Casual doubts can be a problem. The mind dithers:
Science does not believe in anything beyond the material effects to which everything can be reduced …
Oh, but Einstein believed in a spiritual reality . . . Einstein lived a long time ago, you know.
In 1970 Monod wrote Chance and Necessity—a very influential book, a very important book . . .
But there are modern scientists like Paul Davis, for instance. They find a design in the universe …
This goes on endlessly. A casual doubt comes up . . . then it is challenged, and down it goes, but it comes up again in a new form. This is not the way to meet doubts, one by one. Taking a few days, one could consider the following:
1. Buddhism is an ancient tradition and so it knows the sort of thing that can happen.
2. It has a line of teachers who incorporate in themselves the experience of many centuries of practising these direct experiments on consciousness.
3. It is an experimental thing, experiments that the scientists do not make.
4. They never consider the observer, or haven’t until the last twenty years or so. Buddhism makes experiments on the I—the observer and consciousness.
5. It has a definite effect. If we look at history, for instance, the Buddhist India of Ashoka, the Mauryan dynasty, had become almost a heaven on earth. Even H.G. Wells, a sceptic, in his superbestseller, A Short History of the World, reckons that the reign of Ashoka was one of the high points of human achievement. They had a welfare state, hospitals for animals, and the Greek ambassador reported that the rich could leave their houses open with no guards. If the people made an agreement, they kept their word; there were no written contracts. Those who did break their word were stigmatized and no one would do business with them again. People were honest and compassionate. The treatment in the human hospitals was based on three principles—cleanliness, kindness to the patients, and diet. Surprisingly modern, isn’t it? We can say that Mahayana Buddhism is the greatest civilizing force that the world has ever known. It has this history of wonderful achievement.
6. And lastly, I have committed myself to this, and I am going through with it, doubts or no doubts.
Settle six points, like this, for example, in your mind.
At the court of Nobunaga, a warrior lord, there was an argument about training new recruits—the sword or the spear first? The sword master said that new recruits should be taught the sword first and then the spear. His argument was that the spearman has only one chance to nail the swordsman as he comes in. If that one spear thrust is deflected, the spear is absolutely useless at close quarters, and he will be cut to pieces by the sword.
Nobunaga inclined to this view himself, but asked the opinion of an able retainer named Hideyoshi. This was a man of the people, who had never trained in arms; nevertheless he gave his opinion, which was that training should begin with the spear. The sword master was furious, and proposed a test—a new recruit with one week’s training at the sword against another with one week’s training at the spear. Hideyoshi agreed but pointed out that this would be largely a test of two individuals, not of the weapons. He proposed twelve men with the sword, against twelve men with the spear, and this was agreed.
The test was to be this: one team was to be armed with light wooden swords, and the other team with wooden spears with a thick pad on the end. In addition, the spearmen would have a small wooden ball lightly tied onto the crown of the head. If a swordsman could knock off the ball, he would win; if the spearman could knock the swordsman over, he would win.
After the week’s training, which was conducted in private, the two teams lined up facing each other before the whole court. At the signal, each swordsman began to advance towards the opponent facing him. But to everyone’s surprise, the spearmen did not wait there, but rushed to the end of the line—six to the right-hand end and six to the left. They then advanced together towards the single swordsman at each end of the line—a wall of six spears. He could deflect only one of them and the other five immediately knocked him over. They advanced without check on the next man, and then the next, with the same instant result. By the time the bewildered remaining men could think of anything, they were themselves overwhelmed.
This is the way to meet doubts. Don’t meet doubts with a single response. Meet a doubt with an array of six points that you have established in your mind, and then you will not be troubled by doubts.
Casual Doubts from the Old Zen Master
© Trevor Leggett