The Five Principles of the Middle Way are a new formulation of the universal elements of the Middle Way when practised in any context (not only Buddhism), developed by Robert M Ellis in over 20 years of writing and research on the universal Middle Way. These will be presented anew in a book due to be published in February 2023 by Equinox – ‘The Five Principles of Middle Way Philosophy’, and Robert will be drawing on the ideas in this book to offer five weekend retreats over 2023 to explore and practise each of them. You can attend all these retreats in sequence or only one of them, as you are able. Like all Middle Way Society retreats, these retreats will be open to people working in any tradition (or none) who want to explore the subject in a practical and universal way. They will combine talks and discussion with meditation, arts activity, and free time in which you can make friends and enjoy the countryside.
1. Scepticism: 17th-19th March 2023
Scepticism in the most helpful sense is not a purely negative denial of anything, but an even-handed critical acknowledgement of uncertainty. Recognizing uncertainty lies at the beginning of the practice of the Middle Way, because if we start to believe we have the whole story at any point, we will slip into absolutized beliefs that prevent us from learning and adapting. During this weekend you will need to be willing to face up to the uncertainty of any of your beliefs – which is not the same as denying them or even as concluding the they are unjustified. We’ll seek inspiration from the rich philosophical tradition of sceptical thinking, whilst also developing critical awareness of some of the limitations in this tradition’s treatment of scepticism (which has often taken it out of the practical context in which it is most helpful).
2. Provisionality: 12th-14th May 2023
Once we have acknowledged uncertainty, applying it fully by being open to alternatives in our judgements (but without being indecisive or unassertive) is a further challenge. Provisionality is the skill of being able to consider further options beyond absolute beliefs or their mere negations, and thus being open to experience rather than dogmatic. We particularly need provisionality in a world where we’re threatened by the likelihood of huge changes from environmental change, to which we will be forced to adapt. Provisionality is an act of the imagination that can be greatly aided by the arts, as well as by mindfulness that helps us develop the awareness to avoid getting caught up in endless proliferation of the same assumptions. In this retreat, we’ll be exploring both how the qualities of provisionality help us to adapt, and engaging in some of the practices that will help us develop it.
3. Incrementality: 7th-9th July 2023
Incrementality is a property of all systems, including both us and the world: that is, that change needs to proceed along a path of adjusting each condition in relation to all the others that are already there. However, our impatient absolutizing habits often sabotage our own efforts by ignoring this principle, assuming that change can be instantaneous and that big adjustments can be made whilst ignoring the necessary process. Incrementality tells us nothing about the speed of change, which may sometimes be (or may need to be) rapid, but can still only succeed if it follows an incremental path, rather than being fooled by the absolutizing magical belief in instant change. In this retreat, we’ll explore the impact of practising incrementality on our assumptions about ourselves and others, time and space, and training. We’ll also link this to practices that help us develop awareness of incrementality. In midsummer, this should include plenty of opportunity to engage with the incrementality of plants as living systems in our developing forest garden.
4. Agnosticism: 22nd-24th September 2023
Agnosticism is the practice of remaining even-handed in the face of opposing absolute beliefs, refusing to accept the framework that creates the absolute conflict, despite the pressure from both sides to do so. Very far from popular misconceptions of it as weak or indecisive, agnosticism requires courage and determination, and it can be applied to a whole range of pairs of opposed absolute beliefs in addition to God’s ‘existence’ or ‘non-existence’ – for instance, freewill and determinism, realism and idealism, or moral absolutism and relativism. Agnosticism as a practice not only needs exploration to understand fully, but is also much better understood in a context of supporting practices that can help to offer us an alternative perspective to that of absolute belief. We’ll be exploring both of these aspects on this retreat.
5. Integration: 17th-19th November 2023
Integration is central to the psychological understanding of the Middle Way, and consists in overcoming conflict – both within ourselves and simultaneously between people. As we avoid absolute assumptions on the one hand, this allows us to identify and bring together those aspects of conflicting desires and beliefs that are not absolute, and thus open to examination and resolution in the light of experience. In this retreat we will discuss the different aspects and types of integration, and its value in offering a universal framework to show the value of a range of practices. The discussion will be linked to experience of different kinds of integration – of desire, meaning, and belief – through different types of practice.
For more information on each of the Five Principles, please see the introductory videos on the Middle Way Society site, which are organized so as to introduce each of the five principles with a short video, and then also allow more detailed exploration of sub-themes of each of them. From Feb 2023 you will also be able to purchase the book from publishers Equinox for a detailed discussion of them.