July 15, 2008


The two ends of our globe are called the North Pole and the South Pole. People sometimes use the word 'polarizing' to describe a person whose character is extreme. It also describes opposites such as good and bad, wealthy and poor, large and small, right and wrong. People with extreme personalities are the most difficult to get along with because they are attached to either existence or non-existence. They either speak well or badly of something. They have no middle ground and do not understand the meaning of life on the Middle Way.

The mind also traverses between "two poles" on a daily basis. We sometimes go to heaven, and other times fall into hell. It is a hard life wandering back and forth between the two poles. When faced with setbacks, we often become depressed and pessimistic. When things are going smoothly, we are invigorated and become active and optimistic. In reality, if we are too extreme in our pursuits in life, happiness may result in sorrow. On the other hand, if we are too pessimistic, we can be so depressed that we may even want to kill ourselves.

However, life is not really that hopeless. As the saying goes, "Heaven will always leave a door open." As long as we can think further, change direction, take a different position, get into another frame of mind, and look at things from another angle, anything can turn around. The opportunity to turn over a new leaf is always there for us.

Polarization is life or in our way of thinking is difficult because it means either the freezing color of the two Poles or the sweltering heat of the Equator. A life of hardship is too cold and passionless, and lacks strengths; while a life of pleasure is too hot, and leaves us lost. Therefore, Buddhism advocates the Middle Way of life.

In the Buddha's time, there was a musician names Sronakotivimsa. He became a monk and asked the Buddha how to cultivate himself. The Buddha asked what his profession had been, and he replied that he had been a musician.

The Buddha asked, "What happens when you play a string instrument and the strings are too tight?"

Sronakotivimsa replied, "The strings break!"

The Buddha then asked, "What if the strings are too loose?"

He answered, "They won't make any sound?"

The Buddha explained, "Cultivation is the same, If we become too tight, we will be stressed. When we are too loose, we will be listless and lazy. In seeking the appropriate and middle way, music will flow easily."

People today tend to go to extremes. They want to be the most attractive, eat the best foods, wear the latest fashion, and be friends with the best. Anything less that "the best" cannot be accepted. People who are extreme fail to appreciate the meaning of the Middle Way, and life loses its objectivity for them.

The Buddha practiced asceticism in the snowy mountains for six years. Living an inhuman life, he ate only sesame grains as food and meditated until birds built nests on his head. He finally realized that the practice of such extreme suffering only increased troubles and wore out the body and the mind. Thus, he gave up asceticism and crossed the Nilajan River. After receiving an offering of goat's milk from a shepherd girl, he recovered his strength. As he sat under the bodhi tree, he contemplated, "This mind should not be attached to either existence or non-existenc." As he eradicated the two extremes, he attained perfect enlightenment, gazing at the stars on the evening o fthe ight day of the twelfth lunar month, at the age of 31.

Therefore, if you have an extreme personality, do change it and take the Middle Way!

taken from the book "Seeking Happiness" Between Ignorance and Enlightenment 7
by Venerable Master Hsing Yun

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