How would the Buddha sort out this mess?
Ending the game of duality requires a sacrifice, but it’s not a sacrifice to the false idols of a failing age.
Om Muni Muni Maha Muniye Soha
Shakyamuni Buddha mantra
We’ve all heard of the Buddhist Middle Path. At first glance it appears to be all about moderation, temperance, neither too little nor too much. But that describes a zero-sum game: indulging too heavily on one side deprives the opposite side, and when the pendulum inevitably swings, there will be blowback. We are either at peace or at war, not knowing that this peace, at least, is only a temporary cessation of hostilities. One of my most stubborn fears of submitting to this version of the Middle Path is vapid nothingness. Temperance may curb the appetite but it’s still a bland diet. We all love a good drama.
The world is in the midst of a duality shakedown. Poles or opposites exist, but it’s the judgment we make about them that creates duality, an artificial construct of attribution. Are you a Republican or Democrat, Labor or Tory, introvert or extrovert, meat-eater or vegan, empath or narcissist, red pill or blue pill? Evangelism has gone mainstream. Wokeness just creates a whole new set of beliefs to divide the flock into us versus them. Are we tired of the relapse-purge cycle yet? There’s nothing to heal. Now that’s a radical statement.
The level of fear in our communities may appear to be about susceptibility to a virus, but that’s a mirage. It is belief itself that’s under threat, and we are all infectious. Collectively, we have become so identified with belief that without it we fear we may not even exist. I believe, therefore I am. If the pillars of understanding that hold up my worldview collapse, will there even be an ‘I’ that emerges from the ruins? Those are the stakes.
Duality is under immense strain, the pendulum swing more like a wrecking ball to our frayed sensibilities. This either/or template of reality is fueled by the perpetual recycling of belief. Human history is a saga of control and domination. But none of us are immune from that particular contagion. We have long waged war within ourselves, colonizing and appropriating experience to derive meaning and identity (childhood, anyone?); controlling and manipulating inner states; even manhandling the healing process according to image, entitlement, and expectation.
It’s a principle of neuroplasticity that neurons that fire together, wire together. In other words, habitual behavior reinforces itself. How then do we break a pattern when the grooves of our neural pathways are forged so deep? We move out of duality itself, because as soon as we make a judgment about a pattern, condemn ourselves for falling into a familiar trap, even attempt to heal ourselves because it’s a ‘problem’, we trigger the cycle to begin again. It is the judgment that sustains the pattern.
This exposes the double-bind of the mind, which not only seeks to identity familiar patterns and repeat them, but also attempts to manage the process of breaking the pattern! It is fatally compromised. The watchman, to paraphrase Gabor Mate, is aiding the thieves. We might as well say the same about duality itself. In the zero-sum game, we are still looking, collectively, for peace. The ‘old’ normal and the ‘new’ normal are envisaged along the same worn-out spectrum.
The deeper meaning of the Middle Path is not finding a median point along the spectrum, but transcending the spectrum altogether. Only a very domesticated version of Buddha, sitting idly on the mantelpiece, would argue for mere peace. Shakyamuni was a radical. His dhamma was the path to the peace that surpasses all understanding.
Polarity or duality
Polarity and duality are not synonymous, despite the political language of “polarization”. Polarities attract, while dualities repel. Belief actually impedes the integration of polarities, which is the unitive impulse of spirit in action. The light and dark are not inherently ‘good’ or ‘bad’, unless thinking makes them so. Have you noticed the Buddhist master seems masculine one moment, and feminine the next, and yet it’s really a fluid dance that defies liner description?
When we are confronted with the push-pull dynamic of duality, and its insistence on choosing sides, the Middle Path is all about not choosing at all. Don’t choose. We can withdraw our consent from this game. But fair warning. This tends to bring both sides into sharper relief and launches a bidding war for our attention to either support or condemn. If we can manage to hold the tension between competing dualities within ourselves — without making either one ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ — a miraculous thing happens.
We are catapulted to a new spectrum of polarity, or dimension of consciousness, beyond the old forms and their ceaseless cycling. Those poles were always complements, but had served as props in the fabric of cause-and-effect reality so we could have a full-spectrum experience. In other words, without trying to get too Zen about it, a paradox is resolved when it is no longer a paradox. The so-called war on consciousness ends when we are all of consciousness. Are we done yet?
In our new dimension, there’s no belief at all, because belief is inherently unstable, subject to time, perspective and culture. There is, instead, self-evident truth, or knowingness. No one argues about whether water is wet. The human and the divine are reconciled when we are no longer disconnected from our true nature. I am that I am. Shakyamuni Buddha’s Middle Path ends the game of duality. At its most elegantly simple, in our current global context, it means no more choosing sides.
Or as Bruce Lee once said: Be water, my friend. Be water.