March 5, 2013

How to Conquer Doubt. ~ Padma Gillen

What’s the opposite of doubt?

I’d like to share with you a discovery I made recently while I was doing some research into Buddhist meditation for a course I was running. It’s about a certain kind of doubt and how to conquer it.

The five hindrances to effective meditation.

If you’ve ever tried to meditate, you’ll know that your mind tends to wander off. Some people call it the ‘monkey mind.’ It’s playful, mischievous, curious about things, and not particularly interested in doing what you want it to do! According to early Buddhism, there are five things that cause this distraction—traditionally called the ‘five hindrances.’

They are: craving for sense experience, ill-will and hatred, restlessness and anxiety, sloth and torpor and lastly, doubt and indecision.

Doubt and indecision is one of the most difficult to spot, let alone deal with. But what is doubt? The kind of doubt we’re talking about here isn’t the healthy desire to remain undecided until you’ve thought something through or gathered enough evidence to make an informed decision. In this context, doubt is the tendency to refuse to engage with a subject, come to a conclusion and act on it. It’s the eternal skeptic in us that won’t commit to anything, but is happy to pick holes in any argument until we end up not acting on.

Even though we can pick holes in the argument against action too. People can get stuck in this for years, often confusing it for ‘intelligence.’

The opposite of doubt.

There are several ways that Buddhism teaches to work with the hindrances. They’re called the antidotes. One of those antidotes is to ‘cultivate the opposite.’ The idea is that it’s not possible to hold two opposing mental or emotional states in one heart-mind at the same time.

So if you’re experiencing hatred, cultivating love will get rid of the hatred. This begs the question, what’s the opposite of doubt? But before I get to that, I want to introduce another important list from the early Buddhist tradition.

Signs your meditation is going great.

The five jhana or absorption factors are present in the mind when we’ve overcome the hindrances and are entering a superconscious state called jhana. They are: applied thought, sustained thought, rapture, happiness and one-pointedness of mind. What I never realized before is that (at least according to the Visuddhimagga—Buddhagosa‘s classic meditation manual from the early Buddhist tradition) the hindrances and the jhana factors are related.

The absence of one leads to the arising of the other. The opposite of doubt and indecision is one-pointedness of mind.

It makes sense if you think about it. One-pointedness of mind is the absence of doubt and indecision. One-pointedness is when you know what you’re about. Your mind is stable and focused on what you’re doing. It’s not swayed by ideas or fantasies competing for your attention. Quite a relief!

Mindfulness practice is excellent for cultivating one-pointedness.

Maintaining a gentle focus on the meditation object (for example, the breath) teaches the mind to hold its attention on one thing. This quality is an amazing asset that is useful in all aspects of life. Outside of meditation, we can help to develop this quality by doing one thing at a time, and by choosing to be here now, instead of lost in iPod world or text message world. We can consciously decide to do something, for a set period of time or until a definite stage of progress. And then we hold ourselves to that commitment and relax into the task.

We can also, over time, get in touch with what we really want out of life, and pursue it. It’s easier to pursue something wholeheartedly if you actually want what you’re pursuing!


 Padma Gillen lives in the U.K. and runs the My Buddhist Life blog. He has an MA in Buddhist Studies and has been practicing Buddhism for around 20 years.


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Assistant Ed: Evan Livesay/Ed: Bryonie Wise

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