In his first discourse the Buddha calls the Noble Eightfold Path the middle way. He calls it the middle way because the eightfold path avoids all extremes in conduct and in views. In the discourse the Buddha points out that there are two extremes which a seeker of enlightenment has to steer clear off. These two extremes are, on the one side, indulgence in desire, on the other, self -mortification. Some hold the view that sensual indulgence, the grasping of luxury and comfort, is the greatest happiness. But the Buddha, from his own experience, calls this way a low, inferior ignoble course which does not lead to the realization of the highest goal. The other extreme is not so common but has always an attraction for religious seekers. This is the extreme of self-mortification. Those who follow this practice hold that the way to liberation is through strict and austere asceticism. The Buddha himself followed this path of asceticism before his enlightenment, but he found that it does not lead to the goal. Therefore he called the path of self-affliction, painful, ignoble and not conducive to the goal.

In its place he holds up the Noble Eightfold Path as the middle way. It is not called the middle way because it lies in between the two extremes as a compromise between too much and too little, but, because it rises above them, because it is free from their errors, from their imperfections, from the blind alleys to which they lead.

To follow the middle path means to provide the body with what it needs to be in a strong and healthy condition yet at the same time to rise above bodily concerns in order to train the mind in right conduct, concentration and wisdom. In fact, the middle way is esssentially a way of mind training, not a compromise with the attitude of renunciation. On following the Noble Eightfold Path the mind has to be strengthened and trained in the strongest attitude of renunciation, detachment from the demands of craving and clinging.

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