Sunday, May 1, 2011
NellaLou has an excellent post up about the Genpo Merzel hoopla. It got me thinking, although not so much about Genpo Merzel. About doubt. The zazenkai a week ago did that too.
One of the first teishos I heard when I got into this here Zen thing a couple of years ago was about great faith and great doubt. It didn't make a lot of sense to me at the time. It's starting to do so now, though.
As far as I know, Zen is fairly unique in making doubt an engine of spiritual practice. In the Abrahamic religions at least, faith and doubt are opposed; faith is good, doubt is bad. What's more, at least in Western Christianity, faith is conflated with belief, and doubt with skepticism. Yet these are actually quite distinct things.
Belief is about intellectual acceptance of a proposition. Skepticism is intellectual questioning of the veracity of a proposition. St. Thomas wasn't actually a doubter; merely a skeptic—he wanted evidence of the Christ's resurrection before accepting that proposition, and, according to the story anyway, when presented with the evidence, his doubts were dispelled.
Faith and doubt have another dimension, though. If you're climbing down a rope, you have faith in the rope's strength to take your weight. If you doubt the rope's strength, you won't make the climb. The concepts of belief and faith, skepticism and doubt are related, of course, but they're not a perfect overlap: you might intellectually accept that the rope will take your weight, but will find yourself unable to make the climb anyway. A smoker might intellectually accept that smoking is likely to kill him in one of several highly unpleasant ways, but will keep smoking anyway.
One facet of Zen practice is the cultivation of doubt. Questioning everything. Digging out those things that are so fundamental that it doesn't even occur to you to question them. Who am I, really? What is consciousness? Where do thoughts come from? Why did I just do what I did? Why does that stimulus create this kind of experience? What is this stimulus and experience anyway?
A lot of what I am is story. For forty years, I've been playing to a script. It's the usual one provided for someone lucky enough to be born in a first-world country to loving, educated, intellectual middle-class parents. There have been a few minor deviations, for sure—I never graduated from university, for example—but on the whole, I've been a pretty good citizen. I'm happily married to a wonderful woman I love tremendously; I'm gainfully employed; I live in a nice apartment just where I want to; I have my mortgage and cat and dog; we try to be good citizens of the planet, for the most part.
It is not altogether pleasant to find myself questioning this script I'm living. Why do I work? To earn money so I can buy stuff. What would I like to buy? Well, a Leica M9 with a Summicron 35/2.0 IV and a Zeiss Sonnar 50/1.5 would be nice. I could afford it, too, just about, not having bought anything much for a while. But then what? Cameras are nice, no doubt, and I would certainly derive a good deal of pleasure out of it, but I'm pretty sure it would not actually make me any happier. Worse, I'm not even sure that "happier" is the right way to look. "Happier" is about experiences or possessions or such, and the beastly thing with them is that they always raise the bar. The more I have, the more I want, and the less satisfied I am with things that made me happy when I first got them.
So that's doubt there. Starting from camera lust, fading via my job right into heavy-ass existential shit. What is all of this for? I don't know.
Who knows, perhaps this has fuck all to do with Zen. Or perhaps Zen practice just forces the pace; makes it more difficult to run away from stuff that comes up anyway. Most guys my age seem to get over this sort of thing by buying a motorcycle and/or taking a mistress. Neither of these options seems particularly appealing to me at this time.
As to great faith... now, that's another post, perhaps. But I think I'm getting some idea of what Sensei meant in that teisho of his that played from a tape a couple of years ago. Quite a neat mechanism there, in fact.