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The Thing About Doubt

Ven. Dr. Am Koe Beighley Su

April 21, 2022



Is there a place for doubt in Buddhism, on the Path? The simple answer is YES! Not only does it have a place, but it is also essential in understanding the Dharma, the Path, The Buddha, and life, in general.

A quote by the 13th century Rinzai Master, Gaofeng Yuanmiao, indicates that the three essentials of Zen are "Great faith, Great Doubt, and Great Fury." In this case, "fury" has been diluted a bit and translated into "determination". These are considered the "Three Pillars of Zen" and are essential for our practice.

In the book, "moon in a dewdrop: writings of zen master dogen", the Chapter "The Time Being", we read:

"An ancient buddha said:

For the time being stand on the top of the highest peak.

For the time being proceed along the bottom of the deepest ocean.

For the time being three heads and eight arms.

For the time being a staff or a whisk.

For the time being a pillar or lantern.

For the time being the sons of Zhang and Li.

For the time being the earth and sky.


"For the time being" here means time itself is being, and all being is time. A golden sixteen-foot body is time; because it is time, there is the radiant illumination of time. Study it as the twelve hours of the present. "Three heads and eight arms" is time; because it is time, it is not separate from the twelve hours of the present.


Even though you do not measure the hours of the day as long or short, far or near, you still call it twelve hours. Because the signs of time's coming or going are obvious, people do not doubt it. Although they do not doubt it, they do not understand it. Or when sentient beings doubt what they do not understand, their doubt is not firmly fixed. Because of that, their past doubts do not necessarily coincide with their present doubt. Yet doubt itself is nothing but time.


The way the "self" arrays itself is the form of the entire world. See each thing in this entire world as a moment in time.

Things do not hinder one another, just as moments do not hinder one another. The way-seeking mind arises in this moment. A way-seeking moment arises in this mind. It is the same with practice and with attaining the way. Thus, the "self" setting itself out in array sees itself. This is the understanding that the self is time."


Wow! That's a lot to process. As we read it, we will most likely encounter great faith, great doubt, which generates great determination.


In an article in Tricycle Magazine, by Koun Yamada, he explains it this way: "First: great faith; second: great doubt; third: great determination. These are like the three legs of a tripod. It is uncertain whether we can accomplish the dharma if one of these legs is missing. If all three are present, however, we would be more likely to miss the ground with a hammer than we would be to miss enlightenment."


The first leg of the tripod, Great Faith, means believing that you are awake, that all beings are awake, and that seeing into your own nature means knowing something that you have known all of your life, throughout all of your being, and been using it all this time without realizing it. It is also the belief that ALL beings are capable of awakening to their true nature if we rely on the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha, the Three Jewels of Buddhism, and our Buddhist Teacher.


The second leg, Great Doubt, is not "mind" or intellectual doubt. Yamada refers to it as, "We can think of great doubt as becoming one with our practice...to the point that our entire body and mind are like a single mass of inquiry...our spiritual energy solidified into an immovable mass of questioning. Spurred on by great doubt, we continue to practice...without seeking or expecting to awaken. "Awakening has nothing to do with any kind of intellectual knowledge or discrimination."


The third leg, Great Determination, arises from our experience with great faith and great doubt. With both present, we are spurred on to examine our intrinsic wakefulness, and, as we grow in that belief and the belief that all sentient beings are also awake, we continue to press on to find it within ourselves and help all sentient beings discover this truth. We push on, believing that if others can do it, find what has been there all the time, then we, as well, can find our intrinsic awake-ness.


Bassui Zenji says"

" What obstructs realization?

Nothing but our own halfhearted

desire for truth. Think of this and

exert yourself to the utmost."


In other words, practice "like your hair is on fire!"


May we all realize the power of Great Faith, Great Doubt, and Great Determination, and as we proceed on the Path to enlightenment, grow to understand there is nothing to seek that we do not already possess.


May all be well, may all be safe, may all be at peace on their journey...



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