I came to this question from a comment made on an answer to a question about belief in rebirth. The comment read:

"A view that rebirth does not exist is a wrong view. You cannot realize Nibbana with this wrong view."

Now I wanted to reply that suspending judgement is a form of avoiding wrong view, but then I realized I'm not really sure; which bothered me. I suspend judgement about a lot of things even to the point of whether Buddhist enlightenment is real. So is suspending judgement proper, or does one on the Buddhist path eventually have to make choice?

  • Which tradition? Tibetan, Chinese, Japanese SGI, Theravada, modern secular Buddhism? Jul 18, 2014 at 12:13
  • 1
    Theravada for myself, answers from other traditions might be interesting though
    – DirkM
    Jul 18, 2014 at 12:49
  • Related question: buddhism.stackexchange.com/questions/2/…
    – Anthony
    Jul 18, 2014 at 15:07

2 Answers 2


Vicicicca(doubt) is one of five mental factors that hinders progress in meditation. Reserving judgment might sound like a neat trick. But Vicicicca is already there and your mind is already corrupted to start with. So the natural tendency of the mind is to lean towards doubt. Because most of your thoughts are tainted with ignorance. Accepting Nibbana with faith shuts off one major avenue for Vicicicca.

It would be hard to keep to any path without faith, unless you know by direct experience that the path is right and it leads to the intended destination. It's the same with Nibbana. If you have no faith in the path or the destination, you wouldn't even bother to follow it. Even if you do, the slightest setback can make you give up on it. But if you have faith, you'd be more inclined to look at your own shortcomings instead of doubting the path.

How many times we put our faith in regular people on a daily basis? When a doctor gives you medicine, even when your life's dependant on it, you don't do any in depth analysis of the drug before using it. When you buy food, you don't lab test it 1st to see if it's completely safe. You just go by the reputation and put your faith on the quality assurance certifications. You don't know any of those by direct knowledge. When you fly, you put your life in the hands of the pilot and the airliner. Will you still take the flight, if you can't make up your mind about the safety of the plane? :)

Compared to all that, having faith in Nibbana shouldn't be a hard thing to do. And it is also the wise thing to do since it keeps doubt at bay and prevents you from getting discouraged easily. It is the same case with believing in rebirth. For those who have trouble believing in that, the natural tendency of the mind is to lean towards nihilism. That is harmful for the progress in the path.

  • +1 for a well put faith based position. Could i maybe say that I think that suspension of opinion can exist side by side with a strong faith in the Dharma. I know of many people agnostic in some doctrinal matters who nevertheless exhibit huge commitment. I think faith grows as well when we practice - when things are proved in the crucible of our own experience. For me just practice and have faith that the method is effective - others have trodden the path before you successfully and others will do after. Sorry longer comment than I wanted - +1 for the answer. Thank you Jul 19, 2014 at 11:20
  • But Nibbana & Rebirth are major components of the Dhamma. You don't need faith to accept only the parts you know to be the truth. Faith itself pushes you to the practice. When I was small, I didn't understand why killing is bad. But I was told that it causes bad Karma which leads to birth in hells. I had no problem taking it by faith and refraining from killing. The beauty of faith in buddhism is that you don't have to wait till you die to know most of the things you take by faith. Jul 19, 2014 at 16:30
  • It is very interesting this. Whether rebirth is necessary for a Buddhist practitioner to believe in is something we were exploring here buddhism.stackexchange.com/questions/1456/…. I don't think you posted an answer. You should (IMHO) - as i think your view would be different to the majority and that would add to the question Jul 19, 2014 at 16:41
  • Commented under the reply accepted as the answer. Jul 19, 2014 at 17:18
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    Sankha Kulathantille is wise
    – user14213
    Nov 23, 2018 at 13:37

I think suspending judgement on doctrinal issues that you find difficult is a totally legitimate way to practice Buddhism. The Buddha himself was no stranger to suspending judgement in the 12 unanswered questions. With regard to questions of doctrine the Buddha does present both sides when discoursing with the Kalamas in the Kalama Sutta

'If there is a world after death, if there is the fruit of actions rightly & wrongly done, then this is the basis by which, with the break-up of the body, after death, I will reappear in a good destination, the heavenly world.' This is the first assurance he acquires.

"'But if there is no world after death, if there is no fruit of actions rightly & wrongly done, then here in the present life I look after myself with ease — free from hostility, free from ill will, free from trouble.' This is the second assurance he acquires.

I've seen this taken as saying that the Buddha does not subscribe to rebirth. I feel that's a misinterpration but I do think it points to a willingness and acceptance that judgement can be suspended on these kinds of matters.

From a personal perspective I think it would be a great shame if someone didn't engage with the Dharma because they had difficulties with element(s) of doctrine. John Cottingham (not a Buddhist) is on an excellent podcast where he talks about engaging in the practice (praxis in his words) of religion before subscribing to all the doctrinal elements. I found that very helpful.

A Note

I appreciate I have probably answered the question in a very Western orientated way. I really do understand that there are other interpretations of Buddhism that have a different attitudes towards these matters as evident by the comment quoted in OP's questions. I think that these interpretations are obviously really valid and in many ways I wish I could just take them on. But coming from an atheist background I do have to suspend judgement otherwise I would never practice - and i think practice is the important thing really.

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