If you do not get it from yourself, Where will you go for it?
We have a fear of facing ourselves. That is the obstacle.
~ Chogyam Trungpa
The masters talk about Great Doubt. It is one of the three jewels of Zen training, the others being Great Faith and Great Effort. What kind of doubt could this be? It could not be the intellectual disbelief of a skeptic as that would annul faith. Nor could it be the apathetic disposition of the uninspired as that would annul effort. No. It must be something that drives inquiry, a burning doubt, an inquisitiveness that is not easily sated.
There is a voracity to doubt that is like fire, refining the quest down to its core. As K. von Durkheim says in The Way of Transformation, “Only to the extent that a person exposes himself over and over again to annihilation, can that which is indestructible be found within.”
Students are inclined to think that the spiritual path can be learned from books or by emulating their teachers, by following some instruction in a progressive step-by-step fashion, like walking up a flight of stairs. But, by all accounts, the first step is doubt, unlearning what you know, Learning How to Learn.
Doubt is the best teacher. It pushes you off the top stair so that you fall to the bottom and learn to crawl up on your own hands and knees. Doubt is the best teacher because it induces confusion. Doubt is the best teacher because it stokes the fire rather than quenches it until, as Eliot says, “what you know is what you do not know”. No teacher can teach you doubt, he can only show you the dark:
For the pattern is new in every moment
And every moment is a new and shocking
Valuation of all we have been. We are only undeceived
Of that which, deceiving, could no longer harm.
In the middle, not only in the middle of the way
But all the way, in a dark wood, in a bramble,
On the edge of a grimpen, where is no secure foothold,
And menaced by monsters, fancy lights,
(TS Eliot; East Coker)
Today, my humble friend the poet John O, reminded me that the reason smoking pot leads to insight is that it relaxes patterned thinking. Perhaps the paranoia of the first-time pot smoker is in fact a mild case of the Great Doubt. Perhaps this is why Trungpa and Gurdjieff forced intoxicants on their students...