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Stillness of mind is, and is not,  the Middle Way
September 25th, 2013

illustration (attribution, if any possible, is at the end of the article)

Stillness of mind is, and is not,  the Middle Way

Stillness of mind is found in the jhānas, but the Buddha made explicit that even the highest jhāna (neither-perception-nor-nonperception) does not Liberate from saṃsāra. Since Buddhism is "the Middle Way," and Buddhism is a path of Liberation, stillness is not 'it'…

Neither Stillness of mind nor Oneness is the Middle Way ( The Middle Way is a practice of "engaged wisdom" or "creative engagement".
Anything that brings you to Wisdom at the cost of activity  in the world, at the cost of engagement  in the world, is not the Middle Way.
The Middle Way is an avoidance of extreme (hence the name), precisely because Wisdom in and of itself is worthless! Ultimate truth is only an extreme. Rushed, naïve, ignorant engagement is another extreme. What is of value is what you do with Wisdom! What is of value is how Wisdom is manifested in the world!

In Mahāyāna terms, "saṃsāra is nirvāṇa": saṃsāra  is where nirvāṇa  is manifested! Nirvāṇa  is explicitly not  a separate realm. In Theravādin terms, nirvāṇa  is the only 'unconditioned' dhamma,  not a place, not even a 'state' of mind (since "of mind" would make it 'conditioned'!).

I previously addressed that 'concentration', or 'stillness', is not what Buddhism is about (, even if it can be a useful tool for cultivation. I also repeatedly mentioned that the cultivation of insight, or insight meditation, is not the suppression of thoughts.

However, the fourth "seal of existence" is either presented as "Nirvāṇa is beyond extremes" or as "Nirvāṇa is peace." The latter would suggest a link with Stillness of mind, so is there a way to connect the two?

Unmovable wisdom

I'd suggest that Liberation is found when the mind 'embodies' "unmovable wisdom". Let's decrypt this term!

After Liberation, thoughts are not suppressed. Thoughts which are mental proliferations, pointless ruminations, ignorant views, will have ceased… but not "all thoughts".

Thoughts which are appropriate responses to the world, which are wholesome and wise, which will cause the pāramīs to be manifested… such thoughts are of great importance in the Middle Way!
It takes thoughts to discriminate what's appropriate and what's not, what's "right views" and what's ignorance… such thoughts and intentions are the gateway through which Wisdom will find a causal manifestation!
'Discrimination' is not inherently manifesting 'ignorance', it might also manifest 'wisdom'.

But these wise thoughts are unmovable: they are appropriate responses, they don't snowball and get carried away,  they don't provide hooks for the world to grasp and pull your mind out of balance, they don't anchor and stay attached to their objects!
They arise as a response, and they cease when the response is no longer appropriate.
Ignorance —not wisdom— is what lets the world take your freedom away by anchoring your mind in saṃsāra, by tying your mind on the roller coaster of impermanent, entity-less phenomena!

Stillness of mind, if understood as a presence of wise thoughts free from attachment, is the Middle Way.
Stillness of mind, if understood as quietness, oneness, inactivity or non-discrimination, is not. It's then only 'dry' wisdom, wisdom which neither rains nor flows nor nurtures the world; it's an extreme.

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photo © 杨焰光 (h/t +Laurence Pegard), a photo which to me visually captures both our oneness with the world and the necessity of active engagement with the world!