We know that before Siddhartha became Buddha he was a prince. Common people devote most days of their life chasing fame and gain, but Siddhartha owned them since birth and enjoyed it to his heart’s content. This was the pleasurable part of his life.
Then he became an ascetic and lived in the forest for six years. At that time an ascetic in India had two ways to practice, namely, meditation and self-torture. Through six years of practicing both he almost die from a hunger strike, but he still wasn’t able to release his mind and reach enlightenment. One morning Siddhartha barely alive, heard a farmer singing a song; “the string of a lute stringed too tense will break, too loose will be off tone…” At this moment he realized a string either too tight or too loose couldn’t make a nice tone.
He had given up indulging in sensual pleasures, but discovered living in self-torture was just changing from one extreme to another. “This isn’t the right way to practice” he told himself, “the truth can only be obtained by following the middle way. I should change the way I practice!” From that point on Siddhartha’s way of practicing was by following the middle path. He went on to reach enlightenment and become Buddha.
The middle way of philosophy is very important to Eastern philosophy. In Taoism we called it “Balance”. Everyone knows the symbol “Yin-Yang Balance” and how it illustrates equilibrium between two sides. Confucianism also talks about the middle way, called the Golden Mean.
In western society I’ve found only a few people who have ever heard about the middle way of life. Mostly western people lean towards material life but deep in their hearts they are puzzled. They think that when they obtain fame and gain they will also get happiness but it often doesn’t turn out that way. We all have a tangible body and invisible spirit so how can we get true happiness just through chasing fame and gain? If that were that easy, wouldn’t famous and rich people such as Paris Hilton and Hollywood stars have no problems in their lives?
Two thousand five hundred years ago a smart prince called Siddhartha became wise Buddha. He pointed out a sensible road for us.