Does the middle way -- between annihilationism and eternalism -- apply to objects? Like a mountain, will it either exist forever or be destroyed, or is it too the middle way?

The expression “middle way” refers to the Buddhist understanding of practical life, avoiding the extremes of self-denial and self-indulgence, as well as the view of reality that avoids the extreme positions of eternalism and annihilationism.

That is one way of reading the meaning of 'middle way'.

Do objects -- supposing they exist -- we have consciousness of have substance, according to any Mahayana Buddhists? That seems to ask the same question, I'm not sure.

10 Answers 10


The middle way -- between annihilationism and eternalism -- does apply to objects. Objects are neither existent nor not existent. They are interpretative imputations made on the basis of multiple causes and conditions temporarily coming together in their non-stop motion, transformation, and interaction.

Objects we have consciousness of are not "made of" substance, according to Mahayana Buddhists. Objects are interpretative imputations made by the observer. The so-called material substance is but a small part of all conditions, combination of which leads to arising of this particular delineation and designation.


Middle Way is described as:

  1. avoiding the extremes of sensual indulgence and self-mortification, where one does not seek pleasure or pain, and follow the middle way which is the Noble Eightfold Path. [Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta]
  2. avoiding extreme views like “all exist” and “nothing exists”, and follow the middle way which in this case is Dependent Origination. [Kaccā(ya)na,gotta Sutta]
  3. avoiding the extremes of greed and hate, and follow the middle way which is the Noble Eightfold Path. [Dhamma,dayada Sutta]

For inanimate objects naturally above is excluded, as 1 deals with lifestyle and behaviour, and 2 & 3 deals with thought and philosophy, both of which only an animate object can have.

  • This definition is based on the Pali canon by the way -- not specifically Mahayana.
    – ChrisW
    Apr 14, 2020 at 9:11
  • It applies to objects in the sense that they would both exist and exist-not, depending on whether we are speaking conventionally or ultimately. There would be no such thing as 'substance'. As Kant notes objects reduce to the 'thing-in-itself', which is not a substance. All things would be void, as stated in the Upanishads. This is the 'Two Truths' doctrine as applied to the existence of objects.
    – user14119
    Apr 14, 2020 at 11:58

According to Abhidhamma:

  1. Everything is Non-Self (Anattā).
  2. Some Anattā are Aggregates (Khandhas), one is the opposite of Aggregates (Nibbāna), and others are conceptual (Paññatti).
  3. 3 noble truths are Aggregates, 1 is Nibbāna. The left super-mundane-aggregates are not noble truth, however, either noble truth or non-noble-truth are Anattā.
  4. First 2 noble truths, both are Upādāna-Khandha, are clinging (Upādāna) by Craving (Ṭaṇhā). The last 2 noble truths are not clinging by Craving.
  5. The last 1 noble truth has 2 steps, the ordinary middle way for the beginner and super-mundane middle way for the noble ones. The ordinary middle way is not the last noble truth actually, it is the first noble truth. The high-skill-insight-practitioner needs to do the insight-comprehension on The ordinary middle way as well at the end of all insight-comprehension.
  6. The super-mundane middle way and the left super-mundane-aggregates are not for the insight-comprehension, although they are impermanent, suffering, and non-self. Why? Because they never and ever be Clinging by any Craving. Why? Because Nibbāna is the cessation of Clinging, Craving, and future Clinging-Aggretgates. The left super-mundane-aggregates know Nibbāna, so every arising of the left super-mundane-aggregates are never clung by any Craving.

The Middle Way, or The Way Down the Middle, works this way:

When you take on the working hypothesis: "This is Pain." What you have done is to have set up a point of view concerning things that avoids the issue of existence altogether.

When you abstain from lies, what have you 'done'? Nothing. You have abstained from an act. That is the same thing as saying you have abstained from making kamma, or you have abstained from creating an experience by way of thought, word, or deed.

When you let go of sensual pleasures and unskillful things and with an appreciation of the peace that comes from solitude and enter and habituate the first gnosis, what have you done? Nothing. You have let go of something. That is not 'doing' that is 'no longer doing'.

