Saturday, October 6, 2012

The Middle Way

Polarized situations, such as the one now striving for a resolution in our politics, always remind me that “yellow is the color of the middle way.” That comes from China. In Confucius (551-479 BC) it is the Great Mean or the Doctrine of the Mean, derived from Analects 6:26 which says: “The virtue embodied in the doctrine of the Mean is of the highest order. But it has long been rare among people.” You don’t say! The formulation needs unpacking, something Confucius did not but others who followed him did. It appears to refer to an “unwobbling pivot,” thus a kind of hinge from which one can go this way and that. Confucius’ contemporary, Gautama Buddha (563-483 BC), spoke of the Middle Path; he described it as some point where the self is neither attached to the senses nor addicted to self-mortification—the two extremes of sensate and religious cultures. We find it echoed in the I Ching during a later, troubled time in China, the I Ching, 2 K’un, The Receptive, moving line five:  “A yellow lower garment brings supreme good fortune.” The I Ching dates back at least to the Warring States Period in China (475-221 BC). In the West we have the Golden Mean—and there is that yellow coloration again.

One could speculate at length about the nature of that pivot. I take it to mean the human self detached from passions in either direction and harmoniously poised, anchored in its sovereign transcendence. How to apply that to the current polarization…? Well, for the Buddha, the Middle Path was emptiness. Which is, largely, what we see as we stare down the yellow brick road that leads to The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.

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