I am battling with understanding the concept of the middle path.
I agree with ruben2020's answer, including with the statement that the Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta has the original/classic way in which the phrase "middle way" is used. The same dilemma (i.e. the same two, specific extremes) is described in the Ariyapariyesana Sutta: The Noble Search, in which the two extremes are described as,
- living luxuriously, straying from his exertion, backsliding into abundance
- performance of austerities
Neither of those extremes were conducive to the Buddha's enlightenment.
Having read the many articles available, the concept escapes me especially with a view of self and no-self. My understanding is that in Buddhism neither is where you want to be as it is an extreme. There must be balance.
What would you think of advice such as, "Try not to be too selfish?"
That might be pretty radical advice but at least in theory I think not too difficult to understand.
There are supposed to be three aspects to Buddhism, i.e.
- Virtue/behaviour aka sīla
An example of virtuous behaviour is dāna (generosity).
Sila is sometimes seen as a basis or foundation, e.g. without practicing enough virtue you can't concentrate or find peace in meditation, and can't find wisdom or have 'right view' i.e. see things properly.
Something else that might bring 'balance'; there are rules (aka 'precepts') of virtue for example,
I undertake the training rule to abstain from killing
Or for example here is what the Dhammapada says,
129. All tremble at violence; all fear death. Putting oneself in the place of another, one should not kill nor cause another to kill.
130. All tremble at violence; life is dear to all. Putting oneself in the place of another, one should not kill nor cause another to kill.
131. One who, while himself seeking happiness, oppresses with violence other beings who also desire happiness, will not attain happiness
132. One who, while himself seeking happiness, does not oppress with violence other beings who also desire happiness, will find happiness
I suspect that you should be as non-violent towards yourself as you are towards other people.
Might that result in 'balance'?
If i work with an example, it leaves me nowhere. I do not see the middle path. If i have a weapon pointed to my head, i only see 2 outcomes. Death or survival. If i take the view of self, i would fear the outcome. If i take the view of no-self, i realize all is impermanent and have no fear.
I see several possible ways to reply.
- You're thinking "If" but you presumably don't in fact have a weapon pointed to your head. That idea of a weapon is no more than a fantasy.
- The Buddha said that that there various questions which he wasn't going to answer ... and that not-answering is because his intention is to teach liberation from dukkha; however questions about the self lead towards a thicket of views and not away from dukkha
- That the skhandas are fairly impermanent: each thought is here one second, and gone the next.
- Saying that the self does or doesn't exist might be wrong, in the same way as saying that a tree does or doesn't exist might be wrong. More correct might be to say that it exists, but it's impermanent, and it's conditioned (not independent), also that it's a mental construct (who says exactly where the boundaries of 'tree' or 'self' are, where do they begin and end). Another way of putting it is that things exist but their existence is empty (suññatā)
- There are other emotions/emotions which you can (or should) cultivate, other than fear and no-fear: including equanimity, loving-kindness, etc.
Secondly, what roles do intent and motivation play?
Maybe a large role: because intention is related to karma or karma is driven by intention.
However karma is a complicated and/or confused subject.