Balance – part 1

I tip 

Move forward

Step back

Come to me

This tension

This gravity

Until balance 

Is achieved.

At its core, the philosophy of Buddhism is about balance. The Buddha described it as “The Middle Way.” Dharma, which is the Buddha’s teachings, is the method to achieve this equilibrium. Balance is essential because we live in a world of duality with opposing forces. It is true that almost all in existence has two poles: negative and positive, pleasure and pain, good and bad, chaos and order, hot and cold, up and down, etc. But extremes on either side cause imbalance. The way is not found by reaching for the positive or by denial and aversion of the negative. The path of the Buddha is the middle way.

 The blessed one recognized the emptiness of pleasure derived from the six senses (includes mind). The pleasure from the senses is fleeting. Modern science tells us that after the short-lived sense perception, chemicals in our brains (dopamine) act in an addictive fashion. Soon we start receiving small chemical rewards just for thinking about what gives us pleasure – no matter if that pleasure is TV, gambling, video games, sex, smoking cannabis, and so on. Everyone has different things that they enjoy that they crave and often clasp. Food is an especially difficult one because, besides the chemical reward in the brain, there are organisms in the gut biome that make you crave certain foods.

 While the Buddha warned about the hollowness of chasing pleasure, he also cautioned against the unwillingness to face your pain and reality as a whole. We must not suppress suffering and negative feelings. There is power in facing reality, especially the uncomfortable and painful parts that most people are averse to. It is for this reason that Buddhism is said to be neither negative or positive, but realistic.

Not by the pursuit of pleasure because it is short-lived and too much becomes clinging and attachment. Not by an aversion to suffering. Or by egoic acts such as ignorance or greed. All of those things bring disharmony. Only thoughts, words, and actions based on loving-kindness and non-attachment bring balance. 

 To recognize balance in dharma is to accept that your words, actions, and even your thoughts have a consequence in this world.

 This can be visualized by a hanging mobile (below). Found in cribs to entertain babies and to decorate ceilings in homes – a hanging mobile is a balancing system. If pressure is applied to either side at any point, the whole system is affected. Equilibrium can be achieved but at the expense of the entire system. 

Hanging mobile animation key

As you can see from the animation, too much order becomes chaos. Pride is an example of too much order becoming chaos. Too many rules and lack of freedom creates order to chaos. Over competitiveness is another example of too much order becoming chaos. The “too much order” shown above is different types of pleasure and the craving, clinging and attachment that can ensue when we blindly chase them. 

All pleasure is not bad. That is why it is shown on the “order” side. It is “order” to feel good. Pain is chaos. But not all order is good, and not all disorder is terrible. For example, egoic pleasure, and clinging to anything that you enjoy brings imbalance, while suffering is often our best teacher and motivator. If we can bring our compassion, awareness, and discipline to that which clasp to, we can start to transform it and bring balance slowly. 

You see, the magic is not too much order or too much chaos but a balance or dance between them.

The hanging mobile is an excellent way to visualize cause and effect, not only because it shows responding forces, but it is an interconnected system just like the reality we inhabit. We exist not in a vacuum, but in a world where actions and reactions have effects and the potential to affect the whole system, whether that system is a person’s mind, friendship, or any other type of relationship. 

 The ego is what brings us outof balance

 Those who don’t keep theirs in check always want more than what they have worked for or deserve. It makes companies choose profits over people, and nations go to war. Many people’s minds and many relationships exist in an uneven balance that is causing strain on the entire system. A hanging mobile shows this because it is always striving for equilibrium. The forces of gravity and uneven weight on either side make it distort itself and find a sort of unbalanced harmony so that even though both sides are not equal, balance is present. This is how our bodies, minds, and universe works.

Complete chaos is not reached in the above animation, but there is an extreme imbalance. Many people and many relationships exist in a perpetual disharmony like this. Although it might not be as evident as the animation, people who allow their ego to take over are creating an imbalance in their minds and relationships.

 In Buddhist philosophy, there are two types of causation forces: karma and dependent arising. While similar, karma is about action and based on volition (intention), while dependent arising is about “becoming” and shows the relationship between actions. Both are causes. The Buddha identified two types of karma: unwholesome karma such as greed, hatred, and delusion, and wholesome karma, which is based on loving-kindness and detachment. Actions based on wholesome karma do not disturb the equilibrium and can bring balance to either too much order or too much chaos.*

To be continued

* Credit to the people who made this video. Brilliant use of a hanging mobile to show how the Endocannabinoid system works. My idea is to show how the hanging mobile works as a model for Buddhist philosophy and reality as a whole.

* I used the Buddhist symbol of the pig, snake, and rooster in the animation. These normally mean greed, ignorance, and hatred. I switched it “hatred” to “aversion” in the animation because I wanted to show that the way is not found by aversion or overindulgence.

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