The Middle Path

One day, Siddharta accepted a ball of rice pudding from a young woman who found him exhausted on the side of a river. He then withdrew from this harsh style of asceticism to a practice that Buddhists traditionally refer to as the Middle Path, a very important concept in Buddhist life.

Avoid Extremes

The concept of the Middle Path covers all sort of aspects of the way Buddhists live. The point is to avoid two extremes. And extremes can vary in certain situations.

One is an extreme of self-denial. To deny yourself too much. Not to care appropriately for the needs of the body and the personality.

The other extreme is the one of self-indulgence. A form on indulgence that affects not only the way that people live but also the way people think. Specially the way they think about themselves.

Buddhist philosophers constantly ask what it means to talk about ourselves as being a self. They often disagree about how to define it, but they agree that the self should not be indulged, it should not be formed too much, and it also should not be denied. So, the proper view of the personality according to the Buddhist tradition is in itself a Middle Path. A way of cultivating the self with a sense of responsibility. Avoiding any sense of self-indulgence.

The Great Enlightenment

When Siddharta found the Middle Path, things began to move more quickly for him. He sat down under a tree and he fixed himself in meditation. He was tempted by Mara, who is the personification of death in the Buddhist tradition. He first sent his daughters to seduce Siddharta. Then he sent the armies of his son to distract him.

I’ve begun to think of these armies not so much the way it often has been presented traditionally in Buddhist literature, as the armies of Mara fighting the Buddha trying to scare him away from this serious conviction and commitment. But instead I think of them as the last vestige of his life as a prince.

A clone of the tree under which The Buddha achieved Nirvana

This young man, thirty-five or thirty-six years old, had tried to turn his back on the princely life that he once has lived and now was attempting to seek this solution to the problem of transmigration, and out of his past came the old gang. All of those guys that used to fight with him and said to Siddharta: “Come and fight with us! Just as we used to do. Be a prince like you once were.”

The story in Buddhist literature of course says that he resisted the temptation that these armies presented and he reached down in his meditation and touched the earth. The earth shook to bear witness to the strength of his conviction.

And once this happened, once Mara had been defeated, Siddharta was on his way to enlightenment. In the dark of the night, he passed through stages of meditation and finally understood what causes the suffering of the world and how he could bring it to a definitive end.

This article is part of the series about The Life of the Buddha.

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