, you are now controlled by a position. When you are controlled by a position, you are not free.

We can identify ourselves with the bodies, made of the physical elements, lacking free-will, governed by the laws of nature... We can assume we are the clusters of memes - using the bodies as our media... We can think we are simply humans - suffering, dying, making wholesome choices or unwholesome choices... Or we could equate ourselves with the Infinite, Eternal, Spontaneously-Existing Absolute Totality of Everything... We can believe in reincarnation, or in annihilation, or in endless transformation... We can see gods and demons around - or we can see latent potentials and informational phenomena...

That's what happens to most people, they give themselves away to mercy of ideas. As a result people are getting dragged around by their ideas, here and there and everywhere until they die. Or they are held hostage by their ideas and waste their lives away with their hands tied. There is no freedom in that.

Instead, if you are wise, if you are analytical - then you can balance the forces against each other. You don't fall into either extreme, into either simplistic position. You get smart. The attachments, positions, ideas - they no longer have power over you. You effectively disappear, you become invisible, ungraspable, impossible to nail.

You are free from raging emotions - because you are free from attachments, you have no triggers, no hot buttons. You are free from hopes and fears. You are free from theories. You can juggle them any way you want. You are free from obsessions, from antipathies... You are free from identity. You have no fixed form.

This could be a real definition of Freedom. In a deterministic universe governed by the laws of cause-and-effect and characterized by the Three Marks of Impermanence, Corelessness, and Dukkha - you can be free in your mind! You can even be free from death, if you can drop the viewpoint in which the concept of death makes sense.

I think this is what's meant by The Middle Way - the way of mastery over ideas. It's not simply mid-way or lukewarm - it is the way of freedom via insight.

  • I learn more from you every time! Soon it will be time to start re-reading answers. So many different perspectives here. Nov 26, 2015 at 7:12
  • Someone I know said, "Be position-less with regard to issues." You made this case very well.
    – user2341
    Jul 11, 2016 at 0:03
  • How is positionlessness in any way the middle?
    – Troll
    Jul 13, 2019 at 17:05
  • It's the middle because it's a balanced, analytical approach, that entails seeing things in all their multifaceted reality, and not from one side (which is "an extreme").
    – Andriy Volkov
    Jul 13, 2019 at 17:43
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    Nice answer. I would only add that the Middle Way is a solution for metaphysics and explains Kant's antinomies. It is a factual claim about Reality, not just a way of thinking. It claims that distinctions such as existence/non-existence are not fundamental. No distinctions or categories-of-thought would be fundamental. The genuine nature of Reality would outrun the intellect because it is an undifferentiated unity, thus beyond conceptual fabrication. It is only when we believe otherwise that metaphysical dilemmas arise, and this is what Nagarjuna proves. . .
    – user14119
    Jul 17, 2019 at 13:13

In Buddha's time there was hedonistic indulgence and extreme ascetic practices. The ascetic practices was to exhausting bad Karma though inflicting pain.

Seeking pleasure creates fabrication through attachments hence resulting in present and future dukka.

Though through experiencing Karma (Sañcetanika Sutta) karma looses its potent this is cannot be achived through inflicting pain as Karma acts when it ripens (you cannot hasten or force the result) while artificially inflicting pain leads to metal instability and other new fabrications.

The middle path is restrain in morality thus abandoning one source of grave unwholesome Karma (reducing store of fabrications) thus cultivating a conducive environment to develop collected mind (due to non remorse - (Dasaka) Cetanā’karaṇīya Sutta, and Karmic calamities) to finally gain wisdom and release. (See comments [section 1.3] in (Ānanda) Subha Sutta for relationships moral virtue, mastery over the mind and wisdom.) Any experiences that arises should be used to eradicate metal influxes casing future becoming, i.e., not creating new fabrication due to past karmic and other experiaces. (Pahāna Sutta, Avijja Pahana Sutta 2) This is systematised as the Noble Eightfold Path initially in Dhamma,cakka Pavattana Sutta which was the Buddha's 1st disclosure. More thought explanation is found in the: Samma,ditthi Sutta

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    There is also the middle way between eternalism and anihilationism in the Pali Canon. I don't remember the Sutta name but it is addressed like in the Dhammacakka Sutta
    – user4878
    Nov 25, 2015 at 11:06
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    Yes. Dhammacakka Sutta Nov 25, 2015 at 11:15

From my study, two extremes could also be false dichotomy. Buddha was often asked yes or no questions and he would not answer either way. For example, when asked if suffering was caused by self (internal influence) or by others (external influence), he would not answer that directly (IMO those questions were false dichotomy). He would further explain that because of sense gates, detection arise, because detection, feelings (suffering/pleasure/neutral) arise, etc.. It goes to show Buddha's wisdom through and through.

