Koan: Great Doubt is followed by great awakening – Dahui

In the mid-90’s, I lived in Japan for four years. One of my friends helped me manage my homesickness by periodically sending me boxes full of VHS recordings of basketball games and Seinfeld episodes. Nowadays, I can hardly be bothered to watch basketball, but back then, I wore those tapes out. I probably watched some of the better games a dozen times. And the Seinfeld episodes…well let’s just say to this day I can quote from the show extensively.

Last Wednesday, David brought us the koan, “Great doubt is followed by great awakening,” from Dahui. One of the things that occurred to me as we sat with and discussed the koan is that avoidance or suppression of doubt, as with any other “negative” emotion, robs me of the opportunity to experience my life fully. It’s sort of the koan reversed. Without great doubt, there can be no great awakening. I can certainly point to times and places in my life where the relationship between doubt and awakening, or the lack thereof, has manifested. If you show up Wednesday, you’ll hear me talk about some of these.

But back to Seinfeld for a moment, to illustrate the inverse principle. As I began to think about preparing to talk about this koan, a snippet of dialog popped into my mind: “We’ve got to cultivate the doubt.” Sounds like a sentiment of which Dahui would approve. As I searched my memories for the source, I knew it came from a Seinfeld episode. In fact, it comes from “The Wig Master,” which, out of all of the 180 episodes, is probably my favorite. One of the plot lines is that George is engaged to a woman, Susan, who he really doesn’t want to marry. After Susan finds George in a parking lot, conversing with a prostitute – Not an attempt to solicit. Really! – they have the following conversation:

Susan: “..So you’re telling me the truth?”

George: “Of course I’m telling the truth.”

Susan: “Because I have to be able to trust you… If I can’t trust you then there’s no way that

this can work.”

George: “Really?”

Susan: “Yeah.”

George : “Well then…then you really have something to think about because…..you know if there’s

any doubt in your mind ….and.. and,, it doesn’t even have to be a big doubt, you know

even a tiny doubt, a DOT of a doubt.. and…..”

Susan: “There’s no doubt.”

George: “Because if there’s any doubt at all I…I feel we should cultivate it.”

Susan: “Cultivate it?”

George: “Yes, you know. Deal with it .We have to deal with the doubt, Susan The DOUBT!! Must be

dealt with.”

Susan: “I have no doubt George. Do you?”

George: (hesitates) “…Nooooooooooo…”

Those of you who were also fans of the show will remember the tragic consequences of this turning away from doubt. Susan dies from poisoning after licking the cheap envelopes George insisted they buy for their wedding invitations. One can only wonder what great awakening they might have had if only they’d had the courage to cultivate the doubt.

I hope you’ll join me Wednesday for further exploration of our relationships to doubt and awakening.


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