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Trust Doubt: Doubt on the Way of Nonduality

Thursday, November 10, 2016 11:29
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By Adam J. Pearson


Photography by Jose Ramos

If a doubt arises on the spiritual path and there’s a fear that it will crush the peace you’ve found, welcome it in! This doubt is no threat; it is, in fact, a friend, a messenger from truth to truth.


What good is a truth that can’t stand up to doubt? How reliable is a solution to the dilemmas of identity and suffering that can’t resist any proposed problem? To doubt such ‘solutions’ is natural. As the Buddha says in the Kalama Sutta (Burmese: ကာလာမသုတ်; Thai: กาลามสูตร):

“Yes, Kālāmas, it is proper that your have doubt, that you have perplexity, for a doubt has arisen in a matter which is doubtful. Now, look you Kālāmas, do not be led by reports, or traditions, or hearsay. Be not led by the authority of religious texts, not by the delight in speculative opinions, nor by seeming possibilities, not by the idea: ‘this is our teacher.’”
It is a central truth of all mystic paths that mere faith without direct realization will never offer lasting satisfaction. How can there be unshakable faith without facing the greatest doubts the mind can raise?


In Chinese Ch’an Buddhism, the root of Japanese Zen, Great Doubt was considered to be one of the most reliable and effective tools on the Way of awakening. 


Ch’an students would build up their doubt and pile all their little doubts together into a massive ‘doubt block’ that could only be broken through with the direct apprehension of a truth beyond all doubt.


Nothing else would work. The doubt became a ‘gateless gate’ from the illusion of being bound to the reality of the boundless.


And yet, if the fear of losing whatever we thought we had gained were to push that doubt away and repress it, how could the doubt do its job?


Doubt is an instrument of truth, not a threat to it; this is a hallmark of the way of Zen and of Ch’an. Faith has its place, but so does doubt. Faith prior to doubt rests on shaky ground; doubt that leads the way to deeply grounded faith in the unshakable is truly worthy of faith. 


So, if doubt arises, trust it, trust the not-knowing and find out where this doubt is arising from. What is the ground of this doubt, what is it presupposing about reality and about you, what is it assuming to be true, and how does it know that? Where is this doubt arising right now? What’s aware of it, regardless of its content?


As the great master of Advaita Vedanta, Ramana Maharshi says:

“All doubts will cease only when the doubter and his source have been found. Seek for the source of the doubter, and you will find that he is really non-existent. Doubter ceasing, doubts will cease.”
If what we find to be true seems like it can be shaken and is doubtful, then it can’t be the way of stabilized peace. This, the masters of Ch’an and Zen Buddhism tell us again and again, as do many of the Sufi masters, Christian mystics, Jewish Kabbalists, and Hindu Advaitins. What many of the world’s wisdom traditions’ wisest masters agree on may well be worth entertaining. If you doubt it, good! Trust that doubt.


Dive deeply into it. Free fall into not-knowing. Push this doubt all the way. Withdraw your clinging and belief from anything that seems doubtful or to stand on shaky ground, even spiritual beliefs, realizations, experiences, and meditative states. If it wasn’t always here and seems to depend on shaky conditions, how can it be the unshakable Ground (Tibetan: གཞི, Wylie: gzhi; Chinese: 基 (Pinyin: Ji); Korean 의지 (ŭiji); Japanese:エジ (eji)) of stabilized freedom?


Deep Trust goes deeper than faith.


It trusts faith, but it doesn’t stop there.


It’s so deep that it even trusts doubt.

 “To live in this faith is the road to non-duality,
because the non-dual is one with the trusting mind.



The Way is beyond language,

for in it there is

no yesterday

no tomorrow

no today. “

~ Faith Mind Inscription (Hsing Hsing Ming) by the Third Patriarch of Zen, Seng Ts’an

Part of a series on Nonduality:

Movements of the Immovable

One Step is One Too Many: Waking Up as Stripping Away

Beauty, Wonder, and the Invitation Home

Everything You Experience “Now” is Remembered: Neuroscience and Nonduality

Read More from Adam Pearson at


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