The movie Doubt left me with only this certainty: ambiguity and paradox are woven into whatever state of “reality” one can imagine, and doubt itself is a holy thing, if it promotes such attributes as humility, caution, and an open mind.

Brilliantly directed, with superb performances by an extraordinary cast, this movie robs us of our often too-comfortable and simplistic convictions. It leaves us looking back over every snippet of the movie’s scenes for clues that would help us come to a more perfect judgment, only to bring us yet again to what has been called a “holy cloud of unknowing.”

Here again we learn that heroes can be villainous, and that villains also have soul. The movie is a cautionary tale for those who consistently jump to conclusions, as well as for those who too easily move against the grain of accepted morality.

The movie Doubt sows a healthy doubt as to any person’s ability to know the full truth. As one character says in the climactic scene, “You don’t know enough.” Perhaps we can never know enough to judge absolutely rightly. Doubt persists. And, it seems, it should.

And so, as even the opening scene of the movie instructs, we may all find ourselves bonded together with all other human persons in a state of perpetual doubt, with an inability to live with any absolute confidence in what we think we know or can have faith in. We can then experience the grace of shared compassion.

Yet the movie also makes clear that, however uncertain our judgments may be, we sometimes must act. It is then best, it seems, to act with full awareness that we may be wrong, despite the gripping sense of the necessity to stand up for what we think is right.

Nearly seventy years of intense living has taught me how uncomfortable that can be, either the taking of risk, or the reigning in of excess, or inaction, or the sheer pain of indecision and moral ambiguity.

I spent a few hours after seeing the movie considering all this. I recalled the old, old Christian wisdom, “Judge not, that you be not judged.” And “Let the one who is without sin cast the first stone.” But also I thought of the Hebrew teaching, “As I live, says the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked.” And then I turned to a basic Islamic teaching from the Qu’ran: “If two parties of believers fall to fighting, then make peace between them. And if one party of them does wrong to the other, fight that wrong-doer until it returns to the ordinance of God; then if it returns, make peace between them justly, and act equitably. Lo! God loves the equitable.”

But, ah, what is equitable? Sometimes moral ambiguity and existential relativity and human inadequacy can leave one sorely troubled, even paralyzed in the face of difficult choices. There is, the movie and life and the great teachings remind us, no easy answer.

In life, usually, act we must-for even not acting is an action. Then humility must be our safeguard.

Such humility may not free us from doubt, nor from the judgments of others, but it can allow us a small bit of peace in having done our admittedly limited best, knowing that, anyway, everything always rests in some higher power or purpose or mystery than we can never clearly comprehend.

So, in humility, this morning, thinking about all that, I went in search of the teachings of the sages to bolster my own ability to function, even though I live in that state of vagueness and irony and paradox, often struck down by life’s seemingly built-in inconsistencies.

Here are a few jewels of wisdom that I found:

“Be humble, be harmless, have no pretension, be upright, forbearing…aware of the weakness in mortal nature.” Hinduism. Bhagavad Gita 13.7-8.

“To know when one does not know is best. To think one knows when one does not know is a dire disease.” Taoism. Tao Te Ching 71

“The fool who knows that he is a fool is for that very reason a wise man; the fool who thinks he is wise is called a fool indeed.” Buddhism. Dhammapada 63.

“Every person has both a bad heart and a good heart. No matter how good a man seems, he has some evil. No matter how bad a man seems, there is some good about him. No man is perfect.” Native American. Mohawk saying.

“Do nothing from selfishness or conceit, but in humility count others better than yourself.” Christianity. Philippians 2.3.

“Whoever proclaims himself good, know, goodness approaches him not. He whose heart becomes dust at the feet of all, says Nanak, pure shall his repute be.” Sikhism. Di Granth, Gauri Sukhmani, M.5, p. 278.

“Even if all the world tells you, ‘You are righteous,’ consider yourself wicked.” Judaism. Talmud, Nidda 30b.

“Beware! Your clinging-to-ego is greater than yourself; Pay heed! Your emotions are stronger than yourself. Your vicious will is far wickeder than yourself; your habitual thought is more characteristic than yourself; your ceaseless mental activity is more frantic than yourself.” Buddhism. Milarepa.

“Mencius said,’ Only when a man will not do some things is he capable of doing great things.'” Confucianism. Mencius IV.B.8

“Happy is the person who finds fault with himself instead of finding fault with others.” Islam. Hadith

“You ought to say ‘If the Lord wills, we shall live and we shall do this or that.’ As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil.” Christianity. James 4:16.

“When man appears before the Throne of Judgment, the first question he is asked is not, ‘Have you believed in God,’ or ‘Have you prayed and performed ritual acts,’ but ‘Have you dealt honorably, faithfully in all your dealings with your fellowman?” Judaism. Talmud, Shabbat 31a.

“The self is the one invincible foe when acting with the four cardinal passions: anger, pride, deceitfulness, and greed.” Jainism. Uttaradyayana Sutra 23.38

“Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes and shrewd in their own sight!” Judaism. Isaiah 5.21

“If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” Christianity. 1 John 1.8.

“Nor do I absolve my own self of blame; the human soul is certainly prone to evil, unless my Lord do bestow His mercy.” Islam. Qur’an 12.53.

“If you desire to obtain help, put away pride. Even a hair of pride shuts you off, as if by a great cloud.” Shinto. Oracle of Kasuga

“If I justify myself, my own mouth shall condemn me: If I say, I am perfect, it shall also prove me perverse.” Judaism. Job 9.20

“Confucius said, A faultless man I cannot hope ever to meet; the most I can hope for is to meet a man of fixed principles. Yet where all around I see Nothing pretending to be Something, Emptiness pretending to be Fullness, Penury pretending to be Affluence, even a man of fixed principles will be none too easy to find.” Confucianism. Analects 7.25

“Lo! God loves not each braggart boaster. Be modest in your bearing and subdue your voice. Lo! The harshest of all voices is the voice of the ass.” Islam. Qur’an 31.18-19.

“Subdue pride by modesty, overcome hypocrisy by simplicity, and dissolve greed by contentment.” Jainism. Samanasuttam 136.

“The Lord lives in the heart of every creature. He turns them round and round upon the wheel of his Maya. Take refuge utterly in Him. By his grace you will find supreme peace, and the state which is beyond all change.” Hinduism. Bhagavad Gita 18.61-62.

“Should anyone be victim of great anxiety, his body racked with maladies, beset with problems, with pleasure and pain alternating, wandering in all four directions without peace or rest-should he then contemplate the Supreme Being, peaceful shall his mind and body become. Sikhism. Adi Granth, Sri Raga, M. 5, p. 70.

“Those who see all creatures within themselves and themselves in all creatures know no fear. Those who see all creatures in themselves and themselves in all creatures know no grief. How can the multiplicity of life delude the one who sees its unity? ” Hinduism. Isha Upanishad 6-7.

In the unity of love, I send you my words and my prayers for your own well-being, despite all doubts, this day and always.

Glenda Taylor

Earthsprings, January 2009

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