One of the greatest problems we face today is of fanaticism and extremism. Take one idea, one religious practice, one opinion and then focus on it, insist it is ‘The Only Way’ and you have the mess we’re in today.
The Buddhist idea of ‘The Middle Way’ is attractive because it suggests steering a course through life that avoids extremes and seeks balance.
But there is another way that might be worth exploring which involves embracing extreme and apparently contradictory positions at the same time. I suspect this is a dangerous path of the kind employed only by left-hand tantrics, but I am working on a method that can easily be carried out in the safety of your own home – or even in public, as I did this morning.
I sat in Nero’s with a coffee and cake and read about Jain asceticism, which I find fascinating. Behind the various ascetic practices that range from living naked (hurrah!) to eating standing up (oh!) the Jain doctrine of manypointedness stands as a powerful antidote to fanaticism, and is the religion’s main claim to fame among Indian philosophical systems. In a nutshell this doctrine calls for a consideration of a variety of approaches to an issue. This ‘synthesises and integrates a variety of contradictory viewpoints, as opposed to a dogmatic insistence on a mode of analysis based on a single perspective only, [and] is the sole means of gaining some kind of understanding of the complexity of reality.’ (The Jains, Paul Dundas).
If only this doctrine was more widely practiced!