In a series of seven talks based on his book, The Buddha’s Middle Way: Experiential Judgement in his Life and Teaching (Equinox. 2019), Robert M. Ellis puts forward an interpretation of the Buddha as a potential inspiration for Middle Way practice, led by practical needs rather than by traditional or historical claims in Buddhism.
Ellis is the chair of the Middle Way Society and the main editor of its website. The Middle Way is the idea that individuals make better judgements by avoiding fixed beliefs and being open to practical experience. Though the name of the organization was inspired by some of the insights of the Buddha, the group is independent of Buddhism or any other religion.
Secular Buddhism and the Middle Way have some important commonalities, including a pragmatic and ethical approach to the dharma.
Drawing extensively on the Pali Canon account but not appealing to its authority, Ellis discusses the Buddha’s life, the interpretation of some of his key teachings, and his role as an archetype. He argues that the Buddha is not the only source of understanding of the Middle Way, but can readily act as an inspiration for understanding it, and that the most important achievement of the Buddha was not Enlightenment but the recognition of the Middle Way.
Here are the dates and topics of the seven talks:
#1 – The Buddha’s Early Life: 2nd May 2021, 7-8pm UK time
How the Buddha’s early life in the Palace and Forest, and his discovery of the Middle Way, can provide a potent symbol for all human judgement
#2 – The Middle Way versus Enlightenment: 9th May 2021, 7-8pm UK time
The importance of putting the Middle Way first in interpreting enlightenment, rather than beginning with absolute ideas about enlightenment and applying them to the Middle Way. Top-down and bottom-up approaches to Buddhism
#3 = The Buddha’s Ministry: 16th May 2021, 7-8pm UK time
How the Middle Way is highlighted in the Buddha’s first teachings, and often demonstrated in his actions and mode of teaching throughout his career.
#4 – Problems with the Buddhist Interpretation of the Middle Way: 23rd May 2021, 7-8pm UK time
How the common Buddhist interpretation of the Middle Way as between ‘eternalism’ and ‘nihilism’ mistakes an example of the Middle Way’s application for a general description of it.
#5 – The Eightfold Path and Middle Way Practice: 30th May 2021, 7-8pm UK time
The Eightfold Path as a helpful analysis of the interdependent integrative practices we need to pursue to follow the Middle Way – though not the only possible analysis.
#6 – Craving, Karma and Conditionality: 6th June 2021, 7-8pm UK time
The relationship between craving and absolutization (the extremes avoided by the Middle Way). Helpful bottom-up interpretations of karma and conditionality.
#7 – The Buddha as an Archetype: 13th June 2021, 7-8pm UK time
Ways that the Jungian concept of archetype can be helpful in understanding how we can be inspired by the meaning of the Buddha as a symbol, without holding beliefs about his attainment of enlightenment or about his ultimate authority.
To view videos of the talks
To purchase Robert M. Ellis’ books
The best way to purchase The Buddha’s Middle Way: Experiential Judgement in his Life and Teaching is to go to the Equinox website: https://www.equinoxpub.com/home/buddhas-middle-way/ . If you input the code ‘EQX’ on checking out you can get a 25% discount.
This also applies to two other recent books by Robert M. Ellis published with Equinox and which will be of interest to secular Buddhists: The Thought of Sangharakshita: A Critical Assessment and Red Book, Middle Way: How Jung Parallels the Buddha’s Method for Human Integration.