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What Is the Difference Between Powerless and Burning Spiritual Questions?

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By Adam J. Pearson

Q: What is the difference between a powerless and a burning spiritual question?

A: All spiritual questions are absolutely powerless, but some questions can be more or less relatively useful in focusing the mind and absorbing all doubts into their all-consuming fire. The key difference between a powerful and a powerless spiritual question is the presence or absence of urgency, sincerity, and earnestness.

A powerless spiritual question is one we learned from somebody else that we are pantomiming asking ourselves because we think we “should” want to know its answer, but which we aren’t really sincerely interested in. Such a question is powerless because questions that don’t arise organically from within have no juice or earnest fire in them with the power to captivate and focus attention. Powerless spiritual questions–which we simply heard from other people or don’t really care about–have no power to fascinate, obsess, and render the mind one-pointed. They have no power to absorb all doubts and other questions into themselves. Such questions simply feed more thought; they do not generate a ball of burning tension and doubt so intense that it leaves no way out except to explode in the revelation of its ever-present answer.

It is not necessary to make up a spiritual question if we don’t have one already; abiding in the Mind before thinking or the simple sense of being aware is more than enough. However, if a natural, organic, burning question bubbles up from within, this can be a skillful means in itself.

A powerful, driving, burning spiritual question focuses interest and attention like a lens intensifying a laser beam, a magnifying glass focusing the light of the sun into a burning point, or a single balloon being filled with more and more air until it bursts. If we continually pump up a single all-consuming, authentic question with interest and attention, it will eventually pop and obliterate the question in the light of its answer, which is not another thought, but the Source of all thoughts. This is the heart of Rinzai Zen in a nutshell: it attempts to give rise to an authentic question that can obsess the conceptual mind until it bursts in its utter inability to answer the burning question and the truth stands thoughtlessly revealed. But if the question doesn’t arise organically from within and have a driving energy behind it, it does not have the power to serve this all-important function. Such a question just becomes a movement in intellectual confusion or fruitless cleverness, which amount to the same thing.

A sincerely burning question arises from within and totally baffles and stuns us. It’s the question we’re afraid to ask because we fear we won’t know the answer, while also being the question we sincerely, earnestly, and authentically yearn and burn to answer. Powerful spiritual questions carry an energy of motivating urgency that transforms them into the substance of an entire spiritual practice. When such a question arises, everything converges on it, everything becomes of service to it, everything aims to clarify it. It consumes and absorbs all other questions and doubts into itself like a black hole. A skillful spiritual question is a natural, organic koan that arises from within and having arisen, becomes a great black hole that sucks everything into itself and burns ever-brighter in the process. Nothing short of being obliterated by truth itself can put an end to it; that’s its relative value.

If this sounds too abstract, let’s consider an example of a powerful, authentic spiritual question. Before he attained the enlightenment that silenced his burning question, the Zen Master Bankei Yōtaku (盤珪永琢) read the first line in a Confucian classic called The Great Learning (大學), which said:

“The way of great learning lies in clarifying bright virtue.”

From this simple opening line, the question arose: “What is this bright virtue?” Bankei asked  this spontaneously arising burning question to his teacher, but his teacher couldn’t answer. He went on to visit other great teachers and put his burning question to them too, but they also couldn’t answer it. Bankei knew that they couldn’t answer because a true answer explodes and dissolves the question once and for all, and their answers were only absorbed into the fire of this great question. Their ‘answers’ only reinforced the question and intensified and inflamed it like bellows pumping up a fire with more and more air. This single question became so strong for Bankei that it burned up all other questions; all his doubts were absorbed together into this one question: What is bright virtue? He was so obsessed with it that he traveled all over Japan asking every eminent teacher he could find about it, whether Confucian, Taoist, or Buddhist. No one could answer.

When the answer finally came–and it came, not in a verbal form, but in a direct seeing into the essential nature of reality, a direct revelation of the ever-present–it exploded the question like an atomic bomb. Bankei’s mind blew open and there it was: the very awareness that had been entertaining the question of “what is the bright virtue?” the entire time had always been it: the bright virtue, the Unborn Buddha Mind! This original Mind is prior to all questions and answers; from the beginning, there are no questions, so all questions are absolutely useless. But this question was relatively useful; it took Bankei from utter confusion through a terrain of madness and agonizing practice into awakening.

