Is all doubt bad?

Exploring Theravāda's connections to other paths - what can we learn from other traditions, religions and philosophies?
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Viscid
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Is all doubt bad?

Post by Viscid » Wed May 02, 2012 9:07 pm

'Doubt' in Theravada is solely treated as something which is a hindrance to practice, and expressing it is looked down upon. I see some people insinuating that questioning buddhavacana is vicikiccha and that we should have dedicated, absolute faith in its veracity. Is this not the same mistake which binds us to a dogmatic religiosity that murders inquiry?
Paul Tillich wrote:Doubt is not the opposite of faith; it is one element of faith.
It's difficult to find much literature which analyzes doubt in much depth in the Pali Canon. The wikipedia article on the hindrances mentions that the vimuttimagga splits doubt into five types, all of which are horrible and to be removed. 'Indecision' seems to be a far better translation of vicikiccha: indecision breeds inaction and gets us absolutely nowhere. Can we not separate 'doubt' into that which motivates practice, versus that which undermines it? The type of doubt which motivates investigation should be seen as beneficial, should it not?
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Re: Is all doubt bad?

Post by Cittasanto » Wed May 02, 2012 9:32 pm

some things are doubtful, the Kalama sutta springs to mind as an example of doubt being praised.
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Re: Is all doubt bad?

Post by cooran » Wed May 02, 2012 9:33 pm

Hello Viscid,

You may find this article by Bhikkhu Bodhi of interest regarding doubt and blind faith:

A Look at the Kalama Sutta
http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/auth ... ay_09.html" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;

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Re: Is all doubt bad?

Post by Dan74 » Wed May 02, 2012 10:45 pm

Doubt that spurs on inquiry is good. Doubt that paralises not so good.
_/|\_

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Re: Is all doubt bad?

Post by alan » Thu May 03, 2012 7:05 pm

There is good doubt, and there is bad doubt. Some doubt is useful. I doubt the world will ever satisfy me. That's good doubt. But if you want to get serious about the teachings, doubt can be debilitating. Remember, in this context doubt refers to confidence in the Buddha's awakening. If you doubt that, your heart will not be into practice. And if your heart is not into practice, you'll get nowhere. That's bad doubt. Best way to eliminate bad doubt is to read the Suttas for yourself, act on them, and see the results.

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Re: Is all doubt bad?

Post by Khalil Bodhi » Thu May 03, 2012 7:27 pm

I think that doubt with regard to the efficacy and the truth of the 4NTs are the only truly pernicious forms of vicikiccha. I will try to provide a source later but I'm pressed for time now. Mettaya.
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Jason
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Re: Is all doubt bad?

Post by Jason » Sat May 05, 2012 3:50 pm

As with everyone else, I'd say no, not all doubt is bad. In AN 3.65, the Kalama's doubt and uncertainty about various doctrines leads them to a search for truth. Moreover, according to the Manual of Buddhist Terms and Doctrines, the Pali term vicikiccha, which is often translated as 'skeptical doubt' and 'uncertainty,' is described in the Visuddhimagga as "the lack of desire to think (things out i.e. to come to a conclusion; vigata-cikiccha, desiderative to √ cit, to think); it has the nature of wavering, and its manifestation is indecision and a divided attitude; its proximate cause is unwise attention to matters of doubt." So the hindrance or fetter of doubt (vicikiccha-samyojana) isn't necessary doubt so much as doubt that leads to indecision and extreme skepticism.

As for the attitude of Buddhism towards skepticism in general, I think it attempts to navigate a middle way between absolutism and extreme skepticism, as well as between the more well-known extremes of sever asceticism/self-mortification and excessive self-indulgence. For example, David Kalupahana offers an interesting perspective when he concludes in A History of Buddhist Philosophy that:
"Whereas Sanjaya [a skeptic and original teacher of Sariputta and Maha-Mogallana] was reluctant to make any positive pronouncements through fear of falling into error, the Buddha was willing to recognize the limitations of human knowledge and provide a reasonable description of truth and reality without reaching out for ultimate objectivity. This approach allowed him to avoid any ontological or metaphysical commitments and deal with language in a more meaningful way. For these reasons, he refrained from either raising or answering questions relating to ultimate origins or destinies, questions that had haunted Indian philosophers for centuries...
"If Absolutism is the result of reaching out for ultimate objectivity in philosophical discourse, and if extreme skepticism is the reason for the failure of such an enterprise, the Buddha, in his explanation of human experience, seems to have renounced the search for such objectivity and confined himself to a middle way, thereby renouncing both Absolutism and extreme skepticism." (21)
"Sabbe dhamma nalam abhinivesaya" (AN 7.58).

