Recently we brought our grandchildren to a Buddhist Dharma class, the primary 1 asked, “what is Middle Path?“ It is a simple fundamental question that defies replies that can be understood by young children. Most adults will reply, it is about avoiding both extreme, the Four Noble Truth or Eight Noble Path. It is heuristic, almost automatic association. They are certainly not wrong in stating that, but these replies are really hard to understand, and further explanation begets more and more confusion. For instance, if we persist in pursuing the queries, what are the extremes (polar), the replies go into circular thoughts, or we get words substitution, such as neither optimistic or pessimistic, but realistic or truth. It is easy to get lost in too many words, and Zen masters will warn against over dependence on words. Not infrequently, we find creativity at the extreme or edge; it is in the extreme that the Middle Path is re-discovered. We read stories of saints (Sixth Patriarch, Hui-neng) who attained instant enlightenment, without the gradual processes.
The Pali word, anta, is translated as extreme, which means away from the middle, radical. This is the circularity that we can be caught within. I recalled that the Venerable Mahasi Sayadaw once explained that the word be translated as “parts”, and as lay believers, thinking and acting in “parts” had tendencies to err into extremes. Even the popular word, “holistic”, are, in reality, a bigger division of parts, in a wider context. My understanding is, due to one’s limitation, the “parts” render us fallible, and we need to be more humble to listen and to learn. It is thus not possible to be “whole”, without being holy. It is not the seeking of perfection and absolute answers, but simply to be aware that in a changing world, holistic is also relative and referential. If the Buddha taught that all conditioned things were impermanent, then how could the teaching or imparting of dharma, remained same? Nevertheless, all such discussions are too confusing for the child.
The “Middle Path” was also explained as balance, as in a see-saw, except it might be more multifactorial. So what are we to “balance”? Do we mean balance the five faculties, the three divisions of morality, concentration and wisdom? When faith and energy are in excess, one might become a religious zealot, and turned into a terrorist. It had to be mindfully balanced with right focusing of thinking and understanding. Do we balance secular responsibility with spiritual commitment? Or, do we balance “time” with “events”, that is quantity and quality time with work, family and children, and leisure? These musings are all “parts , and need to be integrated into a more systematic way of living. The art is learning to place each part rightly at the appropriate time and event. The dharma is just a tool to assist such right placing with minimal effort. Again, it will be difficult for children to understand such forum. Is the Middle Path about balancing good faith, feeling and thinking in the Triple Gem? To put it plainly, do good, refrain from being naughty, show love and kindness to others. I think these themes are easy and appropriate to teach young children, in songs, drawing, and daily actions. We need to write more dharma stories that are relevant with time, culture and society, and with child psychology and development in mind. Child pedagogy is never an easy task. I will be grateful to receive suggestions, even from other faith.

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