To make headway on this pathless path, it can be helpful to simplify and declutter. If we have no burning questions, then we can abide in the empty Mind prior to thinking, which is the endpoint of all spiritual questions anyway.  If we do have questions, however, it can be helpful to throw out all of the spiritual questions we learned from others or don’t care about and zoom in on our single all-consuming doubt, the hardest, most burning question we have. Having done so, we can focus on it like a laser beam and resolutely and earnestly refuse to swerve from it until it detonates into a direct revelation that explodes the question and leaves no more doubt in its wake. In the wake of the explosion, the original Mind before the question arose will be shining just as bright as it was when the mad search for an answer was going on, but it itself will be the answer that puts the question to rest. Not through thinking, but through silence.

Part of a series on Nonduality, Jana Yoga and Zen:
Throw Out Your Spiritual Answers

Great Doubt Expresses Great Faith

Beyond Experiencing

Movements of the Immovable

One Step is One Too Many: Waking Up as Stripping Away

Beauty, Wonder, and the Invitation Home

Glimpses vs. Stabilization on the Way of Jnana Yoga

The Heart of the Way: Not One, Nor Two

Everything You Experience “Now” is Remembered: Neuroscience and Nonduality

Read More from Adam Pearson at


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    • goastdale

      123’s of true Christianity v popular & damnable heresies
      (simply because you “confess” it does not mean you actually are, the devil has deceived many of his own children to believe they are Christians 2Tim 3:5)

      “WHO” it was (what person) that came “IN THE FLESH”, IS THE DETERMINING FACTOR IN WHAT IT MEANS TO BE “ANT-CHRIST”! Even Islam claims Jesus was the Jewish messiah/Christ who was to come in the flesh) they all deny “WHO” it was (what person) that came (to be the Christ) in the flesh!?!…….To deny the father is to deny the son because they are one and the same person that came in the flesh!

      JOHN 14: 8-20 where Christ specifically identifies himself (his person as the person of both the father and the HS; the only distinction is in “location” and “method of manifestation” …….Note Isaiah 9:6. For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: …: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counseller, … the everlasting Father ….The son, father/Holy Spirit are all the same person, NOT like two different persons working together even as “one flesh” ….The “oneness” between Christ and the father is not comparable to a man & his wife, for only a fool would say “When you have seen me you have seen my wife, how sayest thou then, Shew us your wife?” Notice they asked to see THE FATHER and the response was Jn 14:9 ..“HAVE I BEEN SO LONG time with you, and yet hast THOU NOT KNOW ME, Philip…..Now image some fool trying to claim that statement if you asked to see his wife!?!!? You want to see the FATHER but have I been with you but you don’t know me!?!?!

      Jn 14 continued….…………..17. Even THE SPIRIT OF TRUTH; (Jn 14:6 I AM the way, THE TRUTH,) whom the world cannot receive, .. for HE DEWLLETH WITH YOU, (present tense/standing next to them in the flesh) and SHALL BE IN YOU… (future tense “In them”) 18. I will not leave you comfortless: I WILL COME TO YOU (future tense “In them”) Note: The spirit of Christ is the sprit of God and the holy spirit that is why Christ said “I will come to you” (to comfort them, because Christ is the comforter). The spirit was standing next to them in flesh… ….latter it would come to them to be inside of them (inside of their flesh as the spirit we are given)…..that is why. he would send the spirit…… However, Jesus himself here makes the point that the same person who was the HOLY SPIRIT that would come was standing next to them but lets them know “I will come to you again to be Inside of you”

      The whole point to Gal 3:20.a mediator is NOT A MEDIATOR OF ONE, (HEIS) but GOD IS ONE. (HEIS) again, point blank, identifies the number of persons of God! The “but” points out the contrast between multiple persons in a mediation party v the “one” of God. God is not like a mediation party with multiple different persons. …..”the express image of his person” ( the person of God; singular not plural).Any attempt to lay claim otherwise is willful ignorance and delusional nonsense

      NOTE: don’t be that one in prov 26:12 over my use of the word “fool” here prov 18:13 ( ) “But but, the gospel of John…the Gospel of John …look look…” which is quite ironic since the gospel of John does not leave ANY room for multiple different persons of Jesus and father. However the gospel of John does leave a few verses that facilitate God’s promise in 2 Thess 2:11/ Isaiah 66:4 (take note of “HAND” in verse 2,14..You just can’t make this stuff up…God is surely laughing at these fools; Ps 2:1&4)

      ……Mark 12:28…Which is the first commandment of all? 29. …Hear, O Israel; THE LORD OUR GOD IS ONE LORD: 30. And ………..this is the first commandment….. 31. And the second is…..

