- The Middle Way in ancient Indian, Christian and Islamic philosophy
- The Middle Way in everyday life
- Advice for a relaxed life manager
- The Middle Way in modern enterprises
- Selected life lessons
- The oracle
News about a serious disease or even the death of a close companion or friend or a relative of a person we have close contact with is part of everyday life. Death is a common experience. Once we have reached 65 years of age, we feel the changes in our body. We are slower than before, we need more time, jogging becomes more of a challenge, as does garden work. We like to sit down and rest more. The opposite happens to our thoughts, they are as active as never before. However, certain topics capture our attention more than others. Thoughts we would have earlier processed fast and then forgotten stay with us or pop up again and again like the update reminder on our smartphone.
When we grow older unfinished issues become ever more important and demand a solution. Old age also brings up memories of past events where we may have made mistakes; small sins but also larger ones where we hurt others. For me, the insight is important that nothing can be deleted in our consciousness. The law of nature that actio is equal reactio applies not only to inanimate physical objects but also to animate human processes. Whatever we have thought, expressed or done, whether good or less so, is like a seed in our own nature and will sooner or later carry fruit. And in the end, our proverbial apple tree will carry beautiful or worm-ridden apples or no apples at all. Through the ages, great saints have always said that no sin will go unpunished. And one cannot simply atone for bad deeds with donations, confessions, positive thought, a saintly life or more meditation. In their teachings, mystics in the tradition of Master Eckhard praise suffering as God’s greatest gift. Only suffering can purify us and lead us to saintliness (modern medicine has most likely a very different opinion about this). Suffering is a very important reality and necessity in our life, without suffering no development.
However, to solely think in terms of suffering would make our daily life sad and gloomy. The main task we face is: how to prevent or overcome suffering in life.
Fortunately, in his contemplations on the final purpose of human life, Thomas Aquinas states: happiness! And Buddha proposes eight ways to overcome suffering and achieve happiness.
The Middle Way in ancient Indian, Christian and Islamic philosophy
When, about 2,500 years ago, a prince in Northern India left the palace, where he had until then led a well-protected life, for a trip in the surrounding area, it was the first time he saw old, sick people and death in the cemeteries where vultures waited for their prey. For him a happy life was a life in luxury, that was the traditional view. The palace and he in particular were kept oblivious of famines, calamities and disasters. In the long tradition of Vedic scriptures, the Upanishads, gods were kept happy through sacrifice, because only happy gods spread happiness among the people. The prince no longer agreed with this tradition. He left the palace, wandered through the country for many years, became an ascetic and meditated until he almost despaired. Close to death he gained the insight that extreme ways of life, be it the attempt to find happiness through luxury and tradition or wisdom through excessive devotion do not succeed in solving inner unhappiness and restlessness and bringing never ending inner peace. It is the Middle Way which must be pursued. Having reached this conclusion, the ascetic reduced his self-torment, began to eat again, looked after his body and continued his journey to his inner self. While pursing the Middle Way on his path to enlightenment he met other ascetics from whom he learned and who he finally surpassed in his long nightly meditations until the moment of deep understanding while sitting under a Bodhi tree. That was the moment of his enlightenment when he saw the connection between happiness and unhappiness, life and death, deeds and their consequences, suffering and the overcoming of suffering. That has changed him. His teaching became clear and salutary. People flocked to him; he became the Buddha, The Enlightened One.
We have to thank Alexander the Great whose expeditions of conquest from Macedonia eastwards to the Middle East and India established the first trade and cultural exchange between the old West or Occident and the until then unknown worlds of the Indian subcontinent and the Far East, including the exchange of philosophical ideas. Regular contact along the Silk Road proved fertile for the transmission of new world views from the Orient to the Occident and vice versa. Orders of Christian monks in Egypt and Syria learned about the “Middle Way”. Sufis such as Muhammad Iqbal talked early about the importance of finding and maintaining balance between intuition and intellect. With the beautiful meditative dances of the dervish, dancers, who normally lead a regular professional life, practice the mythical energy transformation from the heavens to earth. The dancers start from a central point, spread out in a spiral form and finish their performance with absolute standstill. The path between the heavens and earth is also a form of Middle Way.
The Middle Way in everyday life
In our everyday life we can follow the Middle Way. We can leave the fast lane without suffering any disadvantage. Success is not a matter of career and income, but a matter of my personal satisfaction, of living happier and healthier with my friends or my family or without anyone else. Peace of mind in our everyday life is achievable through regular daily meditation in the morning and in the evening. Sit down for 30 minutes, focus on your breath and transform yourself from creator to observer. Becoming aware that many things are far less important than we thought, that we need far less to live, can do with less and reach a state of happiness faster, because a simpler life can be a more fulfilling life.
