Some would say it is encouraged in zen: great doubt supposedly leads to great enlightenment. Take Hakuin’s word for it. Or don’t. That is equally fine with me.
The trouble is that you are always encouraged to doubt within the system, not without.Yesterday I got an email from a friend who is a zen nun. I had invited her to look at my blog. She did and took the trouble to tell me that in her mind, zen is not to be spoken about. Zen experiences are to be expressed in sanzen (the meeting with the zen master) in a wordless way. All this talking is, in her eyes, just a game. Maybe it’s even an excuse not to be in the monastery and live like a nun.
I pondered this and I remembered the lively discussion that happened on this blog yesterday. I think I’ll stick with that, for the moment.
I am an atheist born in an atheist family. I never went looking for god. I had a religious phase when I was in primary school, but it turned out to be a rather short one when I started questioning god judging people. (How interesting, the wikipedia article on Divine judgment seems to be biased.) There seemed to be something good in everyone. In my eyes, either god would therefore condemn people that were not all bad, or hell would be empty and the whole judgement was really theatre, intended to instil fear, with a gaudy coloured background painted on cardboard.sceptic
It took me a bit longer to see that the science we rely on is often no more than a belief in somebody else’s authority. I remember doubting everything I was taught in school, starting on my way home and going on into my dreams. Sometimes I would ask a question and, still sleeping, get an answer. I was so puzzled waking up: How could I know and not-know the answer in the same head, at the same time?
I had an epiphany when I read ‘Zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance’. Maybe that’s proof that it’s always you reading the book, because reading it again years later, I didn’t come across the compelling stuff that had kept me up all night. This book did ask me what I really knew about gravity. It urged me to go and find out about Newton and do the maths myself. Apart from that, the book criticises universities for producing people with degrees instead of people who pursue knowledge. I think Pirsig might have been on to something, there.
the in-group versus the out-group
Having these eternal doubts, I found myself on the fringes of every group I was ever in. I am also very hesitant to label myself. It wasn’t that groups tried to kick me out, it’s just that I never felt I had become a part of anything.
The rituals associated with zen, the strict rules and the sometimes tangible fear of breaking momentum by not bowing at the right time make me cringe on a regular basis. I know it’s just another paradox, I just don’t see why I should make myself fit into a Japanese mould to get enlightened. Why put such emphasis on form?
I think zen at its best is a raft to cross a river. And when I’m on dry land, I’ll make sure to leave the raft behind. I wouldn’t say I believe in zen. I am currently in it (maybe my friend would say I wasn’t) because I want answers. When I was little somebody told me the folktale of the girl who ended up on the devil’s lap just for wanting to know. Instead of taking this as a warning, I thought: “Yes, that could be me.” If you really want to know, you cannot afford to be afraid.
I feel I cannot cling to one doctrine, to anything fixed, because it would slow me down or even stop me questioning and thinking. My sister, from the same atheist family, has recently joined a pentecostal church. She says she’s happy because she has found answers. I don’t expect to find happiness that way. That doesn’t mean I think she’s fundamentally wrong. I am not doubting everything because I think to know better. I just need maximum freedom to explore and, well, to think.