Originally posted by karoly aczel
it is said in the zen tradtition that before we come to enlightenment we pass through this 'moment of great doubt'.Makes me think that as ones faith grows so does their doubt. What an interesting and paradoxical 'mechanic' of the human mind this appears to be...
Doubt is associated with thinking, believing, questioning, etc. Zen points beneath that, to the “substrate”, so to speak.
The “great doubt” of Zen refers to the doubt that one can let go of all
that, even for a short time, and just be aware of the reality about which
we do all that conceptualizing, thinking, believing, questioning. That reality also includes us, doing all that thinking, etc.
It can be, perhaps, especially fearful when one realizes that we also have a whole complex of “I-thoughts”, by which we have learned to self-identify—that is, we identify ourselves by a certain set of “I-thoughts”, which we might take to be our actual nature, rather than simply thoughts. Our actual nature is (in part, anyway) what is doing all
that thinking, learning, identifying, etc. The “great doubt” might be thought of as doubt in the face of dis-identifying with all that to get to the substrate, where our actual nature is.
We may often be so wedded to our concepts/ideas about
reality (including ourselves) that we forget that reality (including ourselves) is prior
to all that. Zen points to that prior reality.
Just as a map must be tested against the actual territory (and not the other way ‘round), all our thoughts need to be tested against that reality which is prior to all thinking about it—and that includes all our “I-thoughts”. To do that, one must set aside all thinking for awhile, and just be aware. That’s all that meditation really is: observing prior to thinking—and, if thoughts do arise, then one just observes the thought process in the same way that one observes a flock of geese winging across the sky, or hummingbirds in their dancing, or (with the hearing sense) a cluster of birdsong. Things like Zen koans and such are just means for helping one to “collapse” that continual cycle of thinking that many of us become accustomed to.
Thinking is part of our nature, too. But, ultimately, we either think about that prior reality—and recognize our thoughts as just thoughts, our concepts as concepts, and not the underlying reality itself—or we just think thoughts about other thoughts about other thoughts…
In the end, the “great doubt” is nothing special, just as so-called “enlightenment” is nothing special. (Frankly, the only reason to talk about “great doubt” is so that someone can recognize it if it arises, and not to be afraid of it.)