January 26 – Doubt vs questioning

By | January 26, 2022

Dear Friends,

In Questions and Answers, Jill and DaRa respond to some of the questions that participants had written. Today and tomorrow, I’ll pick out a couple of their responses that have resonated with some of my own questions about the practice.

One question was about the hindrance of doubt:

Confusion is at times, natural. For example, not knowing how to make a big life change or decision that may include doubt: whether to move, when, which city is best, and so on. So what is the negative aspect of hindrance, and how do I recognize good versus bad doubt, natural versus unhelpful confusion.

Jill points out that investigation is an approved part of practice. We want to be able to try practices in the context of our own lives and discover what leads to more ease, happiness, peace.

Sharon Salzberg tells how of Munindra, one of her teachers, told her “The Buddha’s enlightenment solved the Buddha’s problem, now you solve yours.”*

So for me, this element of investigation is to take in the lessons from people who live their lives in ways that I aspire to, and to see how they practice, what they teach. Then sparked with a little bit of inspiration and a bit of faith, try it myself. What works, what needs to be adapted, etc. Then continue to fine tune, to learn, to practice.

The hindrance of skeptical doubt is more paralyzing. We might find ourselves second guessing everything, undermining every decision. For me, there can be getting stuck in trying to do things to some imagined perfect standard and then beating myself up for not achieving perfection in 10 seconds, and just wanting to walk away from it.

So I appreciated DaRa’s comment that this is part of having a nervous system, of being human. She says, “There are many aspects or components to doubt which were safety measures for being safe at one time.” That helps me take this doubt response less personally and makes it easier to investigate doubt.

Both DaRa and Jill suggest we look to the body’s response to determine is this a skillful line of questioning or a hindering doubt. Jill describes her responses: curious interest feels spacious and alive. Doubt as a hindrance feels agitating, energy draining, numbing.

A few years ago, an email newsletter that sends out little snippets of wisdom from Sayadaw U Tejaniya included this question and response. It so resonated with me that I saved the email…

YOGI: How can we differentiate between doubt as a hindrance and skillful doubt, which helps us clarify things?
SUT: If the doubt is unskillful, it causes more confusion and agitation. It makes you feel less and less comfortable. A skillful doubt will make the mind curious; it will put it into an investigative mood.

The Daily Tejaniya, March 29, 2018

An excerpt from a poem about doubt by Rosemerry Wahtola Trommer:

Even the Buddha had visitations
with doubt, I think as I wrestle
with doubt myself. Though I
plan only to arm wrestle,
doubt pins me flat to the ground
and sits on me full weight
for a long, long time.

Rosemerry WahtolaTrommer. “Meditation.” A Hundred Falling Veils, 3 Oct. 2016

Have you wrestled with doubt? How is skillful investigation different in your experience?

With good wishes,

One thought on “January 26 – Doubt vs questioning

  1. Robbie

    Thanks Andrea. The last two installments remind me just how challenging this journey is. I keep returning to the hindrances I thought I dissolved last time round. The motion forward for me is spiral. I go in circles but each circumference moves me that much further forward.


Comments are closed.