The Great Trinity
by Prem Prakash
The contemporary Zen Master, John Daido Lori, has said that for an aspirant to progress on the spiritual path he or she will need Great Faith, Great Doubt, and Great Determination. I capitalize these qualities in an effort to represent the magnitude of the spiritual undertaking. We are not referring to faith, doubt, or determination as they might influence a personal belief system. Rather, we are examining the attitude one must develop in order to undertake the process of transformation of consciousness.
Faith and doubt are like two fire sticks. Determination is the energy which rubs them together, producing a spark. Lacking any one of these three qualities, there will be no "fire," and the result will be a lopsided approach to spirituality.
Faith is based on a quality of trust. Ultimately it is a trust in oneself -- in our ability to find a path, to practice diligently, and to achieve our goal. We project our trust onto our teachers, allowing them to reflect back to us what we are capable of attaining. Faith is not based on adopting correct belief systems. It does not mature through dogma or blind acceptance. Faith is developed by recognizing the next step in one's path of growth, and then taking what feels like a leap in that direction, letting go of all that seems certain and secure at our present stage. My experience is that this leap of faith is challenging and somewhat scary every time it is taken. By repetition of the process, however, one can recognize that it really is safe. In fact, instead of falling, faith leaves one free to fly.
Doubt, though condemned by the orthodox who need to cling to established belief structures, can actually be a tremendous asset to an aspirant. Healthy doubt reflects a degree of the confidence, independence, and self-respect that one needs to progress on the spiritual path. There is no use denying doubts in order to be "good." Truth is not so fragile that it cannot endure in the face of our probing. It is dogmatism, not truth, that demands that someone passively absorb a teaching preached by another who claims to know more. In the Old Testament, Jacob arrived at his transformation after a night spent wrestling with an angel. Likewise, we must honor our doubts, and wrestle with them until they are resolved. Doubt is only a problem when it is allowed to degenerate into cynicism and inertia. Nothing is ever going to be perfect in our eyes, and no time is going to seem ideal. We should not use doubt as a justification for not doing our spiritual work.
Determination is the willingness to apply oneself in an energetic way
to one's practice. The sticks of faith and doubt may be strong and sturdy,
but without the application of some elbow grease we will continue to remain
in the dark.
Most of us don't have a problem with too much determination, though, but with too much laziness. We want someone else to do our work for us. The greatest teachings may be available to us, but it is we who must practice. Baba Hari Dass has said that a teacher can cook, but only the student can eat for himself. It does not satisfy hunger to sit around and read a menu, or debate if others have eaten or not. When you're hungry, you must eat your own meal. Those I have known who have progressed far on the spiritual path have been passionate in their practice. Sometimes one might even need to be overly daring to break through to the next stage of one's journey.
I do not believe that spiritual development is about wrapping ourselves
in a cocoon of ease and support. It seems more like living in a blazing
fire which burns away impurities. With Great Faith, Great Doubt, and Great
Determination, it is possible to live in the fire and experience it as a
nurturing, protecting, and guiding presence. Then our steps on the path
will be steady and balanced, and we will come to know the security, freedom,
and energy of spiritual life.
Back to Essays