Featured in Mountain Record 28.4, Summer 2010

Questions about the nature of reality lie at the heart of Buddhism. What is the self? Why is there suffering? What is Truth? And ultimately, what sort of mind is needed to probe the depths of such an important inquiry?

In his discourse, Shugen Sensei clarifies the distinction between profound spiritual questioning, which in Zen is referred to as “great doubt,” and the common affliction of self-doubt. Having great doubt, he teaches, does not mean we think we are inherently inadequate. Rather, he defines it as “a moment when... we begin to suspect... that no matter how much we acquire, no matter how much we’ve accomplished, these things will not give us satisfaction.” This doubt can give rise to the mind of inquiry—to the formulation of two fundamental questions for spiritual seekers: How should we live this life and how can we be ultimately satisfied?

This issue of Mountain Record investigates the mind of inquiry from the perspective of artists, philosophers, theologians, Zen teachers, and mystics. In his discourse, Ryushin Sensei speaks of the open, questioning mind that is needed if we are to truly push beyond our perceived limits and explore the boundaries of self and of reality. He talks about reconfiguring our perceptions and our worldview in this process, and points to the necessary risks we must take in order to wake up: “God, Buddha, the ground of being, the holy principles and esoteric teachings—all have to disappear within our doubt. Everything knowable has to dissolve. ... It is only when we have reached and come to rest at the edge of doubt that reality appears.”

Daido Roshi teaches that the mind of inquiry is critical to the spiritual path. It is, as he calls it, an “unconditioned mind,” open to possibility and wonder, rather than full of expertise or knowledge.

Jonah Lehrer reveals the inner world of Igor Stravinsky, whose deep question about what music actually is led him to compose the ground-breaking Rite of Spring—which literally started a riot in its first performance. Stravinsky, as Lehrer writes, “electrified the familiar,” exploring previously uncharted territory that was terrifying for listeners to experience. Buddhist teacher and scholar Stephen Batchelor shares his personal experience of profound doubt and not-knowing in his essay about wrestling with questions regarding the Buddhist teachings on rebirth. Relating doubt to faith, Kathleen Norris challenges our anxiety about experiencing our own doubt, reframing it as a sign that “faith is alive and ready to grow.” And she underlines the power of liturgy to transform us when we find ourselves grappling with profound uncertainty.

In sum, this issue features great questioners from various traditions—people who, like Emily Dickinson, remind us that the mind is “wider than the sky,” and both inspire and challenge us to ask our own questions, to inquire anew, and ever deeper ””

by Valerie Meiju Linet, MRO
Mountain Record, Editor