Faith, Determination, Doubt | Video

Great Faith, Great Determination, Great Doubt. These are called the Three Essentials of Practice. So Sahn said that a practice that is missing any of these is like a table missing a leg.


The text I reference in the video is “Mirror of Zen”. You can get my commentary on this wonderful text by clicking here:

Mirror of Zen



4/20/19: 11am-Noon

Fountain City Meditation: Meditate For Our Lives at Unity Southeast

Unity Southeast KC

3421 East Meyer Boulevard

Kansas City, MO

This is a public event. We’re meditating outside of a church. I’m going to give a short talk and a bit of guidance, then we will sit together. Tell all your friends.


My Newsletter:









The Three Essentials

There are three essentials of Zen practice. 

These are considered some of the greatest and most important virtues.

They are great faith, great doubt, and great determination.

Great faith means having faith in our mind’s ability to recognize our Buddha Nature. This is clearly very different from what other religions usually mean when they suggest that we should have faith.

In Zen Buddhism faith means faith in yourself.

It is holding on to the belief that the Buddha nature is present within us.

Great doubt is like the scientific method. It means don’t believe in anything unless we can demonstrate the truth for ourselves. All of our beliefs should be examined and re-examined often. Beliefs should be accepted or rejected based on our judgment. Any ideas that are found to be unhelpful, should be rejected.

In Zen we do not follow our religious teachers and leaders blindly. We check every belief against our own knowledge and experience.

It’s about having a healthy amount of skepticism. It might seem like great doubt and great faith are at odds.

The truth is we need a healthy dose of skepticism to temper our faith in ourselves.

Great determination is a firm resolution to go forward in our practice. It’s about staying on the path and avoiding discouragement. It’s about cultivating patience and self-discipline.

Zen is not always easy and it’s important to remember that there are no shortcuts.

These are important virtues in life and we should cultivate them.

Three States of Mind for Awakening

This is a list of three states of mind that are helpful in our study of the history and practice of the Awakening.

1)Use Faith

Not faith in the sense of blind faith in something external. This is more like confidence. In a college course we have to have faith that our teacher isn’t teaching us false things and that the class will lead to a greater understanding of whatever we are learning. This is the same. We should have confidence that we have the ability to walk this path.

2)Use Doubt

Doubt is important because we have to test the teachings for ourselves. If we take everything blindly, then our understanding and confidence will be shallow. As we doubt and question things, our conviction will grow. It is through doubt that we can learn new information.

3)Use Your Awakened Mind

The process of self transformation is a mixture of slow and fast. Slowly we study and practice the Dharma, getting a little better all the time. Then we have transformational experiences where we feel we start to gain intuitive understanding of the Dharma, then we start accumulating more information through study and practice again. Every time we have an experience of awakening we bring a little more of it back with us. The slow transformation is a process of learning and the fast process is when something stirs within us that penetrates our being and prepares us for awakening. It is this awakening mind that really helps us advance on the path. Teachers and books can help us, but real transformation needs our awakened mind.

Kalama Sutra for Kids. Part Two

When I read my version of the Kalama Sutra to the children in Dharma School, they responded to it really well.

I said, “This is my favorite sutra. This is a teaching that, as far as I know, has never been given to children before.” 


The children took great meaning from it very easily. 

“When you yourselves can tell, ‘These things are not helpful. These things seem harmful,’ abandon them. Don’t accept teachings that don’t agree with your common sense.”

This is pretty straightforward and kids had no trouble understanding it. The Buddha is telling us to avoid spiritual teachings that seem to go against our reasonable logic. The truth is that we know the difference between right and wrong intuitively. Our moral compass doesn’t come from our spiritual path, if anything the opposite is true.


“Therefore, we know this. Do not go upon what has been acquired by repeated hearing, tradition, rumor, scripture, or another’s seeming ability.” 


