In traditional Buddhist teachings, there is an interesting and important principle that every student must encounter. Each of us is endowed with buddha nature, the fundamental, all-pervading truth that is our self-nature. In order to realize this directly, we must completely drop away any clinging to all that we perceive as “self.” This requires trust to a depth and degree that few students possess in the earlier stages of training. Without this trust, we will not let go of what is so familiar, so clearly “me.” So we are challenged in ways that have few parallels to continually, and ever more profoundly, let go. This requires a deepening trust and sense of confidence within oneself and the dharma, as well as the encouragement of and challenging by one’s teacher. What compels us to so radically give up what we’ve always relied upon is our great doubt in the truth and effectiveness of all that we know and call “the world.”

Yet for many Western Buddhist students, there are other, more obstructive kinds of doubt that are met within oneself along the way. There’s the doubt of the cynic who, by holding up the negative, makes a dwelling place in this attitude and uses it as a justification for not taking responsibility. There is another, common kind of doubt that usually arises in moments of difficulty when we question our capacity for practice, or our ability to persevere beyond that challenge. It’s in such moments that we begin to understand that, although most of us are seeking balance and peace in our lives, spiritual practice itself can be quite turbulent. It sometimes feels like things are worse than they were before we started practicing because we’re facing ourselves more honestly, with fewer defenses. And so it’s natural for moments of doubt to arise when students are not sure what’s being asked of them—what they need to bring forward to pass through a particular barrier—and whether they have the capacity to do it. That’s why commitment is so important, because when we hold ourselves to our practice, to the dharma, and trust all of it, then we find our way through those difficult times. We pass through, and in that passage there’s a strengthening, a deepening of confidence and trust within oneself, the practice, and the dharma. There’s insight into the nature of the very obstruction that we were facing, which not only illuminates it in that moment, but also becomes the wisdom of experience for when we encounter the next barrier. This kind of doubt is both very common and necessary, and can be used in a way that’s actually beneficial.