As soon as we select one element of the elephant and blindly cling, contention is born. A notable instance of this is recounted in the Bahuvedaniya Sutta, "The Many Kinds of Feeling" – Pancakanga the carpenter and the monk Udayin are having a dispute about whether the Buddha teaches in terms of two or three kinds of feeling. Neither can convince the other. Ven. Ananda, overhears this and takes the question to the Buddha. He responds by saying that both Pancakanga and Udayin are correct:
I have talked in terms of two kinds of feeling in one presentation; I have talked in terms of three... five...six... 18... 36... 108 kinds of feeling in another presentation. That is how the Dhamma has been shown by me in different presentations.
A similar analogy comes to mind in the realm of string theory in sub atomic physics; although there are something like five distinct brands of string theory, prior to the mid nineties it seemed that, like our now oft petted elephant to its blind handlers, all five were separate and unconnected. Nowadays things have begun to look a little different:
...there is a web of unexpected relationships, called dualities, between the models. These dualities show that the models are all essentially equivalent; that is they are just different aspects of the same underlying theory, which has been given the name M theory...
These dualities show that the five superstring theories all describe the same physics... they are all expressions of the same underlying theory, each useful for calculations in different kinds of situations.
The Universe in a Nutshell, p 57
If one simply substitutes "underlying reality" for "underlying theory" the description could also accurately describe our contending religious philosophies. The question then arises: How exactly do we find this mysterious Middle – the place of non abiding, the place of non contention?
When a bhikkhu has heard that "nothing whatsoever should be clung to," he directly knows everything; having directly known everything, he fully understands everything; having fully understood everything, whatever feeling he feels, whether pleasant or painful or neutral, he abides contemplating impermanence in those feelings, contemplating fading away, contemplating cessation, contemplating relinquishment. Contemplating thus, he does not cling to anything in the world. When he does not cling, he is not agitated. When he is not agitated, he personally attains Nibbana… Briefly, it is in this way, ruler of gods, that a bhikkhu is liberated by the destruction of craving, one who has reached the ultimate end, the ultimate security from bondage, the ultimate holy life, the ultimate goal, one who is foremost among gods and humans.
Perhaps the heart of the sutta quoted above, "nothing whatsoever should be clung to," is the ideal place to begin our investigation. For just as the difficulty which has arisen in this area over the centuries can be attributed to contentious position taking, its solution, or at least the way to its reduction, can be through the sublime quality of non contention.
Bhikkhus, I do not dispute with the world, it is the world that disputes with me. A speaker of Dhamma does not dispute with anyone in the world.
Dandapani the Sakyan, while walking and wandering for exercise, went to the Great Wood... he went to the young bilva tree where the Blessed One was and exchanged greetings with him. When this courteous and amiable talk was finished, he stood at one side leaning on his stick and asked the Blessed One, “So, what does the samana assert? What does he proclaim?”
“Friend, I assert and proclaim such a teaching wherein one does not contend with anyone in the world...”
When this was said, Dandapani the Sakyan shook his head, wagged his tongue and raised his eyebrows until his forehead was puckered into three lines. Then he departed, leaning on his stick.
“Does Master Gotama have any field of view at all?”
“Vaccha, "field of view" is a term which a Tathagata has nothing whatsoever to do with.
“What is seen by a Tathagata is this: such is form, such its origin, such its disappearance; such is feeling, such its origin, such its disappearance; such is perception, such its origin, such its disappearance; such are formations, such their origin, such their disappearance; such is consciousness, such its origin, such its disappearance.
“Because of that I say, a Tathagata is liberated, with the exhaustion, fading out, cessation, giving up and relinquishment of all conceits, all excogitations, all "I"-making and "my"-making and tendencies to conceit, without clinging to any of them.”
Such a spirit of non contention and non clinging approaches the core principle of the Middle Way. The skillful refusal to pick one particular viewpoint and cling to it reflects right view; it also expresses the effort that is essential to arrive at resolution.