I recently went on vacation to Australia. The most popular coffee drink there is called a Flat White, which is kind of like a latte except the proportion of milk to espresso is lower and there is even less foam. I fell in love with it and posted one morning that I had a new favorite drink, the Flat White. Eubanks sensei replied innocently that it was the only coffee drink he could drink without sugar; and, like many of his statements, an innocent comment got me thinking.
For me as well the Flat White was the only coffee I really liked without sugar. I had to add sugar to plain brewed coffee to tame the bitterness, but I also added it to lattes and cappuccinos because the ration of coffee to milk was “off” to my palate. It seemed though that the Flat White was “just right” - which of course got me thinking about Goldilocks. Now, I’m sure that most of you on seeing the title of this meditation thought - ah, he’s going to talk about the Middle Way. Well, you’re right but I may still have some surprises for you yet.
Yes, the little vandal girl did choose the middle way between hot and cold, too large and too small, too hard and too soft; but she did it not out of a sense of finding a middle way but rather of satisfying her own needs. What is important is not that she chose the median choice but that she chose the one that appealed to her. For the father bear the hot cereal, the large chair and hard bed were the perfect choice; but these were not the choices that Goldilocks made.
To return to my introductory remarks not everyone likes Flat Whites with no sugar, and not everyone likes brewed coffee with sugar, but for me that is what appeals to me. So Goldilocks is less a story about moderation or the Middle Way than it is a story of Expedient Means - of understanding that what is good for one person may not be good for another.
This is crucial to understand for anyone promoting the Dharma in the world. There is not a single way of presenting the Dharma - especially in the West - that will appeal to everyone. Some people will come to your Zendo then move on to a Tibetan temple because they are looking for a more ritualistic, mystical form of Buddhism; others will move the opposite direction. As followers of the Buddha we are to recognize and accept this, but as monks we make a special vow to live this fact. We vow:
"I will not speak of other sects of Buddhism or other religions with contempt" is a precept which should be observed.
Notice that this applies not only to other schools of Buddhism but to other religions as well. We are not to disparage other religions or philosophies - because they may well be right for other people.
The next time you read Goldilocks try to think about not her choosing the median between extremes but of all the choices that we make each day and how we judge the choices of others. It is not for me - or you - to judge whether the philosophies followed by others are right or wrong, but only whether they promote well-being and decrease suffering or not. If they do, then we should work with the followers of those philosophies because we’re all promoting the same values - it’s just a matter of do we take sugar in ours or not.