My meditation practice is hindered by doubt.

  • First of all I see that the framework of the noble eightfold path (to which I adhere) does not seem to matter much, to so many gurus with repulsive behavior, and to the buddhist websites like Tricycle and Lion's Roar which continuously publish the writings of someone like Chogyam Trungpa. And I certainly can't see in the Dalai-Lama a personification of the Buddhist teachings, let alone his former friend Sogyal Rinpoche.

  • Secondly I am very disturbed by the situation in Myanmar (Burma): a 90 percent Buddhist country, with criminal monks and a public opinion dramatically gone astray!

  • Third, the very lucrative "mindfulness¨ industry selling Buddhism, like just any commodity, not without some harmful and dangerous consequences.

The question is: do Buddhist teachings downplay the role of reasonable, objective thinking?

Buddha is supposed to have said, "Place no head above your own". In some way it is akin to the motto of Western enlightenment by Kant (who certainly cannot be accused of having a "monkey mind"): "have the courage to use your own reason".

But some Buddhists speak and act as if all thinking was "mind wandering". Or don't you think that to abandon the capacity to think, and minimizing the role of the factors which foster that capacity, like education, can have dramatic consequences? And that a fake buddhism isn't one of those consequences? If naive Western women could "think", would they be abused by pathologically narcissistic gurus? If the 90 percent Buddhist Burmese were less poor and more educated, and more apt to think objectively, would they behave as they do?

Please do help me to practice, by answering to these somewhat disturbing questions.

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  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – ChrisW
    Commented Mar 19, 2018 at 12:53
  • I am unclear how your doubts have anything to do with your meditation practice? Also, your descriptions of not very rational living are true of almost all people everywhere, not just Buddhists. Do you expect at calling oneself a Buddhist will instantly improve one's rational thinking?
    – user2341
    Commented Mar 20, 2018 at 0:05
  • Look up the five hindrances in Buddhism, the fifth one is doubt. Commented Mar 20, 2018 at 8:19

5 Answers 5


... so many gurus with repulsive behavior, and to the buddhist websites like Tricycle and Lion's Roar which continuously publish the writings of someone like Chogyam Trungpa. And I certainly can't see in the Dalai-Lama a personification of the Buddhist teachings, let alone his former friend Sogyal Rinpoche.

This is your projection and your interpretation, isn't it? Based on your (limited?) knowledge of Buddhism and the people you mention. And based on your own understanding of ethics. Assuming you are not Enlightened, I would not be surprised if your perception and interpretation were biased.

If you knew what is "Spiritual Snobbism" and "Spiritual Ego" and why they are extremely dangerous, you would appreciate why some teachers go a loooong way towards shedding off any traces of that, even at the expense of hurting their public image (Trungpa) and making fools of themselves (Dalai Lama). Scandalous behavior is part of a longstanding and very respected tradition called "Crazy Wisdom" that aims to "transcend the dualistic view of repulsive and nonrepulsive" in student's mind and melt the spiritual ego.

I am very disturbed by the situation in Myanmar (Burma)

The situation in Burma is extremely complicated. However, there are little reasons to be "very disturbed" by it. As any situation, it arose from objective causes and conditions - and when you understand and appreciate these objective causes, in other words when you think about it rationally, you should see exactly what's going on, why it keeps on going, and why it is rather difficult to rectify. Sentient beings have a tendency to reify & overgeneralize => identify with => attach => take sides => create conflict. This ignorant tendency can take any form, up to and including turning Dharma into adharma. Watching this play out in Burma should only increase your faith in True Dharma, not feed your frustration with humans ;)

Third, the very lucrative "mindfulness" industry selling Buddhism, like just any commodity, not without some harmful and dangerous consequences.

I don't think there is nearly as much money made on "mindfulness" as on alcohol, videogames, porn, and weapons. So I would not characterize "mindfulness" industry as "the very lucrative". Yes, there are some people who make living on helping others, and some of these people are charlatans - but it is far from being as "harmful and dangerous" as for example the glamour industry, or Hollywood etc. In fact, if mindfulness improves some lives, and/or serves as gateway into more real study and practice, it will pay off its debt to Buddhism to which it owes its existence.

Finally, you should always remember that Buddhism is about YOUR state of mind, not the minds of others. It is your negativity, your frustration with the world, your spiritual ego, and your attachment to high ideals and its inverse projection onto the reality your mind creates, that you should worry about and work with. Once you got some of that through, you can start helping others who deal with the same problem, since you will now know it first-hand. That would be the most rational thing to do.

