Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The Middle Path; The Red Road & Social Intelligence

In this discussion we will be looking at two different concepts: The Middle Path and The Red Road. The Middle Path originates from the Buddhist belief system. While the Red Road originates from a multitude of Native American belief systems. From there we will look at somethings called Social Intelligence, Social Awareness, and ultimately Empathy, which are directly related to these two concepts.

But before we begin, please note that this is not an attempt to change your beliefs, religious or otherwise. Nor is it a judgment upon anyone for what they choose to believe. This is merely a comparative analysis of these two concepts, and not an attempt to push any particular set of beliefs on anyone. So it is offered up, with respect to all religions and belief systems, despite what they may be.

The Middle Path

The Middle Path is described, by one website, as:

The Middle Way or Middle Path is the descriptive term that Siddhattha Gotama used to describe the character of the path that he discovered led to liberation. It was coined in the very first teaching that he delivered after his enlightenment. In this sutta - known in English as The Setting in Motion of the Wheel of Dharma - the Buddha describes the middle way as a path of moderation between the extremes of sensual indulgence and self-mortification. This, according to him, was the path of wisdom.
In essence, what this is saying is that the Middle path is one of temperance and moderation in all things. This can be exemplified in something called the Noble Eightfold Path. So, lets take a look at it, shall we?
The Noble Eightfold Path

1. Right View

Right view is the beginning and the end of the path, it simply means to see and to understand things as they really are and to realise the Four Noble Truth. As such, right view is the cognitive aspect of wisdom. It means to see things through, to grasp the impermanent and imperfect nature of worldly objects and ideas, and to understand the law of karma and karmic conditioning. Right view is not necessarily an intellectual capacity, just as wisdom is not just a matter of intelligence. Instead, right view is attained, sustained, and enhanced through all capacities of mind. It begins with the intuitive insight that all beings are subject to suffering and it ends with complete understanding of the true nature of all things. Since our view of the world forms our thoughts and our actions, right view yields right thoughts and right actions.

2. Right Intention

While right view refers to the cognitive aspect of wisdom, right intention refers to the volitional aspect, i.e. the kind of mental energy that controls our actions. Right intention can be described best as commitment to ethical and mental self-improvement. Buddha distinguishes three types of right intentions: 1. the intention of renunciation, which means resistance to the pull of desire, 2. the intention of good will, meaning resistance to feelings of anger and aversion, and 3. the intention of harmlessness, meaning not to think or act cruelly, violently, or aggressively, and to develop compassion.

3. Right Speech

Right speech is the first principle of ethical conduct in the eightfold path. Ethical conduct is viewed as a guideline to moral discipline, which supports the other principles of the path. This aspect is not self-sufficient, however, essential, because mental purification can only be achieved through the cultivation of ethical conduct. The importance of speech in the context of Buddhist ethics is obvious: words can break or save lives, make enemies or friends, start war or create peace. Buddha explained right speech as follows: 1. to abstain from false speech, especially not to tell deliberate lies and not to speak deceitfully, 2. to abstain from slanderous speech and not to use words maliciously against others, 3. to abstain from harsh words that offend or hurt others, and 4. to abstain from idle chatter that lacks purpose or depth. Positively phrased, this means to tell the truth, to speak friendly, warm, and gently and to talk only when necessary.

4. Right Action

The second ethical principle, right action, involves the body as natural means of expression, as it refers to deeds that involve bodily actions. Unwholesome actions lead to unsound states of mind, while wholesome actions lead to sound states of mind. Again, the principle is explained in terms of abstinence: right action means 1. to abstain from harming sentient beings, especially to abstain from taking life (including suicide) and doing harm intentionally or delinquently, 2. to abstain from taking what is not given, which includes stealing, robbery, fraud, deceitfulness, and dishonesty, and 3. to abstain from sexual misconduct. Positively formulated, right action means to act kindly and compassionately, to be honest, to respect the belongings of others, and to keep sexual relationships harmless to others.

5. Right Livelihood

Right livelihood means that one should earn one's living in a righteous way and that wealth should be gained legally and peacefully. The Buddha mentions four specific activities that harm other beings and that one should avoid for this reason: 1. dealing in weapons, 2. dealing in living beings (including raising animals for slaughter as well as slave trade and prostitution), 3. working in meat production and butchery, and 4. selling intoxicants and poisons, such as alcohol and drugs. Furthermore any other occupation that would violate the principles of right speech and right action should be avoided.

