Question

It is more important to listen to questions than to answer them. To listen with full intent, with full openness, with a genuine desire to understand not the question only, but the question behind the question, and to be at one with the questioner - this is an engagement very difficult.

We are not immortal, but our acts are... The question is not why we exist but whether we deserve to exist as supposedly rational beings if we act like conquerors rather than caring beings willing to share the planet with all those who are less powerful, and to act with restraint in respecting the needs of others and all life to come. As a species, we are on trial to see whether rationality was an advance or a tragic mistake.

Some people ask why the righteous suffer in this world. To a great extent the question is based on a misconception. Often, the criteria people use to judge whether another person is living a good life or not is by his financial standard of living... A truly righteous person by definition lives a happy life. Such a person has internalized the awareness that all the occurrences in his life are for the good, and he has satisfaction from his life. His life has meaning and purpose. His whole being is focused on spiritual elevation. He deeply feels that the good life is to fulfill the will of the Almighty and hence he feels great pleasure in the good deeds that he performs.

The falseness of an opinion is not for us any objection to it. The question is how far it is life-furthering, life-preserving, species-preserving.

Yet it may be asked how a man can be at once free and forced to conform to wills which are not his own. How can the opposing minority be both free and subject to laws to which they have not consented? I answer that the question is badly formulated. The citizen consents to all the laws, even to those that are passed against his will, and even to those which punish him when he dares to break any one of them. The constant will of all the members of the state is the general will; it is through it that they are citizens and are free.

When a law is proposed in the people’s assembly, what is asked of them is not precisely whether they approve of the proposition or reject it, but whether it is in conforming with the general will which is theirs; each by giving his vote gives his opinion on this question, and the counting of votes yields a declaration of the general will. When, therefore, the opinion contrary to my own prevails, this proves only that I have made a mistake, and that what I believed to be the general will was not so. If my particular opinion had prevailed against the general will, I should have done something other than what I had willed, and then I should not have been free. This presupposes, it is true, that all characteristics of the general will are still to be found in the majority; when these cease to be there, no matter what position men adopt, there is no longer any freedom.

Wherever there is lost the consciousness that every man is an object of concern for us just because he is a man, civilization and morals are shaken, and the advance to fully developed inhumanity is only a question of time.

The question why there is evil in existence is the same as why there is imperfection... But this is the real question we ought to ask: Is this imperfection the final truth, is evil absolute and ultimate?

There is no readier way for a man to bring his own worth into question than by endeavoring to detract from the worth of other men.

Man’s actions proceed from his innate character and the motives acting upon him. What is conscience and the perception of right and wrong in actions that follows from the consciousness of freedom? That is a question for ethics.

If a person is indecisive about which of two courses of action to take, the question to ask himself is: “Which choice will bring more honor to the Almighty?” The reply to this question is the path to choose.

What is man after all but a question? To ask and only to ask, to ask honestly and boldly, and to wait humbly for an answer is He here.

The greatest right in the world is the right to be wrong. If the Government or majorities think an individual is right, no one will interfere with him; but when agitators talk against the things considered holy, or when radicals criticise, or satirize the political gods, or question the justice of our laws and institutions, or pacifists talk against war, how the old inquisition awakens, and ostracism, the excommunication of the church, the prison, the wheel, the torture-chamber, the mob, are called to suppress the free expression of thought.

The first key to wisdom is this - constant and frequent questioning - for by doubting we are led to question and by questioning we arrive at the truth.

While an open mind is priceless, it is priceless only when its owner has the courage to make a final decision which closes the mind for action after the process of viewing all sides of the question has been completed. Failure to make a decision after due consideration of all the facts will quickly brand a man unfit for a position of responsibility. Not all of your decisions will be correct. None of us is perfect. But if you get into the habit of making decisions, experience will develop your judgment to a point where more and more of your decisions will be right. After all, it is better to be right 51 percent of the time and get something done, than it is to get nothing done because you fear to reach a decision.

Education should be a way of making inquiring minds inquire. Students enter school as question marks but in too many schools they leave as periods. We must teach them to imagine, to train their memories.

You cannot take any performance (even an interior performance) as itself an act of intention; for if you describe a performance, the fact that it has taken place is not a proof of intention; words for example may occur in somebody’s mind without his meaning them. so intention is never a performance in the mind, though in some matters a performance in the mind which is seriously meant may make a difference to the correct account of the man’s action - e.g., in embracing someone. But the matters in question are necessarily ones in which outward acts are ‘significant’ in some way.

“What is eternity?” was a question once asked at the deaf and dumb institution of Paris, and the beautiful and striking answer was given by one of the pupils, “The lifetime of the Almighty.”

The question of bread for myself is a material question, but the question of bread for my neighbor is a spiritual question.

To teach Zen means to unteach; to see life steadily and see it whole, the answer not being divided from the question; no parrying, dodging, countering, solving, changing the words; an activity which is a physical and spiritual unity with All-Activity.