The Middle Way to renewing the sacred balance: A Buddhist perspective

Based on an interview with Franz Li

April 2004

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Buddhists relate to all sentient beings with a profound sense of respect and compassion. Each one is unique and precious. Each is carrying life's burden of passion and suffering.

We see all sentient beings, ourselves included, as ever-changing life forces intimately connected to all other living things on this planet. What I do to the planet, to others, I inevitably do in some sense to myself. Just as if I pollute the air, I harm the planet, I harm others and I also harm myself.

The Buddha's teachings largely focused on the practical concerns of human passion and suffering. Why do we suffer? Why are we not satisfied? How do we achieve liberation (nirvana) and enjoy true happiness?

To completely overcome suffering, we must attain enlightenment. We must develop the insight to see reality as it truly is: that everything in nature exists interdependently and humans are merely part of a wider interconnected community of beings.

Enlightenment naturally engenders selfless compassion, a core value of Buddhism. Compassion makes it impossible to intentionally harm another. Such insight dictates us to live in harmony, in accord with reality, with nature, not against it.

The Buddhist ideal of a great bodhisattva (roughly speaking, a saint) is one who out of deep compassion vows to help every other sentient being to overcome their passion and suffering, to attain enlightenment.

The path to enlightenment is the Middle Way, also called the Noble Eightfold Path: right understanding, right thinking (aim), right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness and right concentration.

The Eightfold Path leads us to true happiness by addressing our imbalances—the very source of our passion, suffering and dissatisfaction. We begin by addressing the inner imbalances (our understanding, our thought), we proceed to temper the outer imbalances (speech, action and work), and then we return to correct the deeper inner imbalances (effort, mindfulness, concentration). Balance in our outer life is possible only to the extent that our inner life is also in balance.

The Middle Way refrains from asceticism that shuns society and from hedonism that enslaves one to sensory pleasures. Buddhists engage in the material world—it is necessary and useful to our welfare and development -while recognizing that material consumption and wealth alone do not bring true happiness.

The Middle Way rejects a lifestyle of over-consumption and it also rejects poverty. The excessive consumption by a small portion of humanity causes suffering to all who share this planet, while poverty in human society leads to strife, violence and more suffering.

Although Buddhism focuses on human suffering, it does not overlook the suffering of other creatures. All living things have their place in the world—a coexistence that must be respected.

Our world is overstrained. It is calling for our collective effort to restore the balance inside and out, to ensure that mankind can thrive in harmony with other living things. It behooves us to follow the Middle Way, the path to restore the sacred balance.

Franz Li was born a Methodist. He became involved with Buddhism 14 years ago and now teaches classes at the Cham Shan Temple. He also speaks about Buddhism at Catholic high schools in the Toronto area.

"Peace and the survival of Earth as we know it are threatened by human activities which lack a commitment to humanitarian values.

Destruction of nature and natural resources results from ignorance, greed and lack of respect for the Earth's living things.

This lack of respect extends even to Earth's human descendants, the future generations who will inherit a vastly degraded planet if world peace does not become a reality and destruction of the natural environment continues at the present rate...

Clearly this is a pivotal generation...Many of the Earth's habitats, animals, plants, insects and even micro-organisms that we know as rare may not be known at all by future generations. We have the capability and the responsibility. We must act before it is too late."

The Dalai Lama

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