Journal for November 16, 2010
There has been a long debate throughout the history of Christianity as to the nature of God and how he can be understood. Some theologians and traditions maintain that God is a mystery, a paradox, and cannot be described using words or concepts. That He is beyond concepts and both outside and other than but also permeating the physical world. Others assert that understanding of God can be achieve by human reasoning, thought, and logic. He is both knowable and describable.
I wasn’t really surprised at these two interpretations. They sound a lot like Buddhism. There are some forms that are esoteric, hidden, designed to open the mind like a flash of lighting. Then there are forms that are systematic, categorical, logical, designed to cultivate virtues and mental qualities over decades, if not lifetimes. We could only discover whether one is better than the other by following both paths over the course of many years, which is practically impossible. The only way to really evaluate them is to look at their more immediate effects, look at the people walking ahead and behind. Are they good people?
So that leaves us with the question of what makes most sense for us personally. Of course, where I use ‘sense’ other people will use ‘heart.’ They’ll follow the tradition that speaks most strongly to their heart, the one that feels right. This is, most likely, why I cannot follow Trungpa’s teachings.
On page 114, he writes about the moment you experience secret drala. “It does not contain doubt or disbelief at all,” he says. But I cannot trust what I cannot doubt. The idea that “you experience a state of mind that is … free from hesitation and disbelief” seems very dangerous to me. After all, history is full of dictators who were certain they were creating a better world while slaughtering thousands, millions of people.
Reasoned doubt is what keeps us balanced, on the right path. If a blind person steps forward with certainty that the path will be there, they may fall right off the cliff, whereas, with a little doubt, they will question first, moving forward slowly and catch themselves before pitching into open air. If someone tells me not to question, I immediately distrust them. If a teaching cannot stand up to questioning, what good is it? If someone tells me I will feel complete trust (i.e. as an experience of secret drala), I am skeptical. How do they know what I will feel?
But let’s go back to that earlier statement: I cannot trust what I cannot doubt. Think about that. I cannot trust what I cannot doubt. That whole statement seems to preclude any possibility of enlightenment, doesn’t it? Seems to me there is a place, a state of mind, of existence, that is beyond trust and doubt, beyond ‘I,’ where one sees truly because one is no longer invested in what is to be seen.
“We can only tell the truth when we cease to identify with the part of ourselves we think we have to protect. ... I can never be straight with you if I need something from you,” Ram Dass wrote in Paths to God: Living the Bhagavad Gita.
I think we can only go beyond trust and doubt when we no longer have anything left to lose. I don’t mean that in the cynical, hit bottom sense, but in the powerful, self-less sense. When we have gone beyond ego, beyond conceptions of ‘I’ and ‘other,’ then there is nothing left to lose and nothing left to gain. We have nothing and have everything.
This started with a discussion of means. One path is mystery. One path is reason. It’s not that mystery requires trust and reason requires doubt. In order to walk the path of reason, we must trust our own mind is up to the task. In order to walk the path of mystery, we must be comfortable accepting doubt, accepting what our heart doesn’t know. I can make no claims that one path is better than the other or that they are equal.
I just don’t know.