These are illustrative of what is meant by 'middle'. It means abstaining from any act that would end up creating the experience of self-indulgence or self-torture.

What the Middle Way does not imply is that there is any sort of existence (whether of man or mountains or mole-hills) in the middle. When you have abstained, that is the end of it. You have avoided the two extremes and by that have walked the middle path. Do not then go further and postulate a physical middle - that would be a new kammic act that went in one or the other of the two extreme directions.

What we are trying to do here is to bring samsara to an end. That is the same thing as saying that we are trying to bring our kamma-making to an end or, stated still another way we are trying to stop identifying with acts of thought, word and deed that are intended to create personal sense-experience (own-making for short). Since kamma is 'doing' it should be obvious that any sort of doing short of intentional not-doing (the result of which is to end a kammic stream, and is experienced as neither painful nor pleasant - the two extremes in terms of experience) is going to make kamma. Making kamma is contra-indicated in the effort to end kamma.


I do not know how middle way is related with the question whether mountain will exist forever or will be destroyed?
But I will try to answer your question.

Sabbe Sanskar Annicca meaning all conformations are transitory meaning if mountain or any object are result of coming together of things (like consciousness , elements etc) then they are bound to change and vanish over a period of time. Practically nothing is permanent. Mountains to nucleus to universe , nothing is permanent. Hope I have answered your question.

  • yeah i dunno why everyone has missed that.
    – user2512
    May 17, 2020 at 16:05


(commenting on @SacrificialEquation's statement that inanimate objects are conformations

(presumably his translation of sankhāra, but meaning "the shape or structure of something", where sankhāra means the making of something or the doing of something, and specifically with regard to the middle way, the making of one's identification with experiences by way of ones acts of thought, word and deed). The term is a partial synonym for 'kamma' with greater emphasis on the idea that this is where one is injecting individuality into the making of the world.

and because of that are transitory, which does not in fact answer the question as asked, which is two-fold: "Are inanimate objects permanent, and do inanimate objects walk the Middle Way".)

You say: "yeah i dunno why everyone has missed that."

The original question being:

"Does the middle way — between annihilationism and eternalism — apply to objects? Like a mountain, will it either exist forever or be destroyed, or is it too the middle way?"

I read my own answer as having answered your qeustion, but the question as written makes no sense as the middle way has to do with what is or is not suitable conduct for a human being.

See the Dhamma-Cakka-p-Pavattana Suttaɱ where the term "middle way" is first defined:


Two, me bhikkhus, are ends
not to be gone after
by one embarking on the seeker's life.

What two?

At the one end:
whatever is desire,
is yoked to desire for the sweet-life,
of the common man,
not aristocratic,
destitute of character.

And at the other end:
whatever is yoked to causing self-torment,
is painful,
not aristocratic,
destitute of character.

It is by not attacking either end, beggars,
that the Tathāgata woke up
to a way to go down the middle;
smoothing the way
to higher knowledge,

Where next the Middle Way is defined as the Ariya Angika Magga.

Rocks do not walk the Magga.

So understanding your original question as being a confusion of two ideas, my response was an attempt to separate out the issues of existence and non-existence and the understanding of the Middle way.

If all you want to know is if inanimate objects are walking the middle way, the answer is certainly: No.

The others responding to you have also been trying to straighten you out. If they have misunderstood the question, it is because you have constructed your question badly. Then you compound (sankhāra) the error by suggesting that the fault is not yours but theirs.

Asking questions is good, but should be based on an understanding of the terms used. So before asking how a term should be applied, one should ask what the term means.

  • there's no need to talk about "errors" in this context, though i don't understand what's difficult to understand about my question -- i have highligheted in bold what i mean if that halps?
    – user2512
    May 17, 2020 at 19:27

"And I, Ānanda, will not proceed with you as does a potter with an unbaked (vessel), not fully dry. I will speak, Ānanda, constantly reproving, constantly cleansing"
-MN 122


Apologies for allowing my frustration with the English of your question and your remark to show itself in the tone. But you should overlook tone and focus on whether or not what was said was well-said or not.

