The Middle Way – Majjhimā Patipadā (Maṅgala Sutta – Protection with Blessing)

revised on 2020-07-22

By Venerable Uttamo Thera(尊者 鄔達摩 長老)

What is the Buddha’s middle way? If the way or path is true or right, and it is necessary to be sacrificed. The sacrifice has to be beneficial. Some Buddhists misinterpret it as one should not practice very hard to tire oneself. The middle way is not a lazy path. How can we get rid of our super thick glue or ignorance and craving in an easy-going way? These enemies are within us inconceivable round of existence as a latent tendency (anusaya).

Before the Buddha, the man had two doctrines (vāda): supreme happiness in this life or direct seeing happiness (diṭṭhadhamma‐nibbāna), indulgence in sensual pleasure with all possible ways; and torturing the physical body. The Buddha’s middle way is not sitting in the middle of the fence and doing nothing. If it is necessary for happiness, it should be enjoyed. If necessary, face it when encountering with difficulties and hardships.

There is some happiness necessary for enjoyment. This higher happiness develops knowledge, as, all the jhānic happiness or jhāna practices or samatha practice. If it is beneficial, we should go into hardship. It also has to go through it if knowledge can be developed.

This is not one sided-view. The Buddha gave the results of the middle way. These are: which gives rise to vision and knowledge (cakkhu karaṇī and ñāṇa karaṇī); which leads to peace, direct knowledge, enlightenment and Nibbāna.

The Buddha continued to talk about the Noble Eightfold Path, which was the middle way. These are combined with the natural eight phenomena and noble practice.

① Right view—sammā-diṭṭhi: This is insight practice and process. Seeing the nature of the mind and body process and its universal characteristics. It is not seeing them as man, woman, living being, etc.

② Right intention or thought—sammā-saṅkappa: it supports the right view. These two factors are the leading phenomena of the eight path factors. The extreme ways are led by wrong views (micchā-diṭṭhi). In doing things, the views should be right is very important. Without the right view will make mistakes and go wrong. The arrangement of the eight path factors is very meaningful and systematic. The natural phenomena are doing their tasks collectively. After the right thought comes right speech.

③ Right speech—sammā-vācā: after right speech comes right action.

④ Right actions—sammā-kammanta: with thoughts, speech and action, we do our jobs in daily life or livelihoods.

⑤ Right livelihood—sammā-ājīva: without the foundation of virtue (sīla) cannot attain knowledge. Two feet can be stood on the ground; the foundation should be stable and solid. In many discourses, the Buddha emphasized the importance of sīla and its results. Right speech, right action and right livelihood are trained in virtue (sīla sikkhā).

In discourse, the Buddha taught Mahānāma, his cousin, the benefits of keeping the precepts (sīla) pure. One recollects one’s virtues; untorn, unbroken, unspotted, unsplattered, liberating, praised by the wise, untarnished, conducive to concentration (samādhi). At any time when a disciple of the noble ones is recollecting virtue, his mind is not overcoming with passion, aversion and delusion.

His mind heads straight and gains joy connected with the Dhamma. In one who is joyful, rapture arises. In one who is rapturous and the body grows calm. One whose body is calm and he senses pleasure (sukha). In one sensing pleasure and the mind becomes concentrated. One’s mind with these sīla qualities can endeavor to do the meditation practice (both samatha and vipassanā). Doing the practice must have the right effort.

⑥ Right effort—sammā-vāyāma has four factors:

  1. For the sake of the non-arising of evil, unskillful qualities, that have not arisen…
  2. For the sake of the non-arising of evil, unskillful qualities, that have arisen…
  3. For the sake of the arising of skillful qualities, that have arisen…
  4. For the maintenance, non-confusion, increase, plenitude, development and culmination of skillful qualities that have arisen.

These four aspects of right effort are also termed:

a. guarding
b. abandoning
c. developing
d. maintaining.

With the right effort, doing everything must have right mindfulness.

⑦ Right mindfulness—sammā-sati: It is the most important factor in the practice. There are two mindfulness discourses; Mahāsatipaṭṭhāna Sutta in the Dīgha Nikāya (DN 22) and Satipaṭṭhāna Sutta in the Majjhima Nikāya (MN 10). It seems these two discourses are nearly the same except the former explained The Four Noble Truths in more detailed. With the right effort and right mindfulness; the mind becomes calm and concentrated, which is,

⑧ right concentration—sammā-samādhi. With the middle way or the Noble Eightfold Path, which give rise to vision, knowledge, which lead to peace, to direct knowledge, to enlightenment, to Nibbāna. In this discourse, the Buddha taught the five monks on samatha and vipassanā in a gist. In other discourses, the Buddha taught in detail. Why did the Buddha not teach the monks in detail? Because they were spiritually very matured and no need for detailed explanations.

