Because the words we’re using for each of  the five hindrances are translations from the Pali language, we need to take some care with the meanings we attach to these words and look carefully at the intent of the teachings. 

What do you think of when you hear the word doubt?

Before you begin this lesson on doubt, reflect on how doubt functions both in your lfe and in practice.

In English, the word “doubt” can be used in different ways. Sometimes doubt can be helpful, at other times, not. . So it’s important to distinguish the different kinds of doubt that may arise in the mind. 

Skillful doubt

What kinds of doubt might be skillful? When is doubt helpful?

Helpful doubt is the attitude or quality of investigation and inquiry.  We might say this is the opposite of blind belief.  Rather than just blindly accepting what we hear or read, we actually have a capacity for wise investigation. In some Zen practices you will hear this referred to as “ the great doubt”: “Who am I?” “What is this?”   The Buddha himself taught that one should not take any teaching, including his, simply on faith, but rather it should be tested by your own experience. Does it lead to the weakening of greed and hatred?  Then that teaching and pracgtice should be cultivated.  Does it lead to more attachment and ill-will?  Then it should be abandoned. This kind of healthy  doubt inspires us to learn for ourselves what leads to awareness, insight and the end of suffering.

Unwholesome doubt

Do you experience this indecision? Do you become frozen with doubt at the crossroads — " Should I go left?  Should I go right?  Should I go this way?  Should I go that way?"

What are the situations that you experience such doubt in? Does such doubt infect your practice? If so, where in practice do you get stuck in indecision?

When you come to a fork in the road, take it!

Yogi Berra’s famous statement illuminates that quality, there’s nothing to do in that mind-state.  We’re just kind of frozen in place. 

To choose doubt as a philosophy of life is akin to choosing immobility as a means of transportation.

The Life of Pi Yann Martel

When doubt is strong, when indecision or perplexity are strong, we stay fixed in place.  We’re always checking ourselves; we’re always wondering, “Should I do this?  Should I do that?” In the process we miss the opportunity of making our own decision and learning from it, of choosing one direction or another and discovering which way was the right way. Doubt doesn’t even give us that opportunity.

So we want to see in our lives when, consciously or unconsciously, we are choosing doubt as a philosophy of life, because it’s not very effective. 

It’s not a skillful way to engage with the world, and it’s not a skilful way to engage in our meditation practice. 



1 of 4

Your Weary Mind

Sloth & Torpor
Letting Go