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    Tantric Buddhism is not for me, thank you. I choose as exemples monks like Ajahn Chah whose wisdom I certainly don't put on an equal footing with gurus suspected with sexual abuse. Scandalous behavior is scandalous behavior, point. Thank you though for one sentence which I find just and enlightening in your answer: its when you say that Buddhism is about one's own state of mind , not the mind of others. Commented Mar 19, 2018 at 21:49
  • I like this answer. We are so good at creating boundaries, we have even created a boundary for what enlightenment should and should not be. And how an enlightened being should and should not be. Teacher putting forth this "test" on student is according to me one of the hardest test! Commented Mar 20, 2018 at 17:35

Buddhism does not teach about blind faith. Refer to the Kalama Sutta, which says teachings should be independently examined for if they lead to suffering or non-suffering; harm or non-harming.

In MN 38, it is reported the Buddha said to not merely believe what he taught but to verify his teachings for oneself.

In MN 95 (Canki Sutta), it is taught a student should examine a monk or teacher for any greed, hatred & delusion before having faith in that monk or teacher.

In Buddhism, right thought means thoughts of renunciation, thoughts of non-ill will and thoughts of non-cruelty (refer to MN 19 & SN 48.5) and also thoughts leading to liberation & to the deathless (refer to AN 9.14).

For example, if Chogyam Trungpa and Sogyal Rinpoche often did not act with right thought & right actions; it is best they be ignored as examples of Buddhist practise, despite the possibly usefulness of their teachings.

If a person sincerely aspires to practise Buddhism, they should focus on the path & forget about the rubbish heap because life lasts not long.

  • Thank you for your answer. It will help me to focus on the path Commented Mar 18, 2018 at 16:32

I think that many or most people are simply not capable of entertaining complicated ideas especially the ideas that are conflicting with their established values, bias, opinions or the ideas that would immediately affect their position of perceived relative advantage in the society.

However the Doctrine is so comperhensive and versatile that people can still pick and choose what they can accept and can simply ignore the rest or even proclaim it as fake.

There is a good amount smart-shaming among people and Buddhist circles are no exception. There is no immediate punishment for being stupid & irrational and this irrationality, this stupidity can be hidden from others by smooth rhetoric and a veil of authority and from oneself by ascribing it to non-omniscence, lack of development or mere negligible cognitive dissonance.

There is not much one can do about this other than finding the smart people and alligning oneself with them. Overcome doubt by inquiry, balance skepticism with conviction and conviction with skepticism.

Nowadays i would say try and find the most intelligent people who are also known as or alligned with the best of the meditation-monks in particular, i think that is the best starting position.

There are several ways to learn and develop in the Doctrine as i see it. There is the analytical part of the teachings dealing with the theory, there is the disciplinary guidelines, there are analogies and similes which are semi-analytical and there is the poetry, the Gathas which will appeal to the emotional individual.

Sometimes i think that people just don't like to admit that they do not know things.

  • The problem, as you would acknowledge, is the difficulty for some of us at least to find these "smart people¨ Commented Mar 18, 2018 at 16:52
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    perhaps one could try asking direct questions and check out the likely suspects, then go forward using your best judgement and placing conviction into those that seem most developed in things that you would like to develop in yourself.
    – user8527
    Commented Mar 18, 2018 at 18:47

Perhaps I'm wrong but I read your question as follows.

When I read the world news (about Buddhists), and when I read Buddhist web sites, I find disagreeable news:

  • Gurus behaving badly, and doctrines from badly-behaved gurus being published
  • Badly-behaved (violent) lay society (and military), and criminal monks
  • Modern pseudo-Buddhist doctrines from non-gurus being published

When I complain, people tell me this is my "mind wandering". But what the hell, aren't I supposed to be thinking? Shouldn't we all be thinking?

So ...

For a start, I guess you're not wrong in your observations:

  • News is that there are or have been (some) gurus with scandalous, abusive, and/or controversial behaviour.

  • The behaviour and speech of specific monks, and communities of monks, has been (to put it politely) less than might be ideal; not to even mention war and ethnic cleansing etc.

  • There is a lot of not-explicitly-Buddhist "mindfulness" doctrine being taught, more or less well.

The fact that there is adhamma doesn't mean that dhamma is bad, though, and it does mean you might want to carefully distinguish between dhamma and adhamma.

