The Middle Way is a term used in Buddhism that, in its simplest definition, means a balanced approach to life. Balance is not the same as passivity, however. When you walk the Middle Way, you exert continual effort.
The Middle Way is the correct view of life as taught by the Buddha. It refers to the thoughts and deeds that are most likely to create happiness. The religion of Buddhism itself is sometimes called “the Middle Way,” as it seeks always to reconcile opposing viewpoints and maintain balance.
The legend of the life of the Buddha bears out this concept. In the time he was alive, people believed either in eternalism, the belief that all things were permanent including the human soul, or nihilism, the belief that all beings became extinct after death. People also believed either in extreme self-indulgence or extreme self-denial, completely indulging in sensual pleasures or sacrificing physical happiness entirely and punishing themselves to gain benefit in the afterlife.
The Buddha was born a comfort and pleasure-seeking prince. Eventually, he became dissatisfied with pursuing fleeting enjoyment and sought a deeper truth. He entered a time of extreme asceticism, where he didn’t eat or sleep, until he was near death. When he realized this path was equally futile, he began to meditate in a quest to discover the true meaning of human life. He discovered that the truth was neither in deprivation nor in luxury. Instead, the real nature of living, the Middle Way, was a path exactly between materialism and spiritualism.
The Buddha taught this concept as the eightfold path, which consists of eight guiding principles that his followers used to control their behavior and come to self-understanding. Five faculties are essential to traversing the path: confidence, mindfulness, effort, concentration and wisdom. Each of these must be kept in balance with all the others in order to maintain the path.
The relationship between the physical and spiritual is an important part of the balance that creates the Middle Way. Materialism creates negative effects in the modern world, including environmental damage and spiritual barrenness. On the other hand, rejecting materialism entirely is unrealistic and leads people to be overly idealistic and unable to deal with the challenges of daily living. According to Buddhism, the right way is somewhere in between. Or, as we say today, “Everything in moderation.”