Faith, Inquiry and Perseverance

Three aspects of practice are faith, questioning and determination.

Even monkeys fall out of trees.
Japanese proverb


Someone said to me, “I would like to do zazen but I can’t.” When I asked why, he responded, "Because I keep failing.”

Don’t take failure as an obstacle to practice. That is the shape of your practice: Trying and falling short, recognizing that and trying again. And falling short again. And getting back on the cushion and doing it again and again. That is practice; that’s good practice, not inferior or weak practice. Practice that is consistent. Not getting discouraged and giving up on yourself  If you’re counting the breath, return to one. If you’re following the breath, return to the breathing.

And don’t grade yourself. Just do it.

For us there is only the trying. The rest is not our business. T.S. Eliot

Realization is effort without desire.

Right effort, one aspect of the Buddha's eightfold noble path, highlights doing your very best — not doing things in a slipshod way, not doing things in a lukewarm fashion, but rather giving yourself fully to the task at hand.


One important aspect of that is that we do not demand perfection of ourselves – that is to say we don’t compare ourselves with some imaginary ideal or with some other person who seems to be doing better.  What we do is do is the best we can.

Effort and the precepts

In the context of the precepts, we talk about dirtying or violating or besmirching the precepts rather than breaking them.

As long as we are engaged and trust in the three treasures — the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha — we can’t break the precepts, we can only dirty them or bend them.

Zen practice — practice of integrity with any kind of spirituality— has to do with doing your best. And it’s certainly human and natural and even predictable that at some point you’ll mess up ; you’ll get tired or discouraged or distracted or hung up in some way. That's what happens; that’s life. What we do is life.

Faith and inquiry

Some people have an innate capacity for operating on faith. Such people take the teachings as given, and they say “OK I really trust this, I really have a solid sense about this. I might not understand it all but it feels right.” And they will start their practice and begin to sit based on that feeling of faith.

Some people have a predisposition to inquiry — what Hakuin Zenji called “doubt”  It’s not skepticism so much as questioning. Such people base their practice around a driving determination to get to the bottom of things, to really clear away whatever cloudiness or obstructions may hamper them from having the clearest possible realization. These people sit as a form of intensive radical questioning

They’re both perfectly good practices and you may recognize aspects of yourself in both.

Are you more inclined to faith, inquiry or determination? Often we don't recognize these qualities in ourselves. If you have trouble seeing yourself in these apects, reflect on times or places in your life when faith was important. Where do you use inquiry or questioning? When has determination carried you through a task?