      TRINITARIANS CONFESS JESUS /THEY ARE NOT POLYTHEIST BUT ARE MONOTHEIST LIKE A LIAR & THIEF WHO “CONFESS” THEY DO NOT LIE OR STEAL The simple fact is that just because you confess or deny that you are in an adulterous relationship and denounce all forms of adultery has nothing to do with whether or not it is in fact adulterous! .. …A rose by any other name is still just a rose AND calling it a water lily does not change the definition of what a water Lilly or a rose is either!…No, Trinitarians confess & preach literally …”ANOTHER JESUS” 2 Cor 11:4

      - Like a thief in your house caught stealing your things insisting he was not there stealing “I CONFESS I am NOT stealing”. You just do not “properly understand” what he is doing/saying. Further, since you never had a “proper understanding” of what he is doing/saying you have no business accusing him since you do not even know what you are talking about in the first place. It is with and in your own ignorance that you base your “false accusations” & “ad homonym attacks” against him…… Ridiculous of course it is ……2Thess 2:11; Titus 1:16; 2Tim 3:5;

      - A Favorite tool for pathological liars is to use incongruent definitions or create oxymorons out of synonyms such as “a person” and “a being” so as to claim that your god is THREE DIFFERENT PERSONS but ONLY ONE BEING: Which is (1) no different then trying to claim that “THREE DIFFERENT CARS” is “THE ONE VEHICLE” (2) blatant demonstration of the dishonesty & sorcery these children of hell will employ with “a strait face” (which is in part what it means to be a pathological liar)
      ……but, ah i remember how this game is played… “God is three in one” (or 1in 3 or 3in one et al) should have given you a hint, harking back to Satan in The garden…God said you will die…Satan comes along and states no you will be more WISE……today .God said He is one; but Satan’s children come along and say no three is more WISE and humble in the face of God’s grandeur only “a mystery” that can be understood “in faith”. God uses head and right arm to explain the distinctions between father and son.. However, the Trinitarian heretics say to the effect: “NO, that is just a figure of speech, or that is not what God really means. What God is really saying is that God is three different persons”. Fools, hypocrites and blind guides, God said he was One and by your traditions and vain imaginations have taken the words of God and made them of no effect, refashioning God into your image!

      You can download the complete FREE book from

      #2 SECOND COMING Thou Fool! “I come quickly” so “Hold fast
      till i come”… NOT …“in another 2000 yrs I might be coming soon any time now, so hold fast”!?! …those that deny the second coming of Christ in the war of AD70 are practicing a damnable heresy in denying the lord that bought them ( 2Peter 2:1-2 ;2Tim 4:8/ you cant love an appearing you deny& the context is the 2nd coming not the first)… Mat 7:23..”I NEVER KNEW YOU” …..Mat 10:33. But whosoever shall deny me before men……..sound familiar?…. If I said I am coming to your house in this generation when these things happen but no one knows the day or hour what fool would think I might be coming in 2000 years latter!?!? ..2 Tim 4: 4. And
      they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be TURNED UNTO FABLES.
      2Thess 2: 11. And for this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie: 12. That they all might be damned who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness.



      #3 There is a sharp contrast between THREE groups :

      (1) “PREDESTINED DAMNED” who were NEVER written in the book of life ………..Rev 17: 8 WHOSE NAMES WERE NOT WRITTEN IN THE BOOK OF LIFE FROM THE FOUNDATION OF THE WORLD, …as contrasted …EPH 1: 4. According as he hath CHOSEN US in him BEFORE THE FOUNDATION OF THE WORLD

      (2) “MANY CALLED”= ONLY and ALL SAINTS (those who come to Christ) are written in the book of life … Philippians 4:3… ……Rev 21:27; (Only saints are Called and elect; Rom 1:6-7 et al) This is THE CHRUCH and ONLY these can have their names blotted out of the book of life ….….Heb 12:23 to the general assembly and CHURCH of the firstborn … WHICH ………are WRITTEN in heaven,

      (3) THE FEW CHOSEN: Those saints who were alive in group #2 who are now physically dead. They died “faithful” these are the FEW that were chosen faithful…….Rev 3:5. ……; and I
      will not BLOT OUT HIS NAME OUT OF THE BOOK OF LIFE, (Ps 69:28) …. These are the FEW that are CHOSEN and now that they have died and are saved then “once saved THEY CAN NEVER BE LOST”

      Predestination….its true..its all true…download here

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