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Doubt in Hindu Philosophy – A Method Of Gathering Knowledge In Hinduism

Doubt (known as Samasya in Hindu philosophy) is one of the sixteen categories accepted in Nyaya Philosophy. In Hinduism, knowledge is either valid or invalid.

According to Naiyayikas, knowledge based on perception (anubhava) is valid.
But those based on remembrance (smriti), doubt, error and hypothetical argument is invalid.  These are sources of invalid cognition, because they are not sure and definite or they do not impart the true nature of the object.

 A Method Of Gathering Knowledge In Hinduism

Doubt in Hinduism is defined as the knowledge which is both of a positive and negative nature and is opposite to the nature of an object. Thus, the exact characteristic or salient features of an object are indefinite, so that a firm decision about the object is not possible.

According to Nyaya Sutra, doubt arises because of five reasons:
  • Some common features between one object and other similar but not alike object (samana dharma) lead to doubt whether this is that or not.
For Example – On seeing a block at a distance in dim light, one is doubtful whether it is a man or pillar. This is doubt. Though some gross characteristics may appear, they belong to both and one is not in a position to determine specifically. This is a doubt due to similar attributes.
  • Sometimes some special features of more than one object are found in a single object (aneka dharma) and that leads to doubt as to what it is.
For example – listening to a multilingual man who has also adopted different habits from different people, one doubts which region he belongs to.
  • At some point, opposite features are found in the same object, which lead to doubt.
An example of opposite features is the doubt in the existence of self (atma); why is it not perceived? If it is not, why is it felt or experience?
  • Sometimes real and false create doubt or doubt arises about the appearance of false as real.
An example of this kind is the doubt about the reality of water seen in a desert, to whether it is water or a mirage.
  • Unattainability of the truth of the real as well as the unreal creates doubt its reality. It can be called a non-obtaining condition of facts and the reality.
An example of this type is whether the ghost said to be residing in the old tree, but not seen visually, so it really exists or not.

Error (Bhrama) is also invalid knowledge but then doubt is not raised. The untrue decision is taken. On seeing a conch-shell, if one feels, is it a conch shell or silver, then it is a doubt but if one decides that it is silver, then it is an error. The shining of silver and a conch shell in sunshine is similar and this lead to the doubt.

Source - Some of the above notes taken from Encyclopedia of Hinduism Volume IX (IHRF). (page 147 - 148)

Doubting The Existence Of God

Indefinite knowledge leads to alternatives.

Doubt is good if it leads to quest but if it leads to unwanted criticism, violence and lethargy then it is harmful.

If the concept of God is of one sitting somewhere with a remote control then doubt will always exist.

A mind filled with desire will always be doubtful.

Fear is the best friend of doubt.

Doubt can only cleared by properly understanding nature and life.

Doubt will remain as long as we see God different from us. When we see creator in all creation doubt ceases. 

When the mind expands and then completely drops the ego, all doubts will vanish.
Doubt will only perish when we are able to realize the Supreme Truth. The supreme truth has to be realized through self discovery not through borrowed path or by becoming followers. Blind followers and believers will always have doubt.