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ClassicsOnline Home » JINANANDA: Middle Way (The) - The Story of Buddhism (Unabridged)
General interest in Buddhism has never been higher. The story and teachings of a man who lived 2,500 years ago have a special resonance for us today, perhaps because he taught a way of life that was not based on belief in a creator god but rather on personal experience. ‘Test my words for yourself,’ he said. But what lies behind those distinctive images of the Buddha, seated with unshakeable poise, with eyes half-closed and a slight smile? How did Buddhism develop, from the austere style which governed the life of the yellow-robed monks in ancient India to the more colourful, even magical expression of Tibet? And where does Zen fit in? In The Middle Way, Jinananda, a Western-born Buddhist, divides the subject into The Three Jewels - The Buddha (a life of the historical figure), The Dharma (an account of the fundamental teachings) and The Sangha (the disciples, both lay and monastic throughout the world). With extracts from some of main sutras, Jinananda explains the key concepts that lie behind a system of thought and behaviour which, like the universe itself, is continuously expanding.
The Middle Way
The Story of Buddhism
The life of the Buddha is the story of a man. Siddartha was
a human being like you or I. He was not, of course, an ordinary human being;
and in this too he was like you or I. He was as distinct and separate from us
as we are from each other. The extra difference in a Buddha, in anyone who
attains what the Buddha attains, is that he no longer experiences his own
essential difference, his own separateness.
The sense of our separation from one another, of being
trapped in our own separate universes, is the very taste of human existence,
and it is what Siddartha tasted. We know this is our world because we have all
looked beyond it, and some of us have even stepped out of it for a dizzying,
dazzling moment. But the Buddha walked out of that separate universe and never
returned. What he — and those who followed him — tasted was the taste of
Since the 1960s there has been an unprecedented explosion of
interest in Buddhism in the west. It is not just that a lot of people actually
practice Buddhism. There have always been plenty of those, at least up till
recently in East Asia. But in the west a lot of people simply like the idea of
Buddhism. Some people feel able to call themselves Buddhists without
practicing it or indeed knowing anything about it at all.
They have just absorbed something of the message of Buddhism from looking at a
simple image of a meditating Buddha. It represents an ideal that they respond
to intuitively. Others actually practice Buddhism without really liking the
idea of calling themselves Buddhists. There is also a flourishing academic
industry centered on Buddhism, which has produced by far the richest and most
profound body of religious literature in the world.
The special place that Buddhism holds within world religions
is that it is essentially non-threatening. This is firstly because according to
Buddhism the use of force, even when it is just manipulation, is a reflection
mistaken view of the way things are and therefore needs to
be avoided. Secondly it is because the Buddhist view is never one that
separates the Buddhist from others. Again, this is regarded as simply a
reflection of the nature of things.
Buddhism is one of the most influential belief systems of
today, and also one of the oldest. What makes it at once so mysterious and so
approachable is that it is not fixed in any specific formulation. It is not in
its essence really a belief system as such at all. This gives it a protean
ability to explain itself from within the assumptions of any culture within
which it finds itself. The reason it is not tied to any external forms of
expression whatsoever, not even to a form of belief system, is what it is all
When one examines Buddhism one sees first of all smiling monks
yellow or maroon robes; one also sees images of unearthly
refinement and beauty, of wild sexual abandon, and of nightmare horror. One
perhaps smells incense and hears deep-throated chanting. One may even find
oneself thinking profound philosophical thoughts. One may go on adding elements
of these kinds as much as one likes — one may think of meditation or karma —
but though all these things may be of concern to Buddhists, they do not
describe it at all.
It is significant that there is no Buddhist creed of any
kind. Some people may say Buddhism is basically about impermanence or the fact
that actions have consequences or that it is about letting go, or the
interpenetration of all things. But no agreement can be reached, because
Buddhism is specifically about seeing through the notion of a consensus world
out there. And as soon as someone agrees with that statement then the point has
been missed. Buddhism is not actually about anything at all. It is always a
direct pointing to the true nature of things, now.
To those who asked where do we come from, the Buddha would
give the example of a man with an arrow in his eye. ‘Would that man’, the
Buddha replied, say ‘“Before you take the arrow out of my eye, could you tell
me who made it?”’
There are three aspects of the Buddhist faith, three most
precious things that the Buddhist places at the center of their life. These are
known as the three Jewels or Refuges: the Buddha jewel, representing the ideal
of Awakening or Enlightenment to which all Buddhists aspire; the Dharma jewel,
which represents the Buddhist teachings by which that ideal is realized in
one’s individual life; and the Sangha Jewel, standing for the community of
Buddhists, through which those teachings are communicated and practiced.
It is perhaps no coincidence that Buddhism is establishing
itself so strongly in the west at a period when science and technology are in
firm control of the way the world works.
Notes by Jinananda
The account of the Buddhist faith in these tapes has been
put together from many sources. Translations from original texts have been
simplified and often abbreviated. If the text of these tapes have any virtue,
it comes from those sources, and from my teacher, the Venerable Sangharakshita;
its faults are all my own.
About the Author
Jinananda, also known as Duncan Steen, was born in 1952 in
brought up in Mauritius, Scotland and Bedford, receiving an
Bedford School. He has worked as an antiquarian bookseller,
and a gardener.
He was ordained into the Western Buddhist Order in 1986, and
since 1990 has worked as an editor for his teacher, the Venerable
teaches meditation and Buddhism at the West London Buddhist
About the Readers
David Timson has worked as an actor for nearly thirty years
in theater (Wild Honey, Hamlet, The Man of Mode, The Seagull), television
(Nelson’s Column, Swallows and Amazons) and film (The Russia House), but most
consistently for BBC Radio. He won the BBC Student Prize in 1971 and has since
made over 1,000 broadcasts, ranging from the title role in Nicholas Nickleby to
that past institution Listen With Mother. He has frequently read serials and
short stories for Woman’s Hour and Radio 4 and is a popular reader on Naxos
AudioBooks. Timson is the author of Naxos AudioBooks’ audio-original, The
History of Theatre.
Anton Lesser has played many of the principal Shakespearean
roles for the Royal Shakespeare Company, including Petruchio, Romeo and Richard
III. His other theater credits include Harold Pinter’s The Birthday Party, Wild
Oats and Art. Appearances in major television drama productions include The
Cherry Orchard, The Mill on the Floss and The Politician’s Wife.
As poet, playwright and actor, Heathcote Williams has made a
significant contribution to many fields. He is best known for his extended
poems on environmental subjects, Whale Nation (1988); Falling for a Dolphin
(1988); Sacred Elephant (1989) and Autogeddon (1991). But his plays have also
won acclaim, notably AC/DC produced at London’s Royal Court, and Hancock’s Last
Half Hour. As an actor he has been equally versatile — among his most memorable
roles was Prospero in Derek Jarman’s film of The Tempest.
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