Ask a Lama: ABOUT DOUBT
Question: How do we know the difference between productive inquiry of the Dharma and unproductive doubt?
Answer: The traditional way of approaching the Buddha’s teachings has two styles: One is to use analytical inquiry – taking support of the statements made by the buddhas and great masters, and using one’s own intelligence to gain some certainty about the true view, about the real position of what reality is; that’s one way to gain certainty. The other style is the more simple meditation style where, through practical experience, we also gain certainty about the true position of reality.
The main difference between the skeptical or critical approach compared to analytical inquiry is that you haven’t got true certainty. Analytical investigation should lead you to find out the end result, but if you’re just skeptical and doubtful, that means you’ll never get there. Here is a quote from the great Lord Tsongkhapa:
Appearance, the unfeeling dependent origination,
And emptiness, understanding beyond statements –
As long as these two seem to be separate,
You have still not realized the intent of Shakyamuni.
When all at once and without fluctuation
Your conviction and your notion of an object fall apart,
That is the moment of having completed the analysis of the view.
So, the whole issue is contained in just these two verses by Tsongkhapa. That’s very short, but that’s enough! [laughter]
Question: If we can only eliminate negative emotions from the root by directly realizing emptiness, and this can take many lifetimes, how do we keep from being disillusioned?
Answer: There are many ways to deal with this. The best method is to train in the equanimity of knowing emptiness. The second best is to learn and to reflect upon what that is – profound emptiness – again and again. Why is theoretical understanding of emptiness really important? It is important because it’s true. It’s a real position: profound emptiness. And the more clearly we understand that, the closer we get to being able to experience it in actuality…
Chokyi Nyima Rinpoche is a teacher in the non-sectarian Rimé movement. He holds both Kagyu and Nyingma lineages.