Middle Way ［中道］ ( madhyamā-pratipad; chūdō): The way or path that transcends polar extremes. The Middle Way also indicates the true nature of all things, which cannot be defined by the absolutes of existence or nonexistence. It transcends the extremes of polar and opposing views, in other words, all duality. However, interpretations of this concept vary considerably from one text or school to another. The three major interpretations of the Middle Way follow:
(1) In the Hinayana teachings, it is the rejection of the two extremes of self-indulgence and self-mortification. While still a prince, Shakyamuni lived in luxury in his father’s palace, but after renouncing the secular world, he abandoned worldly diversions and for years practiced as an ascetic, leading a life of deprivation and austerity. Eventually he rejected asceticism as well, and after attaining enlightenment he preached a way of life that avoids the extremes of indulgence and denial. The Medium-Length Āgama Sutra, one of the four Chinese Āgama sutras, terms this path the Middle Way. It is exemplified by the doctrine of the eightfold path.
(2) According to Nāgārjuna’s Treatise on the Middle Way, the true nature of all things is that they are neither born nor die, and cannot be defined by either of the two extremes of existence or nonexistence. This true nature of things is non-substantiality, also referred to as the Middle Way. The Treatise on the Middle Way begins: “Neither birth nor extinction, neither cessation nor permanence, neither uniformity nor diversity, neither coming nor going. . . .” This passage is termed the eight negations, or the middle path of the eight negations, and is intended to clarify the concept of the Middle Way.
(3) In terms of T’ien-t’ai’s doctrine of the three truths, the truth of the Middle Way means that the true nature of all things is neither non-substantiality nor temporary existence, but exhibits the characteristics of both.