For example, many people would consider the doctrines in the suttas to be "dhamma"; and it's expected that you need to be careful, for example from the Maha-parinibbana Sutta:

The Four Great References

In such a case, bhikkhus, the declaration of such a bhikkhu is neither to be received with approval nor with scorn. Without approval and without scorn, but carefully studying the sentences word by word, one should trace them in the Discourses and verify them by the Discipline. If they are neither traceable in the Discourses nor verifiable by the Discipline, one must conclude thus: 'Certainly, this is not the Blessed One's utterance; this has been misunderstood by that bhikkhu — or by that community, or by those elders, or by that elder.' In that way, bhikkhus, you should reject it. But if the sentences concerned are traceable in the Discourses and verifiable by the Discipline, then one must conclude thus: 'Certainly, this is the Blessed One's utterance; this has been well understood by that bhikkhu — or by that community, or by those elders, or by that elder.' And in that way, bhikkhus, you may accept it on the first, second, third, or fourth reference. These, bhikkhus, are the four great references for you to preserve.

MN 24 for example explains that "knowledge and vision of what is and is not the path" is one of the (several) stages of enlightenment.

I suspect (though it's difficult to describe well) there is a certain "non-thinking" quality to meditation.

If you consider physical/muscular effort, though, at least as an analogy, it's important (healthy) to have both exercise (contraction) and rest (relaxation), perhaps at different times ... or simultaneously.

Perhaps something similar is true of "thinking", i.e. it's good to do both (thinking and non-thinking).

I suppose that thinking isn't necessarily always supreme, always good. Instead thinking might be judged, according to (for example) whether it's skilful or wholesome.

I think that according to the suttas you might judge "thinking" on the basis of whether it is or isn't conducive to suffering. On that basis it's possible that the kinds of thoughts which you outlined in the OP might be unskillful -- because if you stay with those thoughts, they might cause you to suffer. Or it's possible that they're skilful: because clearly seeing that something is not dhamma may be necessary. In any case, I think it may be reasonable to try to control (e.g. to discard, not attach to) what you think about (including what kind of news you read), and what "views" you form, just as it's fair to "guard the senses" (guard what you see and hear).

I'm not sure but another way to judge or to assess, to weigh, something might be on the basis of whether it's conducive to the suffering of others. On that basis too the thoughts you outlined may or may not be skilful: I suspect that by themselves they don't help anyone, but maybe they could be an example of seeing the suffering of others in a way that helps you or leads you to alleviate their suffering.

  • Thank you for your answer. As you say, I think at times I will do non-thinking, especially when meditating, and at other time thinking, especially where some kind of logical reasoning is indispensable, always without hurting others. Kind of a middle way, right? Commented Mar 18, 2018 at 16:44
  • Yes. And Tai Chi practice (which isn't Buddhist, but maybe it's easier for me to understand or to describe a physical practice than a mental one) is meant to be relaxed or soft ... for example because your posture is upright or straight (on your bones), balanced, your muscles can relax. Maybe a Buddhist analogy would be to have (to be supported by) good sila (morality).
    – ChrisW
    Commented Mar 18, 2018 at 17:45

In Buddhism there are concepts that are so complex that transcends beyond common reasonable, objective thinking.

Therefore to your question, the answer is obviously "No".

The question instead should be: Does common 'reasonable and objective' thinking downplay the depths of true Buddhism teachings? This will eventually guide you through your doubts.

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    I would say that "conceptual¨ is not an appropriate term for qualifying "the depths of true Buddhism teachings" in your words. For instance, we can of course say that "enlightenment " is a Buddhist concept in so far as we are talking and reasoning about an idea or a mental image (definition of a concept)But I gather that the experience of enlightenment is neither an idea nor a mental image, it is rather a state of being. Commented Mar 19, 2018 at 9:26
  • See Ajahn Brahm : "Buddha's faith is faith supported by reason ¨youtube.com/watch?v=zdg2GHVpbgc Commented Mar 19, 2018 at 9:29
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    Enlightenment is a state of being <-- Agree. Buddha's faith is faith supported by reason <----- Hence I mentioned "Common" reasonable/objective thinking. Because level of reasoning changes as you understand, analyse and evaluate more complicated concepts. Faith would grow stronger as your 'state of being' progresses. It's a bit like getting lost in a jungle, but your faith in believing your current way-out path can only grow stronger as you see more promising indicators. And different people has different challenges in realizing the indicators....so to speak. Commented Mar 19, 2018 at 10:12

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