Results 1 to 6 of 6

Thread: The Great Doubt

  1. #1

    The Great Doubt

    Hey Sangha,

    This is an awesome lecture on the Great Doubt, which isn't doubt in the way we usually think of it. It's the doubt that koans help us cultivate. The Great Doubt rises from questions like, "Where do I go when I die?" or, "Where was I before birth," "Who am I?" "What is this?" and perhaps my favorite, "What is Zen?"

    The lecture will probably tear you down and make you feel like an awful Dharma student, and the tearing down feels great! It's said that without the Great Doubt in our lives, even zazen can become a listless, hollow activity full of habits and expectations.

    The Great Doubt eventually culminates into what they call the Doubt Wall. Practice involves passing through this wall and resting with "Don't know." Most of us already feel we don't know, but do we really know Don't know? Or do we just think we Don't know? Lol. Anyway, off to empty the cup and wash the bowl.

    Gassho, John
    Sat Today

    PS we aren't supposed to concentrate on the Great Doubt like it's a mantra. Just supposed to kinda.... Ya know... Feel it.

  2. #2
    Thanks a lot, it's a good read !
    A bit depressing since i've seen myself in all the traps he talks about, but oh well !


    Ugrok, sat today

  3. #3

    Koan points to what you already know. Stop imagine ing.

    Myosha sat todat

    Last edited by Myosha; 01-12-2015 at 04:11 PM.
    "Recognize suffering, remove suffering." - Shakyamuni Buddha when asked, "Uhm . . .what?"

  4. #4
    Hi John

    Thank you for that. Bookmarking to read later.

    I agree with what you say about great doubt. A bit like knowing we are going to die, it is easy to pay lip service to the intellectual fact and quite another to fully experience that feeling of actually facing death. Anyone who has sat with the not knowing of waiting for medical test results will know how unsettling it is to have the ground pulled out from under your feet.


  5. #5
    Hi John,

    Jeff Shore is a wonderful Rinzai Zen Teacher, and writes from the perspective of Rinzai Practice. What is written there is rather more applicable to Koan Centered Zazen Practice in the traditional manner of that school, in which a great existential building up of so-called "Great Doubt" is said to erupt in a great Kensho. For example, that is what they are discussing here, in the quote at the start of the essay ...

    In Zen practice, the essential point is to arouse Doubt. What is
    this Doubt? For example, when you are born, where do you come
    from? You cannot help but remain in doubt about this. When you
    die, where do you go? Again, you cannot help but remain in doubt.
    Since you cannot pierce this barrier of life-and-death, suddenly
    the Doubt will coalesce right before your eyes. Try to put it down,
    you cannot; try to push it away, you cannot. Eventually this
    Doubt Block will be broken through and you’ll realize what a
    worthless notion is life-and-death – ha! As the old worthies said:
    “Great Doubt, Great Awakening; small doubt, small awakening;
    no doubt, no awakening.”
    The essay is really not so applicable to Soto/Shikantaza Practice where we typically do not work in such terms, and the phrase is rarely used. (The exception might be certain hybrid Soto-Rinzai lineages in the Harada-Yasutani line, such as those related to Maezumi Roshi, Sekkei Harada and others who have adopted Koan Introspection Zazen, emphasis on Big Kensho experiences and such).

    To understand the differences (same but different, different yet same) between Rinzai and Soto Practice, I usually point folks to these book chapters. They are written with a bit of a broad brush and overstate some things, but still generally true. It is important to realize that not all "Zen" books, essays and teachers are coming from the same approach even though entitled "Zen" ...

    Special reading - once born twice born zen (part 1)

    Special reading - (more) once born twice born zen

    Now, what about "doubt" in Soto/Shikantaza? Well, I would say that we sit with a combination of Great Trust and Great Doubt in our own way. We trust that there is something Right and Whole about this Reality, and we trust in Zazen as a "non-method" to help us experience such (this is so for Rinzai Koan Introspection too, just the same). We also may have many questions and existential doubts that lead us to Zen Practice, about the meaning of life, this materialistic society and the like (this is also the same for Rinzai Practice). Hopefully, we eventually have many of those doubts thoroughly resolved through this Practice of Shikantaza, and other doubts just become kinda side issues and can be left alone (again, same for both schools of Zen). For example, both schools will resolve many of the questions of life and death (by presenting the wisdom that we were never quite born, so will never quite die ... a Truth pierced in all flavors of Zen Practice) even as not answering all questions about what happens after death (although there is lots of speculation on rebirth and such). For both schools, "Don't Know" thus sometimes means "well, just don't know but its okay" and sometimes "don't know because there ain't really a question" ... but sometimes "Don't Know" actually means Clear Knowing!

    The difference with Shikantaza, however, is that our way does not seek to build up a big, burning, explosive Great Doubt in order to have a fiery Kensho as emphasized in the essay. I have written about the nature of "Kensho" from a Soto perspective here ...

    We work with Koans too in Soto Zen, but not typically as a tool to build Great Doubt in the manner of the essay.

    So, I would call the essay rather misleading if one is looking for advice and guidance on Shikantaza Practice, and it needs to be read with such understanding.

    Gassho, Jundo

    Last edited by Jundo; 01-12-2015 at 06:04 PM.

  6. #6
    Thank you Jundo! It did seem that some of the points carried over, but I wasn't sure about the emphasis. Kensho and satori can happen with Shikantaza, but they aren't some huge goal that we're striving for. More like a goalless goal I reckon, and practice itself is Kensho.

    Rather than the Doubt Wall and what not, the main part of the essay that touched me was the descriptions of the pitfalls and habits we can fall into. Reading through, I saw that I've fallen into every one of them at some point or another along the way.

    Gassho, John
    Sat Today

Posting Permissions

  • You may not post new threads
  • You may not post replies
  • You may not post attachments
  • You may not edit your posts