And then the Buddha continued The Four Noble Truths one by one.

① This is the noble truth of dukkha: (suffering, unsatisfactoriness, stress, etc.)

Birth, aging, illness and death are dukkha. Union with what is displeasing and separation from what is pleasing are dukkha. Not to get what one wants is dukkha. The Buddha started with the coarser one to the refined ones. In brief, the five khandhas (mind and body) subject to clinging are dukkha. This last dukkha can be known only with insight knowledge or practice. The other dukkha can be appreciated by contemplation and easy to understand.

② The noble truth of the origin of dukkha:

The cause of dukkha is craving (taṇhā). It leads to renewed existence, accompanied by delight and lust, seeking delight here and there. These cravings are for sensual pleasure (kāma-taṇhā), for existence (bhava-taṇhā) and for extermination (vibhava-taṇhā). In this sutta, it only mentioned taṇhā; whereas other suttas the whole process of Dependent Arising.

③ The noble truth of the cessation of dukkha:

It is the remainder-less fading away or cessation of craving (taṇhā). The giving up and relinquishing of taṇhā and freedom from taṇhā. Dukkha is the cause of taṇhā. Therefore, without taṇhā is without dukkha. Khandhas are dukkha. So, without taṇhā, dukkha and khandhas are Nibbāna.

④ The noble truth of the way leading to the cessation of dukkha: This is the Noble Eightfold Path.

The Buddha continued to talk about the realization of The Four Noble Truths with the middle way, i.e., the Noble Eightfold Path. Here we need the objects of meditation. Mahāsatipaṭṭhāna Sutta comes in here. Samatha and vipassanā practices are mentioned in there. People have interest should study this very important discourse. For vipassanā practice, the objects for contemplation are the five khandhas; body, feeling, perception, mental formations and consciousness, in gist mind and body.

Satipaṭṭhāna discourse mentioned four objects.

(1) Contemplation of the body
(2) Contemplation of the feeling
(3) Contemplation of the mind and
(4) Contemplation of the mind objects.

What do we see and penetrate? The Buddha taught about his realization of The Four Noble Truths.

(1) Dukkhe ñāṇa—knowledge of dukkha
(2) Dukkha-samudaye ñāṇa—knowledge about the cause of dukkha
(3) Dukkha-nirodhe ñāṇa—knowledge of the cessation of dukkha.
(4) Dukkha-nirodha-gāminī-paṭipadāya ñāṇa—knowledge to the way of cessation of dukkha.

All of these are the right views. The first knowledge is seeing the mind and body natural process as dukkha. The meaning of dukkha is; duk—disgusting, dissatisfaction; kha—nothing exists as one thinks, useless, empty. The five khandhas have this nature.

The second knowledge is knowing why dukkha arises? The third knowledge is knowing the place of ending dukkha. The fourth knowledge is knowing the way to the ending of dukkha. These are the very high levels of right views.

The Four Noble Truths demonstrate the process of vipassanā practice. Working with the eight path factors to discern the dukkha of the five khandhas; the result is abandoning the cause of dukkha and realizing the ending of dukkha. While the path consciousness is arising, at the same time, one penetrates The Four Noble Truths. Is it possible? For example, the candlelight will come out if we light a candle; at the same time, the darkness disappears, and the wick and the oil also burn out.

The Buddha continued to talk dukkha. He penetrated dukkha by himself, and not heard from others. The Buddha proclaimed himself as an Awakened One only when thoroughly penetrated The Four Noble Truths in its three phases and 12 aspects. The three phases are;

(1) the knowledge of each truth—(saccañāṇa). For example, this is the noble truth of dukkha;
(2) the knowledge of the task to be accomplished with each truth—(kiccañāṇa). For example, the noble truth of dukkha is to be fully understood;
(3) the knowledge of accomplishment with each truth—(katañāṇa). For example, the noble truth of dukkha has been fully understood.

In simple words, the three phases are; study, practice and realization. Three phases apply to the four truths become 12 aspects or modes. The Buddha ended this discourse with the following words; “Unshakable is the liberation of my mind. This is my last birth.

There is no more renewed existence (i.e., has to be taken rebirth again)” Later Buddhists formulated the new idea of the liberated beings as they could come back again and again for others (Worldlings have very strong bhava-taṇhā). During the discourse, among the five monks, the oldest monk Kondañña became a sotāpanna—stream-enterer.

revised on 2020-07-22; cited from (posted on 2019-11-22)

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