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.

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About Daniel Scharpenburg

Daniel Scharpenburg is an independent dharma teacher living in Kansas City. He gives online teachings through the Open Heart Project. He also runs the Monday Night Zen Group at the Rime Buddhist Center. His writing has appeared in Lion's Roar, Patheos, Tattooed Buddha, and Elephant Journal.

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