concepts section: copyright Robert Ellis 2009


The Buddha is important to Middle Way philosophy as an acknowledged source of key ideas: however, the justification of the Middle Way is pragmatic, and appeals to the Buddha's authority should form no part of the justification of the Middle Way. The Buddha's life-story in the period leading up to his enlightenment symbolically illustrates the Middle Way (see Buddhism page). The concept of the Middle Way between eternalism and nihilism and between asceticism and self-indulgence is an accepted part of the Buddha's teaching in traditional Buddhism, although these traditional concepts of the Middle Way as presented by most Buddhists today need much clarification (see Buddhist errors page). Whatever the difficulties, though, the historical Buddha is the clearest available source for the Middle Way.

The role that the Buddha plays in traditional Buddhism as proving the possibility of enlightenment and defining the nature of spiritual progress is incompatible with the Middle Way, because the possibility of enlightenment is a metaphysical construction practically speaking beyond experience. Spiritual progress, being necessarily incremental and involving the rejection of metaphysics, cannot be made possible by a complete attainment of enlightenment, and indeed, the belief that this is a necessary part of it is inimical to spiritual progress itself. For more on this, see The Trouble with Buddhism.

Some key teachings of the Buddha found in the Pali Canon that support the central concepts of the Middle Way are as follows:

All of these texts can be found on There are also traditionalist interpretations of all of these passages that try to make them compatible with the traditional Buddhist appeal to the Buddha's enlightened authority (e.g. Bhikkhu Bodhi's essay on the Kalama Sutta). However, since the Middle Way can in any case not be supported by appeal to a single authoritative interpretation of these texts, but rather through its philosophical coherence and pragmatic value, it is not fruitful to enter into dispute with Buddhist traditionalists concerning the interpretation of these texts. I list them here, not to appeal to their revelatory truth and insist on one interpretation of them, but so that those interested can readily see that the Buddha can be credited as a source of the insights of the Middle Way.

Links to related discussion

Sources of justified belief in Buddhism (from 'The Trouble with Buddhism')

Buddha Trouble ('from The Trouble with Buddhism')


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