--Shakyamuni Buddha, Setting the Wheel of Dharma in Motion
|The components of the Middle Way,|
a.k.a. The Eightfold Path
What's wrong with these extremes? It's possible to find out by looking at each extreme in your own life and seeing what it does. Maybe selfish behavior leads to stress because it alienates people you want to be friends with. Maybe idealistic behavior makes you hopeless when things don't go the way you think they should. These are just a couple of possibilities.
Recognizing those kinds of problems will eventually convince you that neither path is the best one. Then the middle way might start to sound appealing.
What is the middle way? It is a path that transcends the two extremes. It does not blend them--I don't think the middle way means spending 50% of your time being selfish and the other 50% being selfless. That would be pretty miserable, because you're still feeding your greed, you're still repressing yourself, you're still alienating people, you're still building up unrealistic expectations.
It would be far better to get to the root of the matter and resolve the problems there. Then you might actually transcend the original issues. So, what causes a selfish person to think they're better than others? What causes an idealistic person to subjugate themselves to others?
Both problems stem from the assumption that things have different priorities of importance. If you're convinced that you are a top priority, you're automatically going to become selfish. If you're convinced that ideals and values are a top priority, you're going to pour a lot of energy into them.
These assumptions can be deconstructed when you consider that nothing is absolutely real. The world is just a swirl of relationships between countless particles and systems, which themselves only exist relatively. If and when you accept this completely, you'll naturally see that it applies to people too. No one is more real than anyone else. Therefore, everyone is equal.
Any kind of behavior that does not reflect the equality of all beings is based on error, no matter how noble the intentions may be. Leaving yourself out of your own consideration leads to a partial understanding. Caring only about yourself leads to a partial understanding. Full understanding has to take everything into account.
The middle way is based on this kind of understanding. To practice the middle way, you have to see how you fit into the big picture and then act in accordance with that insight. This means entering each situation with equal respect for yourself and others. That's a very tricky line to walk, but it allows you to express yourself, your needs, and the needs of others without greed or repression. The middle way makes it possible to use your feelings and needs for good. If you have a strong conviction that the alternatives--selfishness and self-denial--are fundamentally unable to make you happy, following the middle way then becomes natural.