Camus and Buddha on finding the middle way


These two philosophers come from two corners of the human history. Camus from the 20th century, and Gautam Buddha from around the 5th century. Both of them have been described as rebels in many ways, and by many scholars. Buddha has said to have rebelled against the system he was born in, to walk a path that would lead him to nirvana by understanding how pain surrounds us. Whereas, Camus too questions every aspect of life in his writings. The protagonist of his novel, The Outsider, sees the events of life as irrelevant as they are all laced the same sense of ‘absurdism’ – a school of thought established by Camus.

Buddha says that everything brings pain, and is thus an attachment. He asks us to identify that pain everywhere, and understand the importance of experience through attachments. Camus says that everything is absurd, and in order to understand that absurdity we must live, and experience. Camus’ need for subjective experience can be seen as parallel with samkhara. Samkhara is a buddhist concept which refers to the actions that create an experience, and since everybody’s experiences differ so does everybody’s interpretation and so does everybody’s experience of absurdity.

Their philosophy intertwines to feature the need to rebel, question, and constantly experience life however it may be. Let’s step into their understanding of the middle path.

French-Algerian philosopher Camus speaks of ‘la pensée de midi‘ the direct translation means ‘the noon thought’, but refers to a metaphoric idea that helps one come to a thought that is required. It almost refers to the noon thought that is/allows us to carve the thought we were waiting for. It is also a reflection of Camus uses to rise from the absurd.

The essence of la pensée de midi as described in his Novel, Rebel states ‘At its best la pensée de midi is a rebellion against the excess of revolt or revolution and an appeal for moderation: it certainly went against the grain among members of the left wing intelligentsia.’ He highlighted the importance of finding a point of moderation where one does not leave a critical viewpoint, or questioning any two/more sides. Francis Jeanson when writing a review of the Rebel criticises its thirst for moderation.

Similarly the Buddha described his path of madhyam marg (middle way) through the Arya Ashtang Marg  (Noble Eight-fold Path), and Arya Satya (Four Noble Truths). When learning meditation and ways of reaching closer to nirvana, he was taught the importance to control his desires. In this process there were days where he would eat one grain of rice per day. His cheeks were sucked into his cheekbones, and his health starting to wane. At one point the Buddha was weak and felt his breath weakening, when a woman came and gave him offerings through kheer (milk pudding).

It is then that he saw a musician tuning his sitar and observed that if the strings were too tight, or if they were too lose they did not create the desired sound. And thus the musician tunes the guitar not too tight and not too loose. This middle way chosen by the musician inspired the Buddha to incorporate the middle way in his path of his life.

Who knows whether Camus ever dwelled into Buddhist philosophy, or not. But their perspectives inspire a rebellion against all extremes, asking us to be brave enough to look our absurdities, finding a middle way, and continuously experiencing.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s