This is equally straightforward. Question authority, don’t blindly follow it. It can be easy to put spiritual leaders on pedestals, to worship them as gods or think they’re better than us. The Buddha tells us that Buddha nature is within us, that we don’t need to worship our spiritual leaders. Elevating our spiritual leaders can be counterproductive on the path. 

The Buddha’s message, that we should challenge authority, is unique. The other spiritual leaders that the Kalamas encountered had very different messages. 

Kalama Sutra for kids part one.

I’ve written my own version of the Kalama sutra to teach to the children at Dharma school. This is part one of a two part series that will end in my commentary. 

1. The Buddha traveled to a town of people called the Kalamas. The Kalamas were excited about his visit. They had heard the tales of his Enlightenment and his great teachings.

2. The Kalamas went to where the Buddha was camping. Some of them bowed, some saluted, and some simply sat down before him.

3. One of the Kalamas said, “There are many teachers who have come to visit us. They tell us their teachings and they tell us that the teachings of others are bad. This happens over and over, with each new teacher telling us that the other teachings we’ve learned are bad. How do we know who is telling us the truth? How do we know if you are?

4. The Buddha said, “Doubting is good. Do not believe something just because you’ve heard it a lot, or because it’s an old teaching, or because it’s in a book, or because it’s what a seemingly wise person tells you. When you yourselves can tell, ‘These things are not helpful. These things seem harmful,’ abandon them. Don’t accept teachings that don’t agree with your common sense.

5. “Does greed cause harm?” the Buddha asked. The Kalamas said, “Yes.” “Greed can cause us to take life, steal, and tell lies. And to tell others to do the same. This is very harmful.”

6. “Does hate cause harm?” “Yes” “Being given to hate can cause us to take life, steal, tell lies, and cause others to do the same. This is harmful.

7. “Does delusion cause harm?” “Yes” “Being given to delusion can cause us to take life, steal, and tell lies, and to cause others to do the same. This is harmful.”

8. “Are these things bad?” “Yes.”

9. “There fore, we know this. Do not go upon what has been acquired by repeated hearing, tradition, rumor, scripture, or another’s seeming ability. The truth is that we know the difference between right and wrong. Someone doesn’t need to tell us. If any teaching leads to harm, you should abandon it.”

10. “When things are good, we know they are good.”

Cutting Down the Buddha

Lin Chi said, “If you meet a Buddha, cut him down,” because we need to cultivate a feeling of doubt that cuts down all thoughts and mental states during training. This sounds terrible to us at first. Why would we kill the Buddha? But Lin Chi is trying to make an important point. Lin Chi is giving us a metaphorical argument for the rejection of dogmatism. It can be easy for us to accidentally put our teachers on a pedestal.

This would be a mistake. Far from being hateful, it’s because Lin Chi loved the Buddha that he wanted to remind us not to turn him into an object of worship. The Buddha didn’t want people to look at him as a god; he was simply a teacher who provided instructions for a way of life. This kind of iconoclasm isn’t rare in Buddhism. So, he said we should cut down the Buddha because worshiping the Buddha gets in the way of our cultivating a feeling of doubt. We shouldn’t be thinking about how great the Buddha is during training.

The real Buddha is within ourselves, it’s our Buddha nature. Placing leaders and teachers on pedestals is dangerous. Throughout history we have repeatedly seen what can happen when religious leaders have too much authority. This is true in Buddhism as well as in every other religion. Teachers are just people. And teachers don’t take us to enlightenment—even the Buddha doesn’t. Teachers only point the way—we have to walk the path ourselves.

It seems that the Buddha didn’t want that kind of religious devotion anyway. When asked if he was a god, the Buddha said no. When asked who he was, the Buddha only replied, “I am awake.”
The Buddha isn’t a God and he didn’t want to be worshiped as one.
The Buddha isn’t going to save us or bring us to Enlightenment. We have to do that ourselves.

The Buddha that we imagine is nothing more than another delusion to be cut down.