I completely understand how it can be that you do not understand what is difficult to understand about your question. Your clarification does not help. But I will give it another shot.

I did not, in answering your question, and in responding to your comment, intend to emphasize your misunderstandings, but to point them out was necessary in order to correct them.

You apparently have a misconception concerning the nature of the middle way. That is clear because there is no way a person who understood the middle way could think that it could possibly, in any way, apply to innanimate matter. You are either inventing the meaning of the term yourself or you have followed the invention of someone else that does not understand. That misunderstanding should have been cleared up reading the definition in the link I supplied. The link leads to several different interpretations by different translators, you can take your pick.

The Middle Way is describing an attitude to take with regard to taking action.

It is an instruction to not take even one step either towards self-indulgence or self-torture. That is the Middle Way.

It does not involve any sort of state or movement between annihilationism or eternalism.

It, itself, is not a point of view between annihilaationism and eternalism.

In so far as the Middle Way is defined as The Four Truths, it is a point of view. But it is one that avoids the issue of existence and non-existence, thus:

Whether or not there is no self and death is the end or that there is an eternal soul, there is dukkha (pain, ugly-uk-ukky-k-kha), and the Middle Way is the way to the end of that dukkha.

It is a way to interact with kamma such as to bring kamma to an end.

Folowing the Middle Way, one avoids the consequences of acting from the points of view of annihilationism or eternalism.

Example: You can only get a date with the most beautiful lass in the land if you lie. So considering the Middle Way, looking in the Magga under Sammā Vaca, Consummate Speech, you see that lies are to be avoided. You abstain from that lie. You have just followed the Middle Way.

What did you do? Nothing. Where are you between annihilationism and eternalism? Not between! If you must characterize it by location, it is 'apart from'. You didn't go anywhere. You intentionally 'not-did'. The result is not something somewhere, it is the ending of the kammic stream which presented itself to you in the form of the pleasant sensations at the eye of the most beautiful lass in the land and the thirst for her that resulted.

You evaluate the results. The result is a negative. You will not, because of that intentional not-doing, ever experience having to live with an old hag that has lost her beauty, doesn't put out and does nothing but eat, spend money and argue with you in the old age which you can now enjoy in peace.

So next time you will have less difficulty abstaining, walking the Middle Way, in a similar situation.

That explains the meaning of The Middle Way.

Now please explain how a rock could fit into this picture? Somewhere in your thinking you have constructed the Middle Way into both a point of view and an actual state between annihilationism and eternalism... one in which a rock could be found. Not so!

  • because one sutta is not always exhaustive of the meaning of any "phrase"
    – user2512
    May 19, 2020 at 22:17

There is not one iota of difference in the manner and extent with which objects exist and the manner and extent in which the skandhas or any other existent exists. And of course objects exist! They do so provisionally and conventionally without even the smallest amount of 'real' or 'true' or 'substantial' existence. Some things utterly do not exist... such as the son of a barren woman. But nothing whatsoever exists in a 'real' or 'true' or 'substantial' manner. This is the middle way.

  • i like your first sentence, and it is helpful, but i'm not sure i agree with it or not... any reference / citation?
    – user2512
    May 17, 2020 at 21:35
  • What I've said above is my own imprecise paraphrase of what I understand as the standard treatment of Je Tsongkhapa following Candrakirti, Aryadeva, Nagarjuna and the Buddha.
    – user13375
    May 18, 2020 at 2:01

In response to @sorta_buddhist's comment:

"because one sutta is not always exhaustive of the meaning of any "phrase""

complaining of the fact that I only gave one citation as an example. Never mind that this was a citation to the first sutta ever spoken by Gotama and which was the initial point where the Middle Way was introduced.

Also, I would flag @Andrei Volkov and @Yeshe Tenley, and ask them, after they have reviewed the following additional citations, how they justify the idea that the Middle Way in any way could possibly apply to inanimate objects. Do rocks walk the Magga? Is it necessary for a rock to eliminate ignorance in order for it not to attain consciousness, form, sense experience, thirst, grasping, becoming, birth and pain?

