In search of the Right Question

‘Wisdom is gained not from the answer but from the right question.’ The answers may be temporary, but the ultimate questions are permanent. The development of any society depends on the extent and scope of the questions it seeks to answer. The search for the right questions can be commences out of curiosity and inquisitiveness. The initial answers may provide mere information, which later can lead to knowledge and then wisdom. Asking a question does not mean protesting or denying the authority of any individual or institution. The question leads to clarity. Asking questions opens new vistas of possibilities. The ultimate prosperity of any society depends on the questions raised by the people. As a million-step journey starts with the first step, the same way endless possibility can unfold itself with a simple, innocent question. The attainment of self-confidence and self-knowledge is impossible without asking the essential questions to the self. ‘It is an ultimate question that enlightens, not the answer.’

The Gita is nothing but a tale of Arjuna’s temporal questions and Krishna’s eternal answers. 11 Ganadhars could accept Vardhman as Guru only after they got their answers. Instead of accepting Plato’s ideas, Aristotle keeps on asking new questions and adding new ideas to the existing body of knowledge. In today’s tradition, we consider ourselves wise only by acquiring information through the lecture system. Mere information can never bring intelligence. To be intelligent, one must introspect alone – it cannot be done in public. A shepherd may think he is leading the flock, and the flock may think the owner leads them. Both are happy in their illusions. Nevertheless, if both ask themselves the basic questions, they will realize their current state. There is a gap between philosophy and science as we have started disregarding the art of discussion and asking questions.

Asking questions has always been our tradition. However, gradually it has started becoming archaic. As a substitute, the commandments have started becoming the norms rather than the practice. The ultimate questions of the human world are unchanged. What is an ethical or unethical action? Who is the doer, and what are the consequences of the good or bad deeds?How should one decide what to do or not to do? Why maintain modesty in practice? Modern science accepts that life does not come from outside. It even considers the external factors affecting human life. Our religious and cultural tradition also talks about the internal activities of human life as an antidote for the stability of life and peace of mind. However, it is presented in the form of logical arguments, not as commandments. Hence, religion and science run parallel, and both have the scope of asking questions if their foundations are strong.

By distinguishing the emotional development and intellectual development for no reason, we have separated the two bases of life. The integral development of life requires the development of faith and the development of intellect. As the intellectual development of faith has been neglected, chaos grows in our religious life. The fundamental status of our life is inconsistency. In order to find balance in this state, we need to maintain religion, science and material possessions concurrently. If any of these factors are given more prominence, the imbalance will creep in. The first step towards integral development is asking questions courageously and not surrendering to authority. Every child’s question should be answered with apt reasoning and basic explanation rather than imposing ‘this is the way’ to do it. Such upbringing will lead to a rock-solid foundation of truth.

Seminars, periodicals, and dialogues should constantly provide the opportunities to ask fundamental questions and lead to in-depth discourse that make us think with logical argument and strengthen our faith. The question is the way to the light of knowledge. Blocking the questions is to block the light of knowledge. Somehow, we did not allow the culture of asking questions to develop. The slogan ‘all is well’ has become our favourite mantra. That is why the mind gets confused with a simple and basic question. The questions are not to break the establishment. A young child would constantly ask apparently childish-looking questions. There is a curiosity to know in every question. We should never silence any such questions. Unaware of how dangerous and restrictive this activity is, we are running away from the question. We like to live with our beliefs and convenient truth.

In fact, the glory of solitude is natural to all thinking beings who feel safe in solitude. When a question arises, two things can be achieved through its answer. The first is to listen to other’s point of view with ideological openness. The second is to liberate ourselves from one-sided ego. We have heard this incident many times of Lord Mahavira and Gautam (aka Indrabhuti). Lord had asked ‘Gautam, why is it that the idea of the independent existence of the soul still bothering your brain?’ Hearing these words, Indrabhuti was overwhelmed with amazement as he had the same doubts in his mind. Lord Mahavir resolved the doubts of Indrabhuti’s mind by quoting hymns of the Veda. As a result, he accepted Lord Mahavira as Guru and became his first disciple.

People with opposing views can be convinced if their doubts are resolved with the light of knowledge. However, if we do not know the origin of that light, we cannot explain the experience or glory of that light to anyone else. A true seeker can answer the question of how to execute day-to-day from a wise introspective point of view. It is not so important ‘what’ one does, but the most important is ‘how’ one does the day-to-day activity – everything needs to be done consciously. Lord Mahavira calls it Samiti – i.e., equitable activity. We must give balanced importance to science and philosophy to strengthen our logic and faith by doubting and questioning. To attain that balance, let us keep reading, keep introspecting and above all – keep asking the right questions.

Dr.Sejal Shah (Ph.D)

In the Month of January ‘Jain Avenue Magazine’ will have ”Ahimsa” as it’s theme.
Readers you can also share your research articles with us for this special issue. For Ahimsa Issue please send your article by email at your article should reach us on or before 15th December on above email address.