The Right Hand Path and the Left Hand Path and the Middle Way

In the Indian religions of Hinduism, Buddhism, Sihkism, and Jainism you have the Right Hand Path and the Left Hand Path. The Right Hand Path is the orthodox path; the Left Hand Path is the heterodox path. The Right Hand Path is typically collectivist in nature, while the Left Hand Path strongly emphasizes more individualist approaches. One is order, one is disorder. One leads to unity; the other to disunity. One should note that both paths lead to the same place — enlightenment.
 Heraclitus argued that the way up and the way down are the same, suggesting that he had a similar view. Whether you are going up or down, whether you are going left or right, you end up in the same place.
 Of course, with Christianity, the way up and the way down are not the same. The way up leads to Heaven; the way down leads to Hell. The Right Way leads to virtue and God; the Left (Sinister) Way leads to vice and Satan. If the right is collectivist and the left is individualist, that means collectivism is good and individualism is evil. There is one way to salvation; you cannot get there by your own way. This is then a deeply Christian division. 
 The Buddha emphasized The Middle Way. One could argue then that any emphasis on a Right Hand Path or Left Hand Path is missing the point. One should take the middle way. What is the middle way between orthodox and heterodox? What is the middle way between individualism and collectivism?
 F.A. Hayek argued that continental European philosophy gave us collectivism precisely because it argued for a kind of radical individualism, where the individual is inherently unsocial and must be made to be social by “society,” which gets equated with government. Collectivism is the solution to the problem of radical individualism. That is, the Right Hand Path and the Left Hand Path lead to the same place; the way up and the way down are the same. But here, the solution is the complete dissolution of the Left Hand Path into the Right Hand Path. The solution is dissolution of the “bad” path and the complete acceptance of the “good” path. It is a Christian solution.

However, Hayek argues that Scottish Enlightenment Philosophy argues for a socially embedded individualism, where the individual is individuated in their social contexts, and the social environment is a product of interacting individuals. The Scottish Enlightenment view of the socially embedded individual is thus a Middle Way, a more complex interaction of order and disorder that leads to greater creativity and better things more quickly. Like the Buddhist Middle Way.
 Medieval mythology also provides us with a middle way. Many medieval stories provide us with a middle path between those that lead to Heaven and Hell — the path to Fairy Land. Fairy Land is a liminal space where magical things take place in a more complex environment. This path is neither easy (like the path to Hell) nor extremely difficult (like the path to Heaven), but is between these two, through the thick, green forests where the mind and monsters dwell. This middle way provides us with the great stories. It is the source of poetry and poetic truth-telling. 
 The Middle Way is a more complex pathway, a liminal space, on the boundary land of order and chaos, where creativity happens. It is the place where you are neither obeying the rules (Right) nor violating the rules (Left). When you merely blindly obey or violate the rules, that means you are taking the rules seriously and, thus, are really playing the same game. But when you are both obeying and violating the rules, that means you are rather challenging and questioning the rules, understanding the degree to which the rules could be other than they are, no longer taking the rules seriously, even as you appreciate what can be done with the rules, especially good rules, and where play takes place for the sake of place, where truly new things are and can be born.

This is the Middle Way. It is where the poets (poets in both the narrow sense we use it and in the broad sense the Greeks used it, as “makers”) live. Which is why Shelley said, “poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world.” Those who work in the liminal space, the Middle Way between the Right Hand Path and the Left Hand Path, are the creators, creating new worlds for us to live in, creating new technology, new institutions, new works of art, new ways of doing things, new ways of living. They are the makers of the law, and can make it only because they don’t take it so seriously.

Like what you read? Give Troy Camplin a round of applause.

From a quick cheer to a standing ovation, clap to show how much you enjoyed this story.