In this answer, I wrote a little addendum that picks on a little tick that I find common amongst all kinds of Buddhists. That moderation is a virtue in and of itself without regard to what the object of moderation is. That "going to extremes" is to be totally avoided for all extremes. That the Middle Way of the Buddha counsels moderation should be held for every practice.

That unlike Colby, we shouldn't go too far :)

I think this is wrong.

TADYATHA [OM] GATE GATE PARAGATE PARASAMGATE BODHI SVAHA

"It is thus: Proceed, proceed, proceed beyond, thoroughly proceed beyond, be founded in enlightenment."

This is the mantra of the Heart Sutra and I interpret it as an exhortation by the Buddha that we should all go to an extreme. Now, regardless whether you think the Heart Sutra authoritative (please be respectful) I think the same exhortation can be found in the Pali Canon.

Consider MN 59:

"And what, Ananda, is another pleasure more extreme & refined than that? There is the case where a monk, with the complete transcending of the dimension of neither perception nor non-perception, enters & remains in the cessation of perception & feeling. This is another pleasure more extreme & refined than that."

Emphasis mine. That entire Sutta is understood to my mind as describing the Path and the actual attainment as ever more refined and extreme states of pleasure with the ultimate extreme equated with Nibbana.

If you look, in the Suttas the Buddha is very careful to describe the specific extremes that are to be avoided. I've looked, but can't find any Sutta where the Buddha proclaims that all extremes are to be avoided.

So my questions:

  • Have I got this wrong or misunderstood?
  • Are all extremes to be avoided?
  • Is there any Sutta proclaiming that all extremes are to be avoided?
  • Is moderation in everything a complete virtue?
  • Is there anything we should not be moderate about?
  • If not all extremes, then what is the total list of specific extremes the Buddha specifically warned us against?

BTW, I tagged this personal practice, because I'm of the view that this aversion to extremes is actually a hindrance to progress on the path. If we think that moderation is a virtue in all things we can use this to justify being lazy since we shouldn't be "trying too hard" anyway.

Thanks!

  • Some questions that touch on "extremes" for ref: buddhism.stackexchange.com/search?q=extreme – Yeshe Tenley Aug 19 at 13:21
  • I suppose "perfection" is related to this topic -- monks are told to be "perfect in virtue" for example. – ChrisW Aug 19 at 13:41
  • @ChrisW, yes, I very much think so. perfection is an extreme after all. – Yeshe Tenley Aug 19 at 14:00
  • One meaning of the word "perfection" is "a task to have been completed" ... and, of an "extreme", the destination of a path (as well as, the limits at either end of a spectrum). – ChrisW Aug 19 at 14:51

In general, I've seen only specific extremes and selective middle path in the suttas. I haven't seen anything about all extremes.

The middle path is not necessarily that which is in between two extremes, rather it is could be a different path that does not take extreme viewpoints.

One definition of the middle path comes in the Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta where the Buddha defines the middle path in terms of practice. Here, one takes neither the path of enjoying sensual pleasures in a nihilistic and hedonistic way, nor self-mortification through extreme asceticism. Instead, comes the Noble Eightfold Path, which really isn't about allowing or prohibiting sensual pleasures but covers much more.

Another definition of the middle path comes in the Acela Sutta where the Buddha defines the middle path in terms of philosophy. Here, one neither takes viewpoints of eternalism (there is an eternal self) nor annihilationism (there is no self at all and no existence), but rather takes a very different viewpoint, which is of dependent origination.

There are all kinds of advice of moderation that I've seen in the suttas, but they are littered everywhere. I don't think there's a master list somewhere.

For example, for overcoming lust (as a hindrance of sensual desire), you can use the contemplation on unattractiveness (see this question). But too much of it may lead to negative thoughts of suicide, in which case, use the mindfulness of breathing (see this answer) to counter it. So, that's moderation on the practice of the contemplation on unattractiveness.

I've also written this answer on the use of mutually exclusive approaches in practice which balances out the practice of different techniques for different situations. There's a skillful technique for everything. For e.g. here is a technique to inculcate thinking that reduces bad conduct.

Then there's moderation advice for lay people for their material lives. You can read this answer for advice on maintaining livelihood in tune and how to allocate monthly expenses for enjoyment, investment and savings. There's more advice for lay people on finance here and in the Sigalovada Sutta (on relationships, finance, moderation, virtue etc.).

And what about extremes?

This question discusses some extreme technique to get rid of evil thoughts.

Here is an answer by Andrei Volkov that uncovers the advice on extreme perfection of virtue.

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