6. Right Effort

Right effort can be seen as a prerequisite for the other principles of the path. Without effort, which is in itself an act of will, nothing can be achieved, whereas misguided effort distracts the mind from its task, and confusion will be the consequence. Mental energy is the force behind right effort; it can occur in either wholesome or unwholesome states. The same type of energy that fuels desire, envy, aggression, and violence can on the other side fuel self-discipline, honesty, benevolence, and kindness. Right effort is detailed in four types of endeavours that rank in ascending order of perfection: 1. to prevent the arising of unarisen unwholesome states, 2. to abandon unwholesome states that have already arisen, 3. to arouse wholesome states that have not yet arisen, and 4. to maintain and perfect wholesome states already arisen.

7. Right Mindfulness

Right mindfulness is the controlled and perfected faculty of cognition. It is the mental ability to see things as they are, with clear consciousness. Usually, the cognitive process begins with an impression induced by perception, or by a thought, but then it does not stay with the mere impression. Instead, we almost always conceptualize sense impressions and thoughts immediately. We interpret them and set them in relation to other thoughts and experiences, which naturally go beyond the facticity of the original impression. The mind then posits concepts, joins concepts into constructs, and weaves those constructs into complex interpretative schemes. All this happens only half consciously, and as a result we often see things obscured. Right mindfulness is anchored in clear perception and it penetrates impressions without getting carried away. Right mindfulness enables us to be aware of the process of conceptualization in a way that we actively observe and control the way our thoughts go. Buddha accounted for this as the four foundations of mindfulness: 1. contemplation of the body, 2. contemplation of feeling (repulsive, attractive, or neutral), 3. contemplation of the state of mind, and 4. contemplation of the phenomena.

8. Right Concentration

The eighth principle of the path, right concentration, refers to the development of a mental force that occurs in natural consciousness, although at a relatively low level of intensity, namely concentration. Concentration in this context is described as one-pointedness of mind, meaning a state where all mental faculties are unified and directed onto one particular object. Right concentration for the purpose of the eightfold path means wholesome concentration, i.e. concentration on wholesome thoughts and actions. The Buddhist method of choice to develop right concentration is through the practice of meditation. The meditating mind focuses on a selected object. It first directs itself onto it, then sustains concentration, and finally intensifies concentration step by step. Through this practice it becomes natural to apply elevated levels concentration also in everyday situations.

In essence, according to the Buddhist traditions, these precepts lay out a path to attain a higher spiritual awareness/consciousness and bring about an end to individual human suffering.

As we said earlier, the Middle Path is one of temperance and moderation in all things, be it sexual indulgences or self mortification. It is one where one walks without preconceived judgments of the world around them, the people there in, and the actions people take.

For the layperson this can be viewed in a much simpler form though through the Five Buddhist Precepts:
The Five Buddhist Precepts

1. I observe the precept of abstaining from the destruction of life.

2. I observe the precept of abstaining from taking that which is not given.

3. I observe the precept of abstaining from sexual misconduct.

4. I observe the precept of abstaining from falsehood.

5. I observe the precept of abstaining from intoxicants that cloud the mind and cause carelessness.
So, after reading all of that (my apologies if it does not make complete sense to you), what we come to is again a life lived in moderation with simple ideas like not lying, not acting out sexually, not drinking or doing drugs, not destroying life (murder, suicide, and so on), and not stealing.

Its about being mindful of the world around you and those that dwell upon this planet. And because we are all of one spirit, ultimately, offering compassion and empathy along the path to those who are still in the throws of suffering (whatever kind that may be). It is a path of respect and honor to all that is around you, people, animals, plants and so much more.

It is also a path of rational understanding of the world. And this is done without preconceptions, judgments, opinions, and prejudices to mar one's view of the this realm of existence. It is one of understanding behaviors, actions, consequences of choices one makes, and everything that lays beyond those things.

The Red Road

Walking the Red Road is Native American concept that is both mental and spiritual. It points to a spiritual journey through a good and right way of living. According to Native American tradition, walking the Red Road is a metaphor for living within the Creator's rules-a life of truth, friendship, respect, spirituality, and humanitarianism. It is a path of balance and interconnection to all things within the circle of life. It is a path of humility and respect.

