Skip to the content

Doubt on the path

Reflect on how important doubt is on the path, for without doubt you cannot go forward. There must be Great Doubt or Total Doubt. Doubt appears as a potent teaching in Zen and in the Christian faith as articulated by Doubting Thomas. I should know the vitality of the doubting Thomas!

In Zen master Hakuin’s Three Essentials for Practice on the Path, he refers to the importance of Great Faith, Great Doubt and Great Perseverance. It is this middle “essential” that I must go into now.

When we think of doubt, we think of everyday day‹doubt that is associated with lack of self-confidence or lack of trust or something like this. This Great Doubt is not that at all. And it certainly is not doubt that which shows up as confusion, bewilderment and paralysis. In fact it is doubt that affords, ironically, more certainty. It is doubt that clears the way to take action.

It is not doubt as to whether something exists or doesn’t exist. It is not to doubt oneself or to doubt others.

This Great Doubt suggests the necessary move you must make to doubt your assumptions, doubt your “version of reality”, doubt your habitual tendencies. This doubt must be Total Doubt; for assumptions and presumptions take hold throughout the day. Assumption is dangerous for it drives you unconsciously to act, to make judgements. Any assumption affects the way you see and hear things. Assumptions make the mind selective, selecting out what
you think you need to see and what you think you need to hear.

Presumptions, fixed attitudes and judgements “set you up” for being in the world in a certain way. On the other hand, the yoga of non-assuming leaves you more open to whatever arises. Only by loosening your hold on what you deem to be real and true can you be freed up to be in the flow itself, to be in the Way.

On a daily level, hourly, circumstance by circumstance, you must doubt your own small attitudes and viewpoints that color the way you experience. The outside world for all its events and circumstances do not ensnare us. What really holds you hostage is your own suppositions.

Practicing Great Doubt is difficult, for opinions subtly shade your experience of “reality”. Far below the surface of your everyday awareness, attitudes, opinions and beliefs about things, condition experience. Thus it is crucial to activate Great Doubt moment by moment and apply it to all that you do.

REMEMBER to activate Great Doubt!

Alchemy + Aim