“ The courage to be is rooted in the God who appears when God has disappeared in the anxiety of doubt.” This is the concluding sentence of The Courage to Be, an influential book by Paul Tillich, a German theologian who wrote and lectured in the United States in the ‘50’s and ‘60’s, addressing the challenges of modern Christian spirituality. Rereading this book recently, I was struck by the word “anxiety” in its proximity to “doubt,” and reflected how the Buddhist teachings, from their very inception, recognized doubt as a key element in both our tendency to shy away from the unknown and in our capacity to deliberately inquire into the mystery of our existence. Along with desire, anger, agitation, and dullness, doubt is highlighted as a major hindrance on the path of realization. It may be helpful to see this insecurity—a belief in our inadequacy—as a “small” doubt. The “great” doubt—the systematic inquiry into the nature of reality—stands not so much in opposition to our hesitations, but consumes them in the sweeping scope of its questioning, not leaving anything as self-evident or inaccessible, untouchable in its sacredness. God, Buddha, the ground of being, the holy principles and esoteric teachings—all have to disappear within our doubt. Everything knowable has to dissolve. All structures and entities that provide us with temporary security have to be seen clearly in the light of their basic ungraspablity and non-attachment. And anxiety needs to be recognized and abandoned as self-indulgence, at best a momentary measure in our evolution towards commitment and the full embracing of our investigation of reality. It is only when we have reached and come to rest at the edge of doubt that reality appears.

Master Dogen anticipates Tillich in his often-repeated passage from Genjokoan:

To study the Way is to study the self;
to study the self is to forget the self;
to forget the self is to be enlightened
by the ten thousand things.

As we and any projection of ourselves finally disappear, on the edge of the questions there is now space for reality to manifest. Our doubt, if we are willing to exercise its full potential, will expose the fault-lines of our securities and comforts, making room for what is free of doubt.

 

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