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Buddhadharma : Summer 2013
52 BUDDHADHARMA: THE PRACTITIONER’S QUARTERLY SUMMER 2 0 1 3 practice has matured, I have found that working with doubt has required real gentleness. It’s taught me loving-kindness and tenderness more than anything else in my life. EZRA BAYDA: I think the doubt that new practitioners experi- ence is quite different from the kind that long-term practi- tioners get caught by. What’s really unfortunate is when new practitioners get so caught up in doubting the practice or the teacher or themselves—thinking, I’ll never be good at this or Everyone else can do this but I can’t—that they leave practice because they completely believe those thoughts. They don’t understand that having periods of insecurity and doubt and believing the things that go through your mind is just part of what practice is. When longer-term practitioners experience doubt, it’s usually a deeper form. If practitioners have practiced long enough, hopefully they won’t believe the thoughts that go through their minds as truth but will question them and see that they’re just thoughts. I do think that when people have practiced long enough, and have gone through a few periods of dry spots, that doubt doesn’t impact them in the same way. At some point along the path, we can actually welcome the experiences of doubt when they arise because we understand them as an opportunity to go deeper. So even if we’re experi- encing what would traditionally be called doubt in the body, mind, and emotions, we’re not really doubting in the same way. We’re asking ourselves, What is this? And we experience what it is rather than let it dictate our feelings and behaviors. This is what it means to be a practitioner on the path. KAMALA MASTERS: I’ve also found that seasoned practitioners are more spacious around what happens in the terrain of their bodies and minds. There’s more flexibility usually, and more ability to see doubt as passing thoughts and not believe them. I remember going to my own teacher when I was younger and expressing doubt. I was asked, “What kind of doubt? Doubt in the teacher? Doubt in the teaching? Or doubt in yourself?” Sometimes it was doubt in what the teacher was saying or doubt in the teaching, and things needed to be explained. So identifying that in the beginning was helpful. But later on, I was given more direction and was able to investigate how doubt arises—to ask, What are the conditions that come together when doubt is present? Is there pain in the body? What habitual thoughts go through the mind? I got to learn the terrain a little bit more and learned not to believe the thoughts, to see that they come and go, sometimes causing doubt to arise, sometimes not. Seasoned practitioners have that ability to see everything more as impermanent and impersonal. You see that nothing is going to give you lasting happiness, or unhappiness, so why hang on or why push away? BUDDHADHARMA: A lot of the obstacles we’ve been discussing are more universal ones taught in the traditional teachings. Sometimes people’s experience of obstacles feels very personal, as though arising from karma and life experience. How do we look at those experiences that are the result of personal trauma or don’t seem to fit as neatly into categories such as doubt, laziness, and forgetfulness? JUDITH SIMMER-BROWN: When we’re new practitioners, we often think of ourselves as completely special cases and that it’s all about us. One of the most wonderful things about encounter- ing teachers, guides, and traditional texts is the discovery that so many people have been through experiences similar to our own. When I was a new practitioner in the seventies, I did a monthlong retreat that focused on the Tibetan Abhidharma and noting thoughts and emotions. I was going through a very tough time back then, and I had this incredible realization that every single personal drama in my life was nothing other than a mental event, a long-recognized category of thoughts or emotions. On one level, I was completely humiliated to find my personal drama categorized in these centuries-old texts. But on another level, it was such an incredible relief that I could see personal issues as part of a larger pattern and let them go. EZRA BAYDA: I don’t know what percentage of people come to practice because they want to get away from distressing per- sonal experiences. But practice is about dealing with whatever I’ve come to understand that doubt is devotion. The only way forward on the path is to embrace doubt. —Judith Simmer-Brown