Saturday, June 5, 2010

Necessary Doubt ...

Sharing the words of another, because they're that good ...!

Necessary Doubt

Ani Tenzin Palmo teaches that doubt is an essential tool on the path
to enlightenment.

By Ani Tenzin Palmo

Perhaps because of our Judeo-Christian background, we have a tendency
to regard doubt as something shameful, almost as an enemy. We feel
that if we have doubts, it means that we are denying the teachings
and that we should really have unquestioning faith. Now in certain
religions, unquestioning faith is considered a desirable quality. But
in the Buddha-dharma, this is not necessarily so. Referring to the
dharma, the Buddha said, ehi passiko, which means come and see,
or come and investigate, not come and believe. An open,
questioning mind is not regarded as a drawback to followers of the
Buddha-dharma. However, a mind that says, This is not part of my
mental framework, therefore I don't believe it, is a closed mind,
and such an attitude is a great disadvantage for those who aspire to
follow any spiritual path. But an open mind, which questions and
doesn't accept things simply because they are said, is no problem at

A famous sutra tells of a group of villagers who came to visit the
Buddha. They said to him, Many teachers come through here. Each has
his own doctrine. Each claims that his particular philosophy and
practice is the truth, but they all contradict each other. Now were
totally confused. What do we do? Doesn't this story sound modern?
Yet this was twenty-five hundred years ago. Same problems. The Buddha
replied, "You have a right to be confused. This is a confusing
situation. Do not take anything on trust merely because it has passed
down through tradition, or because your teachers say it, or because
your elders have taught you, or because its written in some famous
scripture. When you have seen it and experienced it for yourself to
be right and true, then you can accept it."

Now that was quite a revolutionary statement, because the Buddha was
certainly saying that about his own doctrine, too. All through the
ages it has been understood that the doctrine is there to be
investigated and experienced by each individual. So one should not be
afraid to doubt. In fact, Buddhist writer Stephen Batchelor wrote a
dharma book entitled The Faith to Doubt. It is right for us to
question. But we need to question with an open heart and an open
mind, not with the idea that everything that fits our preconceived
notions is right and anything that does not is automatically wrong.
The latter attitude is like the bed of Procrustes. You have a set
pattern in place, and everything you come across must either be
stretched out or cut down to fit it. This just distorts everything
and prevents learning.

If we come across certain things that we find difficult to accept
even after careful investigation, that doesn't mean the whole dharma
has to be thrown overboard. Even now, after all these years, I still
find certain things in the Tibetan dharma that I'm not sure about at
all. I used to go to my lama and ask him about some of these things,
and he would say, "That's fine. Obviously, you don't really have a
connection with that particular doctrine. It doesn't matter. Just put
it aside. Don't say, 'No, its not true. Just say, 'At this point,
my mind does not embrace this'. Maybe later you'll appreciate it, or
maybe you won't. Its not important."

When we come across a concept that we find difficult to accept, the
first thing we should do, especially if its something that is
integral to the dharma, is to look into it with an unprejudiced mind.
We should read everything we can on the subject, not just from the
point of view of Buddha-dharma, but if there are other approaches to
it, we need to read about them, too. We need to ask ourselves how
they connect with other parts of the doctrine. We have to bring our
intelligence into this. At the same time, we should realize that at
the moment, our level of intelligence is quite mundane. We do not yet
have an all-encompassing mind. We have a very limited view. So there
are definitely going to be things that our ordinary mundane
consciousness cannot experience directly. But that does not mean
these things do not exist.

Here again, it is important to keep an open mind. If other people
with deeper experiences and vaster minds say they have experienced
something, then we should at least be able to say, "Perhaps it might
be so." We should not take our limited, ignorant minds as the norm.
But we must remember that these limited, ignorant minds of ours can
be transformed.

That's what the path is all about. Our minds do become more open and
increasingly vast as we progress. We do begin to see things more
clearly, and as a result they slowly begin to fit into place. We need
to be patient. We should not expect to understand the profound
expositions of an enlightened mind in our first encounter with them.
I'm sure we all know certain books of wisdom that we can read and
reread over the years, and each time it seems like we are reading
them for the first time. This is because as our minds open up, we
begin to discover deeper and deeper layers of meaning we couldn't see
the time before. Its like that with a true spiritual path. It has
layer upon layer of meaning, and we can only understand those
concepts that are accessible to our present level of mind.

I think people have different sticking points. I know that things
some people find very difficult to grasp were extremely simple for
me. I already believed many of the teachings before I came to the
Buddha-dharma. On the other hand, some things that were difficult for
me, others find simple to understand and accept. We are all coming
from different backgrounds, and so we each have our own special
problems. But the important thing is to realize that this is no big
deal. It doesn't matter. Our doubting and questioning spur us on and
keep us intellectually alert.

There have been times when my whole spiritual life was one great big
question mark. But instead of suppressing the questions, I brought up
the things I questioned and examined them one by one. When I came out
the other end, I realized that it simply didn't matter. We can be
quite happy with a question mark. Its not a problem at all,
actually, as long as we don't solidify it or base our whole life on
feeling threatened by it. We need to develop confidence in our innate
qualities and believe that these can be brought to fruition. We all
have Buddha-nature. We have all the qualities needed for the path. If
we don't believe this, it will be very difficult for us to embark
because we have no foundation from which to go forth. Its really
very simple. The Buddha-dharma is not based on dogma.

But why is it so difficult for us? Basically its because of our
state of mind, because we lack knowledge of who we are and our role
here in this life. Because we don't know who we are, we feel separate
from everybody else. There's this sense of me that creates all our
fears, angers, attachments, jealousies, and uncertainties. But the
Buddha said that it doesn't have to be like that. Our inherent nature
is pure. All we have to do is rediscover who we really are, and
that's what the path is for. Its very simple. Its not based on
faith, but rather on experiments and experience leading to
realization. Its not a matter of learning what this lama says, or
what that tradition says, and then believing its going to save us.
Its not going to save us. Of course we need to know what the Buddha
said. We need to know what great teachers in the past have said,
because they have been there ahead of us and have laid down maps for
us to follow. But its a bit like reading a travel book. You can read
a travel book and feel you're already there, but in reality you're
not there. These are somebody else's travel experiences. And when you
do go there, you will have your own unique experiences. Following the
path is about experiencing it for ourselves. Its not taking on what
other people have described. Its not based on blind faith. Of
course, you need a certain amount of confidence to buy a ticket and
start on your journey. You have to believe that the country exists
and that its worthwhile to go there. But beyond that, the important
thing is just to go. And as you go, you can say to yourself, Yes,
that's just the way they described it. That's right. It does look
like that.


Shalom, Dena


MysticBrit said...

Be sceptical, but learn to listen. When you see a 'there' to head for, go there and be there. It will take you to another 'there', because Life evolves. That's just what it does, and Love is the driving energy.

And enlightenment is simply seeing things as they really are, rather than what we've been told they are.

Let's go there:)

Dena said...

Yes, Harry ... seeing things as they are, rather than as we've been told they are.

In that seeing, seeing ourSelves as we are, everything flows, everything follows.

May we SEE.

MysticBrit said...

And I notice Jesus is recorded as saying, "Follow me." This is so very similar to, "Come and see."

And, having the distinct Zen bias that I have (it's the way I walk;)), who is the Seer?

Film @ 11:)