THE SAGELY CITY OF TEN THOUSAND BUDDHAS
The Ultimate Meaning of the Middle Way
by the Venerable Master Hsuan Hua
What is meant by the “the ultimate meaning of the Middle Way”? “Middle” means not going to extremes. “Way” means practice, “ultimate” means final, and “meaning” means what is fitting. The middle is that which neither goes too far nor fails to go far enough.
Today our topic is “the ultimate meaning of the Middle Way.” This is an extremely important topic. We who cultivate the Way should certainly understand the ultimate meaning of the Middle Way. “Middle” means not going to extremes. It is right in the center. This is not the “middle” spoken of in the Shurangama Sutra. Here “middle’ means what is right in the center, not in the north, south, east, or west. For example, this dining room is in the center of the building. It isn’t located more to the right or more to the left. “Way” means practice. The “Way” is the path that you tread upon in your cultivation. If you don’t practice, there isn’t any path.
“Ultimate” means final. Ultimate means there isn’t anything. And “meaning” means what is fitting. What is fitting means what is exactly right, just the right thing. The middle is that which neither goes too far nor fails to go far enough. The Middle Way does not go overboard, nor does it come up short. It does not lean to the left or right, to the front or back. When we cultivate the Way, we should cultivate the Middle Way and not take a lot of unnecessary detours or go down the wrong paths. We have to find Middle Way.
When one goes too far, one should bring about a lessening. When one falls short, one should increase. Then one neither falls into emptiness nor grasps at existence. This is what is meant by the Middle Way, the principle of True Emptiness. It is also called absolute reality, ultimate truth, one’s own nature, and the Buddha nature.
When one goes too far and there is excess, one should bring about a lessening. With a slight decrease, one returns to the Middle Way. When one falls short and there is a deficiency, one should increase a little bit and then it will be the Middle Way. The Middle Way is neither excessive nor deficient. Then one neither falls into emptiness nor grasps at existence. The Middle Way is not nonexistence, nor is it attachment to existence. This is what is meant by the Middle Way, the principle of True Emptiness. It has many names. It is also called absolute reality, ultimate truth, one’s own nature, and the Buddha nature.
To put it quite clearly, it is like the figure zero, which is the ancestor of heaven and earth, the father of all Buddhas, the mother of all things, and the source of wondrous mystery. All of creation comes from it, and nothing fails to return to it.
To put it quite clearly, to bring it all out in the open, it is like the figure zero. Our efficacious nature is like the circular figure of the zero, which is the ancestor of heaven and earth. The universe is born from it. If it didn’t exist, there would be no universe. It is not a number, and because of that all numbers come forth from it. It is the father of all Buddhas, that is, the nature of all Buddhas. Thus above it was said to be one’s own nature and the Buddha nature. The Buddha nature is a treasury of bright light.
It is the mother of all things, including Bodhisattvas, Hearers, and Condition-Enlightened Ones. And because the zero has no beginning and no end, it is the source of wondrous mystery. It’s truly wonderful! It does not seem to exist, and yet all of creation comes from it. It is the source of all transformations. And nothing fails to return to it. Everything came from this place, and will eventually return to this place. So this is extremely important.
If you cut open the zero, it becomes the figure “1” And with the number one, all numbers come into existence. Before the zero is cut open, there are no numbers. Without numbers, there is no inside or outside, no past or present; at all times it is this way and does not change. That’s why this figure represents the Buddha nature and the Middle Way. If you can understand this principle, then you will get a grasp on birth and death.
Disciple: what does the Chinese expression for “to put it quite clearly” mean?
Venerable Master: [The Literal meaning is that] you bring out all the whole plate of food. That is, I tell you the whole truth: The zero is just the ultimate meaning of the Middle Way.
This is what is meant by the phrase “True Emptiness is not empty; Wonderful Existence is not existence.” One who understands this can be called a “person of the Way who is without a mind,” one who has transcended fate, who has been liberated forever from the suffering of transmigration, who roams freely at leisure, and who has ended birth and death – a living dead person.