Further references defining the Middle Way:

Most of these links are to the Sutta Index which lists the Pali and the various translations that are freely available. This is only a selection, I have 60 links to this issue.

SN 2.12.35
Defining the Middle Way as the Paticca Samuppada = the Four Truths

SN 2.12.36
Defining the Middle Way as the Paticca Samuppada = the Four Truths

MN 3

What is this Middle Way?

Why, it is naught but the Noble Eightfold Path of
right outlook,
right aims,
right speech,
right action,
right means of livelihood,
right effort,
right mindfulness,
and right concentration;
this, Almsmen, is the Middle Way.

MN 139
Explaining how the Miccle Way avoids conflict with those holding the extreme views.
Wording identical to SN 56 11

SN 4.42.12

Not following after these two extremes, headman,
is the Middle Way of approach,
fully known by the Tathāgata,
which giveth vision,
giveth knowledge,
leading to calm,
to supernormal knowledge,
to wisdom,
to Nibbāna.

And what,headman,
is that Middle Way of approach,
fully known by the Tathāgata,
which giveth vision,
giveth knowledge,
leading to calm,
to supernormal knowledge,
to wisdom,
to Nibbāna?

It is this Ariyan Eightfold Path, to wit:

Right view, right aim, right speech, right action, right living, right effort, right mindfulness, right concentration.

SN 2.12.18
Timbaruka asks the Buddha a series of questions about the source of pain and pleasure and to each of his questions receives the response, 'it is not such as that.' When Timbaruka asks for an explanation, The Buddha teaches him the 'Doctrine Going Down the Middle': that is, the Paticca Samuppada, the chain of interdependent factors giving rise to the experience of individualized existence and the resulting pain.

SN 5.54.10
Linked to the Bhk. Bodhi translation. In a footnote Bhk. Bodhi explains the result of following the Middle Way as being the ability to observe detachedly.

He is one who looks on closely with equanimity: one is said to look on with equanimity (at the mind) that has fared along the path [Spk-pt: by neither exerting nor restraining the mind of meditative development that has properly fared along the middle way), and by the presentation as a unity [since there is nothing further to be done in that respect when the mind has reached one-pointedness]. "Looking on with equanimity" can apply either to the conascent mental states (in the meditative mind) or to the object; here the looking on at the object is intended.

... and many others

  • so the middle way is never between annihilationism and eternalism?
    – user2512
    May 21, 2020 at 20:45
  • @MikeOlds Please see SN 12.15 Kaccānagotta Sutta. Also, please avoid posting multiple answers as a way to have a conversation. If you would like to converse, you can open a chat room.
    – Andriy Volkov
    May 23, 2020 at 16:57
  • Here is one I just created for you.
    – Andriy Volkov
    May 23, 2020 at 16:57
  • 1
    @AndreiVolkov I suspect that Mike Olds can't use a chat room with an unregistered account (or more specifically, using an account with no "reputation") -- and perhaps (depending on whether and when his browser cookies are cleared) cannot comment, nor edit a previous/existing answer.
    – ChrisW
    May 24, 2020 at 4:26
  • Riiiight, that makes sense now! Thanks for pointing that out.
    – Andriy Volkov
    May 24, 2020 at 9:04

In response to: so the middle way is never between annihilationism and eternalism? – sorta_buddhist yesterday

They are two different things and they are not equivalents. The Middle Way is a way to behave, annihilationism or any other point of view indicating a position with regard to existence is an opinion as to the real nature of things.

Our behavior is dictated by our point of view. Our behavior is not our point of view.

The Middle Way is a code of behavior based on The Four Truths; "This is pain; This pain originates with thirst; to end the pain, end the thirst; the Way is the eightfold way.

By behaving in accordance with the Middle Way, you avoid the consequences that would have resulted if you had behaved in ways indicated by either the point of view of annihiliationism (self-punishment) or eternalism (self-indulgence).

Both annihilationism and eternalism result in behavior that leads to rebirth; following the behavior indicated by the Four Truths and the Magga results (sooner or later) in no rebirth.

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