Doubt – The Beautiful Spiritual Tool
Doubt is one of the best, most effective and necessary spiritual tools. Doubt, held lightly in the heart (not the mind), is an excellent tool for honing one’s belief and fostering spiritual development.
Embracing doubt removes the demand that spiritual pilgrims should “just believe,” or “trust.” It empowers the searcher to evaluate every spiritual proposition and dogma as to whether it fits into his or her experience. Nothing is to be believed by mature enquirers because it is tradition, creed, dogma or at the insistence of a teacher. The spirituality of the 21st century has grown beyond the patriarchal stance that believers should obediently believe what they are told to accept as true by some hierarchy or some teacher. With doubt we can explore faith, consider it, process it and reflect on it. We can fearlessly face ourselves and it. Doubt is essential in the journey because it fosters humility in faith as we face of the ultimate mysteries of the cosmos.
An example of how this has worked for me includes the following. I have had the experience with my own spiritual teacher of hearing outlandish things said which made no sense to me and I initially rejected. At one gathering over eight years ago, a person stood and thanked our teacher for being present in her home while she was undergoing an illness. “While you were at your home in Colorado, I literally felt your presence in my home in North Carolina.” At that time my inner response was to think in my own cynical way (but not say), “Please! that is just too weird for me. You probably needed an antacid. Maalox works wonders for me.” But over the next several years I too felt the teacher’s presence in my meditation and daily life. The too weird became very real. Those experiences clarified what was being imparted. When teaching intersects with daily life the acceptance of mystic presence blossoms. It is through the screen of experience that all religious thought is sifted. Today, what I know is that most of my doubts merely relate to experiences I have not had yet. And I affirm this as a doubting path. I do not doubt because spiritual experience is illogical or seems superstitious, or primitive. As my experience broadens into new less traditional arenas my faith expands. I do not need logic or linearity all the time.
Mirabai Starr, in an interview in Parabola Magazine calls this “God-wrestling.” She says it requires tremendous rigor and discipline to discern the “YES” from the “NO.”
What my experience with my own teacher has done is bring a certain amount of humility to my doubt. So many things I thought impossible in the past seem quite real to me today. So I hold all of my skepticism lightly in the heart. Nevertheless, I never surrender my personal, thoughtful insistence on evaluating what is claimed. Doubt is my Soul remaining untethered and unattached to any single institution, teacher or personal thought.
Doubt requires that my Spiritual experience be first hand. The more I screen, doubt, evaluate the more real spiritual experience is to me. Lama Surya Das in Awakening The Buddha Within says, “Seekers become finders through critical examination and personal experience.” Spiritual teaching is something I take in and slowly mulch never swallowing whole. Buddha taught (in the Kalama Sutra) his followers to not accept even his teachings uncritically but to apply their experience and reason to determine truth. Without doubt, faith is mere obedience. Without doubt, faith is the lazy person’s way to feeling secure. Unquestioning loyalty to any person, system or belief is a sort of irresponsible pseudo-faith. It is doubt that prevents idolatry.
Doubt is the refusal to accept other people’s easy answers and trite platitudes. Doubt is the treasure that makes spirituality personal and grounds it in personal, individual, concrete experience.
So much of literature about spirituality seeks to eliminate doubt. My path is to love and treasure doubt. When doubt is embraced the spiritual path can blossom in unexpected ways.