The power of an open question

Elizabeth Mattis-Namgyel quote

If we think about it, life resists definition. How can we truly know things that continuously change, are impossible to pin down, and are always open to interpretation? Can we, for instance, ever reach absolute conclusions about the redness of a flower, a moment of grief, or the meaning of the universe? We’re lucky that the Buddha didn’t simply reach a conclusion or settle for an answer. The world is full of answers. If you ask a simple question, you can get a million of them, no problem. In fact, think of how many conclusions we reach each day: think about all of our likes and dislikes, our views about the world, who we think we are, and who we decide we want to be. But have we ever been able to reach a point of absolute certainty about anything? When the Buddha gave up hope in his search for answers, he found an alternative he didn’t know he had—the mind of an open question. The Buddha discovered that when he asked a question, his mind was engaged yet open. The process of inquiry itself protected him from the extremes of either ignorance or false certainty, providing room for the expression of mind’s creative intelligence. He found a way of being in the mind of an open question that was profoundly clear, engaged, and full of adventure, and he called it the Middle Way.

The term Middle Way is commonly misunderstood. We may interpret middle to mean “finding a balance.” For example, in the way that we might pursue, say, material fulfilment on the weekdays and try to balance that with something “spiritual” on the weekends. Or we may think the Middle Way refers to something in between two other things—such as a gap in between two moments of experience—or something ungraspable that is divorced from the world we know. But this is not the meaning of the Middle Way. The Middle Way experience takes us altogether beyond thinking in extremes—beyond our usual assumptions about the world. It does not suggest we reject suffering to seek a nirvana elsewhere. It does not advise us to leave our ordinary functional life and enter a “spiritual” one instead. It does not affirm the existence of things, and it does not deny our experience of them either. Instead, the path of the Middle Way leads us through a process of inquiry that questions the nature of existence, non-existence, self, other, happiness, suffering, spirituality, and the world of experience. If we follow this process of inquiry, it will take us to a place of certitude beyond conclusions. This is exactly what happened to the Buddha.”

The Power of an Open Question ‘ by Elizabeth Mattis-Namgyel

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