Advice for a relaxed life manager
When we become aware that our way of life has alienated us from our inner self, when we have put too much one-sided strain on the unity of body mind and soul, be it through excessive focus on the body, by performing too much physical work or doing too much sports, or be it through excessive focus on cognitive processes (e.g. 8 hours at the till or 10 hours in front of a computer screen or 3 hours daily looking at a smartphone screen…), when we feel that our soul has withdrawn or rather we have squeezed our soul between the excessive body dimension and the stressed mind dimension, when God knocks on the door to our heart-soul quite hard and, yet, we do not even recognise His powerful and liberating sound, then it is high time to rebalance our life, time to see, to hear, time to drop our tools.
Everyday professional life: One-sided activity, doing something we do not understand, which exceeds us, which makes no sense. Also that causes stress, and stress leads to illness. There are great instructions and exercises to become a relaxed life manager, to master everyday life, private as well as professional, with more awareness but also with more knowledge and better methods. We must learn to be optimistic and hopeful, we must take care of our life balance, motivate ourselves, dispose of any accumulated waste in our body (fasting), carefully manage our remaining life-time and be more respectful to ourselves as well as to others.
The Middle Way in a modern enterprise
Climate change concerns us all, as consumers, as market participants, as employees, as managers or company owners. The classic business management models based on performance-oriented company management and the assumption of unlimited markets and unlimited growth have had their day. Through their impact the world is literally coming apart at the seams. We do not only need – as fast as possible – new methods to generate environmentally friendly energy but also environmentally friendly methods of production and products. For quite some time now the question is no longer how to protect the environment but who to regenerate it. Schools and universities should be encouraged to teach environment-compatible and environment-regenerating business management. This is a huge challenge for us, after all it requires a fundamental re-orientation towards the new and sustainable economic and societal order of tomorrow. Future managers shall not be considered managers unless their actions are determined by simplicity and humility, and unless they develop – on a daily basis – new regenerative strategies and business plans which respect nature and a humanity under threat. A manager who learns to fast and meditate regularly will automatically become more aware, more respectful, simpler and humbler both to themselves , their employees and their customers. Maybe such a manager, through intuition and awareness, can create a new corporate consciousness, become a pioneer and inspire other companies.
A selection of wise words related to our topic
To seek Mind with the discriminating mind is the greatest of all mistakes. (Sengcan)
Know how to wait. It shows a great heart with deep reserves of patience. Never hurry and never give way to your emotions. A man who is master of himself will soon be of others. (Baltasar Gracian)
The planet does not need more successful people. The planet desperately needs more peacemakers, healers, restorers, storytellers and lovers of all kinds. (Dalai Lama)
You have to try the impossible to achieve the possible (Hermann Hesse)
ln being quiet there is a miraculous power of clarification, of purification, of bringing together what is important. (Dietrich Bonhoeffer)
Think a current thought to its conclusion before you admit a new thought in your head (Otto Bauer)
Qu Yuan had already been living in exile for three years and was no longer permitted to see his emperor. He had offered his wisdom and his loyalty, but his detractors had defeated him. Saddened and anxious, he did not know where else to go. In the end he went to see a famous soothsayer and said: “I am in doubt and I ask you to decide on my behalf.” The soothsayer arranged his oracle bones, took a holy device made of tortoise shell and said: “Tell me Sir, what aggrieves you?” Qu Yuan said: “Should I rather be of firm will, true and loyal? Or should I permanently re-adjust in order to conform? Should I rather clear weeds with a hoe? Or should I become famous myself as servant of the great? Should I rather face the dangers of speaking the truth? Or should I flatter the rich to earn my living? Should I rather fight for the truth with my head held high? Or should I serve women as a babbling, chatting, flattering and smiling lakey? Should I rather be straight and incorruptible, and preserve my purity? Or should I be a smooth, subservient, soft and weak lickspittle? Should I rather present myself proud and courageous like a noble steed? Or should I keep my head above water like a duck riding out the waves? Should I rather take the lead like a race horse? Or should I follow idle cart horses? Should I rather rise high like a swan? Or should I quarrel with the chickens about food? What brings good fortune? What brings doom? What should I do, what should I not? The world is filthy and not pure. The wing of a fly weighs heavily and one hundred thousand pounds are light. The great bell has fallen and a thousand little bells ring out clangorously [noisily]. Courtiers are held in high esteem. Capable men are despised. Alas, I shall say no more! Who knows my purity!” Upon hearing this, the soothsayer put aside his oracle bones and declared: “Often a foot is too small and an inch too large. All things have imperfections and all wisdom has a final limit. Fate itself has its mysteries and even a god is not all-knowing. Do what you have to do! Follow your star! Because no oracle can show you the way.” (Qu Yuan – Songs of Chu (Chuci), 3rd – 4th century BC).
Management consultant and fasting coach dfa