"The way is not in the sky, the way is in the heart." Although I had not heard this quotation from The Buddha, in my memory of scripture, it could have changed through translations and other Buddhist cultures, so I cannot really identify the original words. However, this quotation resonates with me and resonates with wisdom encouragement for us to move away from feeling that the Buddha is something outside us. If we look to a monotheistic vision of a supreme and vast being, like the open sky, we would need to perceive that He was looking down upon us from up above and giving us blessings and life.
A creator God view of spirituality, which is the background that most have been indoctrinated, is fairly irresistible to those born into that culture. However, if you do not hold this view, then as a minority, you need to be careful about the feelings of others who do hold these views. Some will hide by developing a dualistic view, thinking, ‘Well, this is what I actually believe, but this is what I have to say I believe to avoid offending people who are my friends. I want them to be happy, and I do not want to debate religion with them.’
On the other hand, perhaps we have not given much thought to how we feel about views other that what we might have been taught as a child. Having an unexamined and social spirituality we might enjoy acknowledging the vast cosmos, and our inconsequential part, a bit of cosmic dust. God is out there, part of the big everything and we are here, ever so small and unworthy! We might even indulge in a little bit of, "Oh, I am such as sinner.”
Some people, who wish to have a deeper spiritual experience, suffer when culture and deep personal values become divided. This wish for authentic spiritual life could generate another way of thinking where neither a position of personal or social values matters. There are those who, with great delight, shift suddenly from the sinner/creator God relationship to a view that everything is empty, so what difference does it make if God is "out there"; it does not matter because God does not exist, nothing exists, and I do not exist. Because this is a dramatic new outlook for many who have been disturbed by an indoctrinated view of creation and heaven, they rest in relief for a while in this simpler outlook. However, whether you remain in that view, or study it as an intellectual stance this is always held in contrast with the opposing view as nihilism vs. eternalism.
In fact, if you were a true nihilist, you could not remain for a moment in this world. At some level of your being, you must really believe that the world and you do exist in the opposite, eternalist position that at least one permanent thing exists, such as God; otherwise, you could not be here at all. Therefore, there are no true nihilists in this world. One would simply and very naturally cease to exist, so we can be certain that there are no pure nihilists, only intellectual nihilist philosophy supporters.
Further, a form of spirituality derived from the concept of nihilism denying existence altogether, or the eternalist side of the coin, that everything exists simultaneously naturally progresses to other ideas about the world and ones place in the world. That could result in conclusions such as why make effort at all, because everything is everything, all is one or the earlier idea that nothing exists.
The Middle Way is the Buddhist path to transformation and enlightenment. It is called Middle Way because we do not believe there is any structure or supporting logic for either nihilism or eternalism. Buddhism does not advocate for the belief in even one permanent thing, nor do we believe that nothing exists. Maintaining the view of the middle way is a feature of Buddhism, not found in other religious traditions, making us unique. The Buddhist middle way sounds like a watered down moderate way without passion or energy, but this is not true.
I have been reading a book written by Isaac Balshavis Singer recently and am quite impressed with his story telling ability. He focuses exclusively on Jewish Hassidic and traditional Jewish views, but describes moderate Jews, not as strict as the Hassidic, as well as other Jews who do not practice at all, calling themselves moderates, but Singers characters consider them substandard. However, the Buddhist middle way is not like that. The middle way is actually a philosophical position, devoid of the confusions and intricacies of either inferior view of the extremes of permance and non-existence.
There are many Christian subgroups also that are based on how one should behave. Some sect will break away, starting a new Christian tradition, for example, because they do not believe that people should smoke pipes, and so they become the non-pipe-smoking branch of a particular religion. Other subgroups are doctrinally opposed to others because they do not believe that Jesus rose from the dead, but disappeared. I do not know what other beliefs they hold, but let us just say there are many religious subgroups that have philosophical, organizational or personality issues. Sadly, many break away, announcing, "I do not like that person, so I am going to start my own group over here."
Leaving aside political/ religious strife, Buddhism is considered a superior view, not by opposition to other views, but because of a unique view, which simply had no place for the inferior views of nihilism, believing in nothing, or believing that something permanent exists.
Confusions regarding religion; meant to protect and nurture its inner component of spirituality might anger some seekers rather than nurture and invite them to discover its guarded spiritual riches. Many reject a simplistic belief that spirituality and transformation comes from outside us and want to return to a better-balanced view that something is emerging from within us. However, this correct transitional spiritual view associated with the middle way still leaves much to be repaired. A natural and spontaneous view that human beings hold is the mistaken belief that everything inside them belongs to them. This requires more explanation. We will need to have new tools crafted from cultivated states of mind for understanding reality and our relationship to higher being.
Buddhist scholars shine in this area because they train to simultaneously have an intellectually held or realized present view as well as exploring scriptures and guidance resources to gain a completely correct view. Scholarship allows the mind and its tools, the intellectual faculties, to understand that there is a higher view than what he or she presently holds and that with effort; one can simultaneously hold several conflicting views without confusion. It is possible, through mental development, to sort ideas, without definitively deciding too early which is correct. Some can actually hold a three-way conversation inside themselves, intellectually and objectively exploring views without actually holding any one of those views. However, all views are held up to the light of altruism in order to be Buddhist in nature.
The cultivated activity of bringing spirituality in its logical, experiential, and altruistic forms into daily life is an important objective for practitioners. We want to become more personally involved in spirituality, rather than simply advocating for change by a higher power. "Oh God, help me be a better person. Lord Buddha please give me better understanding," as though Buddha was someone forever separate from us. For inner growth, we want to experience for ourselves a connection with higher-level beings, such as Buddha Shakyamuni, without feeling that we are Lord Buddha Shakyamuni by play-acting.
We become even more balanced and relaxed when we neither disrespect our self, nor hold such a high valuation of our self that we are incapable of understanding that Lord Buddha Shakyamuni held a higher view than we do. The pride and arrogance of ordinary mind might think, ‘ I can play the piano better than Lord Buddha Shakyamuni could, I bet.’ or ‘I have a college degree, and I have value, and I am an important person.’ It requires a strong and skillful mind to accomplish that balance.
Western society places high value on the individualistic self, seeing the self as being so very important. For the ordinary person to recognize something greater, beyond individualism, is a challenge. This is a unique view cultivated in Tibetan Buddhism, by seeing in this manner. By the flexibility within Buddhism, changing according to time and place, I can say that it allows education and cultural environment to utilize all of the positive qualities of individualism if directed for the benefit of transformation and eventually all sentient beings.
On the other hand, the very thing that makes educated Western people unique in their view is actually quite often distasteful to the Oriental mindset, however, I am able to quite enjoy and see the positive aspects. From my point of view, I am not in a fantasy position that your culture is just like Tibetan culture, but enjoy helping many become positive facilitators within the parameters of how you already are developed. There are certain changes that you need to make, but I talk about them in the method of facilitating those changes and not just simply because the unenlightened view is bad and wrong and evil. To be continued……