  • 1
    Interesting about dichotomies, thanks for bringing that perspectives. I'll bring it to work. As it happens I work with youngsters and they are really dichotomous in their perspectives on life. Nov 26, 2015 at 7:04
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    It is characteristic of ego to want to know "the right answer" and so to be safe.
    – user2341
    Jul 11, 2016 at 0:05

The central aspect is to avoid any extreme. So, for instance do not go for extreme ascetic practices or for a life of extreme pleasures; seek the middle path of a balanced life.

The same principle is then applied to any other aspect of life.


Householder, interested,

Bhante Thanissaro generously dedicated effort to make the meaning of the Middle Way more understandable: The Middles of the Middle Way and one point is surely important that the Buddhas Middleway does seldom fits to personal ideas of balanced or even that this was meant to walk a way of compromises in regard of gainings and turning on in the world.

In his very first sermon, the Buddha introduced his path of practice as a middle way that avoids two extremes: a commitment to sensual pleasures related to sensual desires, and a commitment to self-affliction. On the surface, this statement makes the path sound like a middling way, at a bland halfway point on the continuum between pleasure and pain. But if you read further in the Canon on the middle way, you realize that its middleness is much more complex than that....

It's also that many advocate equanimity as the highest virtue but actually the Buddha gives clear black and whites whereas the whites describe the middle and not something in between them or gray.

So much pleasure and much pain, both can be the middle path as well, depending on the individual.

Since the middle path, the Ariyamagga, is actually one of leaving home and stand, the world and not meant, not for samsaring around, possible good to count the main aspects of the middle path for those, out of duties or valid hindrances, living the path in white, as householder:


There is the case of a disciple of the noble ones, his awareness cleansed of the stain of stinginess, living at home, freely generous, openhanded, delighting in being magnanimous, responsive to requests, delighting in the distribution of alms.

So when the world is on fire with aging and death, one should salvage [one's wealth] by giving: what's given is well salvaged.

What's given bears fruit as pleasure. What isn't given does not: thieves take it away, or kings; it gets burnt by fire or lost.


The Eight Precepts, as often as possible.


Recollections (anussati), to possible access borderlands to/and the Noble Domain (homelessness).

  • Recollection of the Buddha (buddhanussati)
  • Recollection of the Dhamma (dhammanussati)
  • Recollection of the Sangha (sanghanussati)
  • Recollection of one's own virtues (silanussati)
  • Recollection of one's own generosity (caganussati)
  • Recollection on the devas qualities (devatanussati)
  • Mindfulness of death (maranassati) (see also Satipatthana).
  • Mindfulness of breathing (anapanasati)

At least such inclinations and practice, even if still "left and right" Kamma may lead toward the middle path, right view and purification of virtue and arrival on the Path of no return into this world.

(Note that this gift of Dhamma is not dedicated for trade, exchange, stacks or entertainment but as a means to make merits toward release from this wheel)


I have recently published a book addressing this question (with academic publishers Equinox):

The Buddha’s Middle Way
Experiential Judgement in his Life and Teaching

In brief summary, a good case can be made for the interpretation of the Buddha's Middle Way as a principle of judgement (not a metaphysical claim), navigating between opposing absolutes of any kind and thus bringing us back to experiential and provisional judgement. The Pali Canon contains contextual applications of this approach rather than universal definitions of it.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – ChrisW
    Jul 14, 2019 at 13:51

There are several possible connections to the middle. The most obvious is that it was emphasized in the school called the Madhyamika (Middle Path school), whose instruction is that the Dharma occupies a middle position between realism and idealism.

The usual instruction otherwise is that Buddhism endorses a middle ground between extremes, particularly in the practical sphere of mysticism between asceticism and libertinism, but sometimes more generalized as a type of uber-moderation.

