Doubt – the First and Biggest Obstacle

Swami Niranjanananda Saraswati

Swami Sivananda used to say that doubt is the first barrier in spiritual life. It is the first obstacle. Doubt actually takes you away from your path. Doubt is supposed to be the first obstacle and it can happen at any time. Doubt is a natural expression of the weak mind, the infirm mind, the unsettled mind. It is this nature of the mind which has to be first managed, controlled and developed. The antidote of doubt is vishwas, believing, trusting.


Reflecting back on my half century of life, I do not see or recall having had any doubt ever. I never doubted whatever my guru said, or whatever he did, or whatever he was. In fact, I only realized that doubt is the first obstacle when I read Swami Sivananda’s article, for I had never experienced it.

Suddenly things started to fall into place. I used to think why other people are behaving in this funny manner. Sometimes they are accepting, sometimes they are not accepting. When they are accepting, there is trust and faith; and when they are not accepting, there is always a doubt and criticism.

Afterwards, I started to watch people. I realized that this doubt is the eccentric behaviour of the mind. This doubt comes when there is desire for self-gratification and desire of being selfless. In both situations, self-gratification and selflessness, doubts come up for human behaviour is only desire.

Desire and comparison

From morning until evening, you are in the realm of desire all the time. Desire affects your interaction with other people because you feel that they are not compatible. The desire to have your own authority, the desire to have your own post and position, the desire to be able to tell other people what to do and to project yourself as somebody who is big or important. These desires actually guide your motivations.

When you see that there is no scope for your desire fulfilling itself in this direction or in that direction, doubt comes in: ‘Why am I not able to fulfil it? Is there, something wrong? Am I not being guided? Am I not being instructed?’ Then comparisons begin: ‘That person is advancing, I am not. This person is doing that, I am not.’ After the comparisons, the jealousies begin, then hatred comes in. From doubt, you are actually destroying all your life.

Be aware and manage

I never had any doubt, neither about Swami Satyananda, his teachings, his lifestyle, or his mission. In my heart I knew that if he is my guru, he always does the best for me. If he is the gardener of my life, he will ensure that my plants in the garden are well looked after.

As a gardener, he will ensure that the best is grown in me. If thorns grow in me, it is because he felt that I was appropriate for the thorns and not the flower. In both cases, I accepted him totally as the gardener of my life. Whatever he did, he was the master.

When you do not have the confidence, when you do not have the trust, which are your own inner creations, doubts will arise. Therefore, Swami Sivananda classifies doubt as the first major obstacle in spiritual life.

People say cultivate this, cultivate that, yet I would say the opposite: Eradicate doubt, forget cultivation; be aware of the main obstacle in your life and try to manage it. If the antidote of doubt is faith, trust and belief, then cultivate that with wisdom, not just blindly, but with correct intention and appropriate action.

There is no guideline for overcoming doubt. There is no meditation, there is no asana or pranayama. You just have to be aware of that state of mind and learn to manage it.

The shade of doubt

Doubt is like leprosy. It simply grows. Once you are captured by doubt, you become a mental leper. There is no hope after that, once doubt takes root. All the best intentions and motivation cannot help, and there is no medicine to cure doubt. The only antidote for doubt is faith. If you are established in faith, doubts cannot shake you.

I found the shade of doubt in everyone. I realized that doubt was the reason why people are unable to progress in their spiritual life. Despite receiving instructions, ideas, inspiration and motivation, there is failure due to doubt. Therefore, it is doubt which has to be managed.

13 March 2016, Ganga Darshan, Munger