Life as Practice #7: Great Faith, Great Doubt, Great Determination

In 2005 (or 2006 – I don’t quite remember) I went to a retreat/conference for UU Buddhists. It was a wonderful gathering. John Daido Loori, who was the Abbot of the Zen Mountain Monastery, gave a talk in which he described this triad, or three legs to the stool of practice: great faith, great doubt, and great determination.

Being the Buddhist/Christian hybrid that I am, I think of these three a little differently than he did. And I would argue that these three are critical to a truly spiritual life, whatever one’s particular tradition.

For faith, I’ll just let Abraham Joshua Heschel speak for me:

Faith is sensitiveness to what transcends nature, knowledge, and will, awareness of the ultimate, alertness to the holy dimension of all reality… To have faith is not to infer the beyond from the wretched here, but to perceive the wonder that is here and to be stirred by the desire to integrate the self into the holy order of living. It is not a deduction but an intuition, not a form of knowledge, of being convinced without proof, but the attitude of mind toward ideas whose scope is wider than its own capacity to grasp.

Faith is not some one-dimensional wholesale adoption of someone else’s truth. That isn’t really faith, that’s delusion. Faith is also a practice and a process. It changes over time, and over a lifetime.

So why is doubt important? Doubt is something to notice, to pay attention to, and sometimes to wrestle with. We doubt our practice will lead to joy. We doubt God is listening. We doubt things will change. We doubt our own abilities. Doubt is not only OK, but necessary, because without doubt, we’d not progress, we’d not find the holes to fall into, then crawl out of. We wouldn’t deepen our practice or grow.

Then, there is determination, because sometimes there is only doubt, and no faith. This life as practice path isn’t always easy. Sometimes we’d rather sit and eat bon-bons, or watch television, or get lost in a good movie than practice. It’s not that any of those things in themselves are problematic, of course. We need rest and enjoyment. But it’s too easy in this society to completely lose the track, completely stray from the path. There are too many reasons in this world to not want to be present and aware to what is going on.

With great determination we learn new kinds of ways to be in the world with awareness, love and compassion.

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