To help exemplify this lets look at some of the Ethics of Walking The Red Path:

12 Ethic’s of Walking the Red Road

Ethic 1: Honor the Great Spirit

Every element of creation expresses the Creator. Within each mountain, each stone, and each heart lies the Great Spirit. All are of the Creator, each particle of the universe is equally deserving of respect and admiration. When looking upon a sunset, the trees, or even your worst enemy, you are looking at the Creator. Know this and give praise and prayer.

Ethic 2: Honor Mother Nature

Mother Nature is not for us…she is part of us and we, like everything else that lives and breathes upon her, are her children. Your own direct connection with Mother Earth is to be encouraged daily. Paint her portraits, swim in her waters, tend to her flowers, stroll through her glorious forest, and care for her many children: all plants, people, and animals. We must live according to her principals and choose not to pollute her body. The alternative is death to our Mother-and death to her children.

Ethic 3: Search for Yourself, by Yourself

Do not allow others to make your path for you. It is your path road and yours alone. Others may walk it with you, but no one can walk it for you. Accept yourself and your actions. Own your thoughts. Speak up when wrong, and apologize. Know your path at all times. To do this you must know yourself inside and out, accept your gifts as well as your shortcomings, and grow each day with honesty, integrity, compassion, faith and brotherhood.

Ethic 4: Community Code of Conduct

Treat the guests in your home with much consideration. Serve them the best food, give them the best bed, and treat them with respect. Honor the thoughts, wishes, and words of others. Never interrupt another or mock or mimic them. Allow each person the right to freedom of opinion. Respect that opinion. Never speak ill of others. As you travel along life’s road never harm anyone, nor cause anyone to feel sad. On the contrary, if at any time you can make a person happy, do so.

Ethic 5: Banish Fear from Your Life

Fear stunts your soul and limit’s the amount of road needed to travel to reach the Tree of Life, and to know the Great Spirit. Fear is non-beneficial and body, and leads to an unbalanced mind, body, and spirit. To banish fear you must know your path and trust yourself and the world around you. With trust comes confidence. Self-confidence banishes fear.

Ethic 6: Respect

Respect is to be given for all beings placed upon this earth by the creator.

Respect is to be given to elders, who are rich with wisdom.

Respect one’s privacy, thoughts, and wishes.

Respect human siblings by only speaking of their good qualities.

Respect one’s personal space and belongings.

Respect another’s spiritual path and do not judge their choices.

Ethic 7: Speak the Truth

Speak only the truth and do right always. You are what you say…
and what you say needs to be honest, forthright, and of your own personal belief. Without truth you cannot achieve inner balance-balance within yourself, with other beings, with Mother Earth, and with the Creator.

Ethic 8: Reject Materialism

When one is materialistic, one is not right with the Red Road. To value and appreciate what you have to know that you are loved and save under the limbs of the Tree of Life, is to reject materialism and to live a life of virtue and appreciation. Materialism only fills your heart with envy and greed, while appreciation breeds contentment, balance, and true happiness.

Ethic 9: Seek Wisdom

Those who are wise have lived a lifetime with ears open and a willingness to not only experience truth, but to pursue it well.

Wisdom is gained by:

Listening to your elders. They have walked a longer path than you.
Seeking all that is true. Wisdom lies within honesty, not deception.
Realizing education is never-ending. Even death is a final lesson.
Learning from Mother Nature. Her wisdom is infinite.

Ethic 10: Practice Forgiveness

Your journey upon the Red Road will be filled with acts requiring forgiveness---forgiveness of others and forgiveness of yourself. Mindfully practice this incredible act of humanity and the Red Road will be an easy path to follow. Also, absolution breeds the same in others. Be quick ot forgive and others will grant you the same kindness.

Ethic 11: Practice Optimism

It is easy to live within the shadow of fear, procrastination, and pessimism. But these are bad habits and stumbling blocks the keep you from experiencing life, the Red Road, and the Great Spirit. It is well know to the Native people that optimism is the key to good health. Worry makes you sick--as do bad thoughts. Replace them with happiness and optimism and you shall live a long and healthy life.

Ethic 12: Take What You Need, Leave the Rest Be

There is nothing placed on this Earth that deserves to be destroyed or wasted for the purpose of human convenience. To destroy trees and leave them unused because they simply block the garden, or to kill animals only for their fur, is not a rightful way to share the world with another. To waste or discard due to own selfishness is an act that goes against the Creator, and strays you from the good Red Road.

