by DT Strain
The virtue of moderation is so widely known that it can sometimes be taken for granted. Yet, throughout history, we have been surrounded on both sides by the disciples of extremism. One group has told us that asceticism – deprivation of all comforts – is more ‘holy’ or pure. Another group tells us that more and more will make us happy. Our culture today is ruled by the latter forces, continuously trying to convince us that the secret to happiness is the obtainment of money, possessions, fame, status, connections, quarterly earnings, market share, power, and so on. The extremism of our culture inspires those who react against it to sometimes overreact, holding up asceticism, uniformity, conformity, and self denial as more pious.
Yet wise teachings from the great civilizations and thinkers around the world have discovered another path, which can be even more difficult than asceticism yet provide a more happy life than gluttony. Moderation Practice has various names in the many streams of thought which have come to it. Aristotle spoke of The Golden Mean whereby we pursue the middle between the extremes of excess and abstinence. For example, the virtue of courage lied in the middle ground between cowardice and recklessness. Confucius prescribed a similar approach with the Doctrine of the Mean. Here balance, harmony, and equilibrium are desirable states. In Buddhism, the historical Buddha practiced asceticism until realizing it was not a path to enlightenment, and later came to The Middle Way.
This does not imply that we cut everything, every position and thought, in two. Nor does it mean we use others or society as a gauge for marking the middle. What is reasonable and true and fitting to our Nature is the ultimate determinant of where the middle lies. We can better know this when we have wisdom, which is the product of a whole practice.
So, how do we go about beginning moderation practice today? As with all practice, we begin with continued study, applying the wisdom to our lives little by little as we build good habits. When we inevitably falter, we simply bring ourselves back to practice – just as one repeatedly brings themselves back to the breath in meditation. In The Middle Way: Finding Meaning in a World of Extremes, author Lou Marinoff says, “Be Aristotelian in your unrelenting commitment to improving your mind. Be Buddhist in your unstinting effort to deepening your heart. Be Confucian in your unselfish devotion to serving your fellow beings.”