synthetic zero

June 6th, 2010

Doubt is often used in a perjorative sense: that is, many religions, for example, place “doubt” in opposition to “faith” — and even in ordinary psychology, people often think of doubt in a negative way, as in self-doubt, and so on. But from a Buddhist, particularly Zen, perspective there’s another way of looking at doubt, which is more a questioning of ordinary assumptions we tend to make about the world, about our existential condition, but one can use this in not a negative but rather a constructive sense.

The sort of doubt I am talking about is essentially: doubt that the surface impression you have of the world, of your idea of who you are, what your position is in the world, etc., is the whole story. For example, you might think that your life is at a dead end, that you have exhausted all options, or that certain situations are intolerable for various reasons, unworkable. But there’s a form a doubt which is to say: check again. Are you really sure about that?

This is a kind of liberating doubt; the doubt of the scientist, who takes every hypothesis provisionally, who has a sort of skepticism that she has ever reached the final story.

If you pursue this doubt to its utmost, it actually deconstructs everything we ordinarily use to prop up our world, so that there is nothing left to lean on: except the fundamental universal ground of being. And when you get to that you realize that this can never be taken away; it is complete and sustaining and inexhaustible. It doesn’t need anything and is beyond time and conditions, while not being separated from time and conditions.

And this can lead you to an unshakable confidence. This great doubt is then the same as ultimate confidence. Rather than a confidence based on believing in tenets or dogma, hoping for this or that story to be true, it is a confidence that doesn’t depend on belief, but rather a thoroughgoing checking and re-checking of our existential condition which takes apart every individual thing while repositioning them in the context of the always already present, vast, inconceivable, timeless, supportive, and irreducible ground of being.

permalink |

comment trackback

one response to this post:
  1. Steve Witham says:


    Doubt of one’s own thoughts and feelings. Doubt of one’s worldview, of things that seem true of the world as if directly perceived.

    And how clear it is, once you’re there, how safe and right a place it is, home.

    June 22nd, 2010 at 12:14 pm

leave comment


synthetic zero is powered by WordPress

posts(rss) . comments(rss)