Another way of looking at this, or a simplified version would be something known as the Native American 10 Commandments. There are two versions of it, so I will offer both up to you.

Native American 10 Commandments Version 1

1. Treat the Earth and all that dwell thereon with respect
2. Remain close to the Great Spirit
3. Show great respect for your fellow beings
4. Work together for the benefit of all Mankind
5. Give assistance and kindness wherever needed
6. Do what you know to be right
7. Look after the well-being of mind and body
8. Dedicate a share of your efforts to the greater good
9. Be truthful and honest at all times
10. Take full responsibility for your actions

Native American 10 Commandments Version 2

1. The Earth is our Mother, care for her.
2. Honor all your relations.
3. Open your heart and soul to the Great Spirit.
4. All life is sacred; treat all things with respect.
5. Take from the Earth what is needed and nothing more.
6. Do what needs to be done for the good of all.
7. Give constant thanks to the Great Spirit for each new day.
8. Speak the truth; but only of the good in others.
9. Follow the rhythms of nature; rise and retire with the sun.
10. Enjoy life's journey, but leave no tracks.
The point of the Red Road and all of its guidelines (and the more simplified version of the Native American 10 Commandments) is to help people find a balance in their lives. It is a life of humility through moderation and temperance, respecting all things around us and within us because all things are interconnected ~ are one.

The Social Analysis

Much like the Judeo-Christian 10 Commandments, which are:

10 Commandments

1. I am the Lord thy God, ... Thou shalt have no other gods before me.
2. Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven images.
3. Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.

4. Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy.

5. Honor thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long.

6. Thou shalt not kill.

7. Thou shalt not commit adultery.

8. Thou shalt not steal.

9. Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.

10. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's house.
the Buddhist Middle Path and the Native American Red Road offer basic tenets and/or guidelines in how to lead an upstanding, moral, and honorable life. This extends into the cultures these concepts stem from (and even beyond them) and the social arenas within those cultures. It speaks to how to live, how to interact with others, and how to treat the world and its inhabitants.

What is apparent, but much less prevalent, within these two paths is something called Social Intelligence, which is defined as a person's ability to understand and manage other people, and to engage in adaptive social interaction. As well as, an individual's fund of knowledge about the social world. Another term for this would be Interpersonal Intelligence.

Social Intelligence is something that goes beyond both IQ and Emotional Intelligence (EI). It encompasses ideas like social awareness, which is comprised of primal empathy, attunement, empathic accuracy, and social cognition and social facility which includes synchrony, self-presentation, influence, and concern.

To put it another way, its not about how smart you are or how well you believe you understand people. It's about how you interact with others in a one on one situation, or in a more public situation. This includes things like how much real concern you show for others, how much empathy you feel for them, how attuned you are to their issues and/or suffering, how you present yourself (the approach you take to interact with another person), and how much influence you wield over the person you are interacting with.

Now, after that LONG discussion about the Middle Path and the Red Road, you might be scratching your head and wondering what these concepts have to do with something a bit more psychological in nature like Social Intelligence. And this is an important question.

The answer lies in the fundamental basics of each path. In following such paths (and I am not suggesting you convert to any particular religion here) or such moral/ethical ideals, a person begins a twofold journey.

One part of this journey is into themselves through introspection and self analysis. It encompasses recognizing one's own mistakes, owning up to them, and learning to let them go. It then becomes an acknowledgment of all of the lessons that have been bestowed upon you in your lifetime to learn and grow from.

The second part of this journey is external in nature. It begins with observing the world around you, with clear sight, which means sight not hindered by preconceptions, judgments, and prejudices. In these observations, the person learns about human behavior and interaction, and more generally how the world works.

And when these two things come together, a singular record of one's own history and an acknowledgment of the lessons one has gained, and a blossoming awareness of the world around you (without blinders on) through observation and interaction, what you find is something quite amazing. Social Intelligence....Social Awareness....Empathy....Compassion.

Now does this say these paths are the only two ways to attain this? Not at all. This discussion was just a comparative analysis of The Middle Path and the Red Road in particular. And ultimately, despite whatever belief system we cling to and/or adhere to (religious or otherwise), we all come to our own understanding of this in our own way and in our own time. And there is no harm in choosing a way that fits you best. But it never hurts to have a deeper understanding of different cultural/religious beliefs, particularly if they can broaden your perspective a bit. So think about it.

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