Is doubt essential to faith?

At a recent TEDTalk event in Edinburgh, Scotland, Lesley Hazleton, a biographer of Muhammad and referencing his story, spoke about the relationship between faith and doubt:

We have to recognize that real faith has no easy answers. It’s difficult and stubborn. It involves an ongoing struggle, a continual questioning of what we think we know, a wrestling with issues and ideas. It goes hand in hand with doubt, in a never-ending conversation with it, and sometimes in conscious defiance of it.

Her conversation about doubt as essential to faith led me to a thought experiment in comparing the concept of doubt in the Sikh faith with Hazleton’s perspective.

The characterization of the relationship between doubt and faith as something akin to symbiosis is certainly intriguing and is an interesting thought experiment. But, the Gurus of the Sikhs describe doubt in very different terms. Doubt, as it is regularly referenced in the Guru Granth Sahib, is a state of delusion and duality. In one shabad (hymn), Guru Ram Das discusses doubt as an obstacle to uniting with God:

Siree Raag, Fourth Mehl:
I sing His Glories, I describe His Glories, I speak of His Glories, O my mother.
The Gurmukhs, my spiritual friends, bestow virtue. Meeting with my spiritual friends, I sing the Glorious Praises of the Lord.
The Diamond of the Guru has pierced the diamond of my mind, which is now dyed in the deep crimson color of the Name. ||1||
O my Lord of the Universe, singing Your Glorious Praises, my mind is satisfied.
Within me is the thirst for the Lord’s Name; may the Guru, in His Pleasure, grant it to me. ||1||Pause||
Let your minds be imbued with His Love, O blessed and fortunate ones. By His Pleasure, the Guru bestows His Gifts.
The Guru has lovingly implanted the Naam, the Name of the Lord, within me; I am a sacrifice to the True Guru.
Without the True Guru, the Name of the Lord is not found, even though people may perform hundreds of thousands, even millions of rituals. ||2||
Without destiny, the True Guru is not found, even though He sits within the home of our own inner being, always near and close at hand.
There is ignorance within, and the pain of doubt, like a separating screen.
Without meeting with the True Guru, no one is transformed into gold. The self-willed manmukh sinks like iron, while the boat is very close. ||3||
The Boat of the True Guru is the Name of the Lord. How can we climb on board?
One who walks in harmony with the True Guru’s Will comes to sit in this Boat.
Blessed, blessed are those very fortunate ones, O Nanak, who are united with the Lord through the True Guru. ||4||3||67|

It is certainly part of the human condition to experience doubt, but, ultimately, the goal of the Sikh is to break the bonds of this human condition to be able unite with the Divine within. Doubt is an expression of the self — of the ego — and this separates us from our path to union.

Further, while Hazleton describes doubt in her discourse as a means to counter fundamentalism and fanaticism, we see an alternate counter to narrow-mindedness from the dissolution of duality and recognition of oneness that is taught in the Sikh faith (as an aside, see an interesting essay by the late Sikh scholar Noel Q. King on “fundamentalism” in the Sikh context, here). Compassion arises when we realize that the soul within is the same soul without, permeating everyone and every thing. We are all particulates of the same consciousness. Essentially, the removal of doubt by detaching from the ego and sense of individual self brings forth a perspective of oneness.

On the other hand, when Hazelton talks about faith, she talks of hope. She sees faith as the inspiration to pursue an ideal. It is the surrendering of a material perspective rooted in reality towards a vision of future. Faith is a state of commitment, a state of discipline, in which we remain attached to something greater than ourselves. To the Sikh, that faith lays squarely with the feet of the Guru as the route towards reunion with the Divine.

One comment

  1. Dear Rupinder and American Turban:
    Thank you for continuing this fascinating discussion. We are at the limits of language, hopefully not of understanding. I daresay even questioning. The universe is full of dualities. Real and metaphorical. I believe Hindi has symbols representing duality. Science does as well. Words like reconciliation and faith are healing to the troubled spirit. The Christian bible indicts Thomas for his doubt, yet many early Christians followed Thomas’s teachings. Perhaps they were not as filled with the certainty the later church required. Regardless, “potato/potato,” I think we are talking about the same thing.


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