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MrsCogan
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Re: Is all doubt bad?

Post by MrsCogan » Sun May 06, 2012 2:29 am

No, I think doubt is an essential part of inquiry and an important part of growth. Certainty is ridiculous. If you've done your thinking and searching it's possible to come to a considerable amount of confidence in what you have discovered. But trying to force that confidence by ignoring questions and doubts is pretty foolish. It all either works or it doesn't. You'll find out soon enough.
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Re: Is all doubt bad?

Post by Buckwheat » Sun May 06, 2012 6:22 am

In order to keep doubt in the realm of "spurring on inquiry" and out of "paralysing", I remind myself that what I am really doubting is my understanding of the dhamma, and not the dhamma itself. Until I am proven wrong on that assumption, my faith in the dhamma may remain intact along with my doubt in my understanding of the dhamma. There is another form of doubt, doubt that I am really capable of understanding the dhamma, that does creep in the shadows and give me concern at times.
Sotthī hontu nirantaraṃ - May you forever be well.

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icyteru
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Re: Is all doubt bad?

Post by icyteru » Tue May 08, 2012 1:31 pm

if you have doubt, attempt to prove it is true or not. if its true, that become faith.
but the truth is proving something is not as simple as that.
meditation is a way to prove it. but in meditation there's a hindrance called vicikiccha / doubt. so...? :thinking:
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ground
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Re: Is all doubt bad?

Post by ground » Wed May 09, 2012 2:12 am

What is doubted is let go. Doubt can only refer to what is conscious, what is perceived and felt and where volition is directed to, i.e. where consciousness is dwelling. So if consciousness is let go is it all bad?

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Re: Is all doubt bad?

Post by Yana » Wed May 09, 2012 4:50 am

Viscid wrote:'Doubt' in Theravada is solely treated as something which is a hindrance to practice, and expressing it is looked down upon. I see some people insinuating that questioning buddhavacana is vicikiccha and that we should have dedicated, absolute faith in its veracity. Is this not the same mistake which binds us to a dogmatic religiosity that murders inquiry?
Paul Tillich wrote:Doubt is not the opposite of faith; it is one element of faith.
It's difficult to find much literature which analyzes doubt in much depth in the Pali Canon. The wikipedia article on the hindrances mentions that the vimuttimagga splits doubt into five types, all of which are horrible and to be removed. 'Indecision' seems to be a far better translation of vicikiccha: indecision breeds inaction and gets us absolutely nowhere. Can we not separate 'doubt' into that which motivates practice, versus that which undermines it? The type of doubt which motivates investigation should be seen as beneficial, should it not?
Faith and doubt can only work together if indeed something is true ..because when we doubt it then we investigate it and by finding out for ourselves that it is indeed true our faith deepens. :anjali:
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Chiong
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Re: Is all doubt bad?

Post by Chiong » Sat May 19, 2012 2:03 pm

Skeptical doubt as outlined in Kalama sutta is useful tool of inquiry.

Subtle doubt of practitioners and believers are a hindrance to their practice. Even as we affirm positively our absolute faith in buddha-dharma there is still a subtle doubt lurking in the background.

All doubt is removed upon entering the stream - the entire path become clear. When that happens all of dharma opens up with clarity and understanding - including non-buddhadharma such as christianity, islam, taoism etc.

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SDC
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Re: Is all doubt bad?

Post by SDC » Mon May 21, 2012 1:32 am

Venerable Punnaji uses a rendering that describes vicikiccha as "an oscillation between the two mental extremes of repression and indulgence" in regards to our action. Here one is unable to settle on a reasonable, moderate approach so they oscillate between the two extremes; each counteracting the other.

For example, this week I am going to over-eat every day and then next week I am going count every calorie every day. Or this week I am going to meditate 2 hours every day and then next week not at all even though I have the time. Or this week I am going to repress my frustration and not show any anger, and then next week I am going to jump at every little thing. One extreme will ultimately lead to another.

The key is to eventually settle on an approach that cancels out the need for the oscillation.

I will look for a talk where he explains it and get back to you.

Hope this helps.

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SDC
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Re: Is all doubt bad?

Post by SDC » Mon May 21, 2012 9:24 pm

Venerable Punnaji on the 5 hindrances

Skip to 6:44, however the entire talk is worth listening to.

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