Inner  Frontier
Fourth Way Spiritual Practice


Questions: Doubt, Investigation, and Contemplation

Questions forge a double-edged sword for spiritual work. If we never questioned or doubted the conventional science-based world view as the last word on reality, we might never enter the path. If, as a condition for entering the path, we demand proof or direct experience of the existence of God, we shall likely never begin practice. All too easily we cross the line between profitable investigation and restrictive doubt. Their similarities sometimes blind us to their sharply differing effects.

The path requires understanding, which grows through practice, experience, investigation, and contemplation. Investigation begins with a question, or a set of related questions, and seeks answers, sometimes by performing experiments. We might ask, for example, what is the nature of the sensitive energy in the body? Perhaps we try practicing sensing more diligently and in new ways, through active sensing and through opening to physical sensations. Investigating this seriously over a period of time, our understanding grows. Answers come, along with new questions, and we progress toward deeper layers of the mystery.

But when questions slip into questioning, investigation turns into doubt. Doubt poses questions, demands answers, and then refuses to accept any answer. The doubter questions everything, except his own questioning, his own refusal to accept the answers presented, even by his own experience. Because the spiritual path ventures into inner realms where concrete, material-world proofs cannot be had, the seeker must learn a new kind of verification: to trust inner experience, inner events. Doubts seduce us precisely because of the non-ordinary nature of the spiritual. The other extreme of blind faith also stymies our path. We need a healthy doubt, a searching, investigative flair.

Some of the big questions, like “Who Am I?” or “Where is God?” or “Why am I here?” lead our investigations into a blind alley. We cannot see the answers. Here contemplation plays its role. We might even find the questions themselves disturbing or frightening. By staying grounded in our ordinary day-to-day reality, these creative, fruitful questions will not overwhelm us and we will not be deluded into accepting facile, clever, or false answers.

Yet the essential questions persist in tugging at our heart. Such questions break down our calcified assumptions, open our mind, and weaken our egoism. Gently and humbly, without expectation or demand, we approach the question through contemplation. We contemplate the unanswerable, the unfathomable. We contemplate the questions that matter most, the questions that drive our search, that enflame our very soul. Worthy questions propel us into the unknown, opening doors whose existence we had not perceived. We welcome the question into our heart and mind, like a Zen koan, bypassing the would-be and trivial answers, seeking the realm of truth beyond all questions and all answers.


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