All of these instructions are correct in a sense, in that there is a paradigmatic theme which the Dharma embraces that may be applied as one orients to the world of objects and value.

The Path or Marga is a formula which orients to the condition of the aspirant, and as one begins to identify and put into practice the proper keys of its 8-spoke wheel (generally referred to as view, aspiration, speech, action, livelihood, effort, mindfulness, and concentration), one expediently settles into a proper relation to the whole.

An essential element of that process is dedicated moderation in all things, even including moderation. Thus, whatever one's station or condition, solving this formula entails finding one's proper route in the world of anguish (dukkha, samsara), such that one adopts a Dharmic lifestyle with ethical choices.

This in turn affects desires, and what had been the parameters of seeming extremity change through time, such that one moves toward greater and greater clarity, and shifts subtlely more and more toward the precepts embraced by those whose dedicated beacon and encapsulated specialty is supported by the sangha system built in traditions.

Thus, the most important reason that Buddhism is called The Middle Path is that by employing its principles and disciplines with sustained and dedicated effort this leads to the insight sufficient to identify and discern a set of personal actions which, if chosen, gradually reducing one's footprint, harm, and anguish through dwelling in the Middle of All Things.

By embracing the Dharma, one becomes able to see the Golden Road of the Middle, and open the Parachute into Nirvana.


The Middle Way teachings endorse a neutral metaphysical theory. This is the theory associated with non-dualism and a doctrine of Unity.

All extreme or positive theories would be false such that in no case would it be correct to say Reality is this or that or has this as opposed to that property or quality. This places the Ultimate beyond the categories-of-thought and thus beyond conceptual fabrication.

I recommend Khenpo Tsutlrim Gyamptso's very accessible introduction The Sun of Wisdom: Teachings on the Noble Nagarjuna's Fundamental Wisdom of the Middle Way.

The phrase 'Middle Way' has countless meanings and applications so its 'true' meaning may be variously stated. Gyamptso summarises its claim as 'nothing really exists or ever really happens'. This underlying metaphysical claim (or fact) is the philosophical foundation for Middle Way teachings on ascetism, absolutism and do forth.

Because all extreme views would be false the phrase 'Middle Way may be misleading. Once we reject all false views there can be no 'middle' between them. The doctrine states that for every metaphysical dilemma or antinomy there is a third option. It is a refusal to consider this third option that distinguishes scholasticism and modern university philosophy from the Perennial philosophy and 'mysticism'.

Here's an old teaching story indicating the difference between dualistic thinking and the non-dualistic thinking required for the Middle Way and making fun of the former.

“A certain caliph, wanting to test an idea on an unsophisticated person, asked his guards to range into the desert and bring him a bedouin Arab. They surrounded the first one whom they met, who happened to be a Sufi.

‘The Commander of the Faithful requires your presence,’ said the captain of the guard.

‘Who are the faithful, and how do they come to have a Commander?’ he asked.

The soldiers concluded that this was indeed an unsophisticated man, and they brought him before the Caliph.

'I have been told,’ said the ruler, ‘that bedouins are so ignorant that they do not know the simplest things.’

‘Who has told you?’

‘It was during a discussion with my intellectual advisers’.

‘If it is intellect you want, the problem is easy enough. Ask me anything.’

The Caliph ordered a dish of porridge to be brought. The Arab sniffed it and began to eat. ‘What is that?’ asked the Caliph.

‘Something that can be safely eaten,’ said the bedouin.

‘Yes, but what is its name?’

‘Adopting the methods of formal logic, applied to the knowledge available to me, I say that this is pomegranates.’

There was a laugh from the assembled scholastics who had told the Caliph that the bedouins were fools.

‘And how, pray, do you come to that conclusion?’

‘By the same methods that your scholastics use. I have heard the phrase "Dates and pomegranates” used to describe tasty foods. Now I know what dates are, as I live on them. This is not dates. Therefore it must be pomegranates.’

From ‘Esoteric Research’ (Tahqiq-I-Batini). Reputedly written by Sir-Dan (Knower of Secrets) Daud Waraqi. In Idries Shah, ‘Caravan of Dreams’, 1968, The Octagon Press, London.

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