After even the most cursory review of his work, its obvious that Shakamuni Buddha was a very careful teacher. His teachings are decidedly direct, always logical and extremely well constructed. Though many are in response to spontaneous, individual circumstances they are certainly not incomplete or haphazard. Even an informal reading the early sutras shows that the Buddha’s teaching were distinctly purposeful.
Recognizing that, its important to note that before Shakamuni shared his most fundamental teachings regarding the nature of suffering and the path to liberation he laid a cornerstone that deserves special attention. It’s common thinking that the first teaching of the Buddha was the Four Noble Truths. And in essence this is correct. But it’s also not quite exact. Before the Buddha expounded the Four Noble Truths, he set the ground, describing the context for the first turning of the wheel of Dharma.
“O, bhikkus, one who has gone forth from worldly life should not indulge in these two extremes. What are these two? There is indulgence in desirable sense objects, which is low, vulgar, worldly, ignoble, unworthy, and unprofitable and there is devotion to self mortification, which is painful, unworthy, and unprofitable.”
“O bhikkhus, avoiding both extremes, the Thathagata has realized the Middle Path. It produces vision, it produces knowledge, it leads to calm, to higher knowledge, to enlightenment, to nibbanna.”
(Rewata, p. 17)
In the brief statement above, Shakamuni expounds a teaching that is pivotal to correct understanding of Buddhism and its whole history of teaching. If we let it, the above quote can be the context in which all subsequent teachings, from the Four Noble Truths to the nature of the Dharmakaya Buddha, Mahavairocana are apprehended and all our practices are conducted. And that context, that perspective couldn’t be any more simple, it couldn’t be more down to earth. That context, that perspective is nothing more than balance.
In our modern life we are continuously exposed to extremes. Commercial media constantly bombards with fickle,conflicting messages, “must do this, never do that”. Crisis is ever present and the promise of salvation, whether from ill health, financial struggle, personal inconvenience or spiritual need is also everywhere. The opportunity to indulge oneself is ubiquitous. Likewise the urge to disconnect, to reject our lives as we find them can be equally powerful. Its easy to begin viewing much of modern life as negative or corrupt. If we believed everything we see or read in the news its as if we can’t do anything without triggering catastrophic consequence.
The first and perhaps most important step once we choose Dharma as our path is to gently and consistently try to bring a balanced approach to all things - life, work, relationships, everything. Even our pursuit of Buddhism should be tempered with balance. This is especially true as we undertake training in the Shingon tradition. Heavenly Buddhas, fierce protectors, regal bodhisattvas, esoteric rituals, mudra, mantra, visualization - it is easy to stray into the extremes in this rich and sometimes ambiguous environment. As we follow our chosen path, balance in all things can be our best friend.
Master Kukai taught that all teachings contain important, but easily missed esoteric elements. Our own Ajari Tanaka, while spending a lifetime teaching powerful and profound esoteric meditation methods consistently brings our attention to the fundamental teachings of Shakamuni Buddha. The small, maybe overlooked teaching about the two extremes and the middle way is one of these elements - simple in form but profound in its implications for the practitioner, whether embraced or neglected. The Buddha himself tells us that by avoiding the extremes he found the middle way, which lead to his insight, his wisdom, his tranquility, his deep understanding and ultimately to his complete enlightenment.
The First Discourse of the Buddha, Turing the Wheel of the Dhamma
By Venerable Dr. Rewata Dhamma
Wisdom Publications, 1997