Faith is something very personally meaningful to me. It is something difficult to understand, and it is something that is not often spoken about within the context of a buddhist tradition.
The word we normally translate as faith from the Pali language, the language of the original Buddhist texts, is saddhā, which literally means “to place the heart upon.” Saddhā means to give our hearts over to, or place our hearts upon something. Its meaning can vary a lot, depending on what we put our heart upon or the quality with which we give our hearts over. So there are a number of different ways faith can be manifest.
Sometimes faith means trust. In your reflections you can contemplate: Is there some quality within yourself that you trust? Awareness, love, critical thinking? What do you trust? I remember having a great deal of difficulty with my practice at one point in my life and my teacher said to me: “You just sit and walk. The dharma will take care of the rest.” I was trying too hard to “make the practice work,” and the faith that came from simply trusting that the practice would work all by itself has been tremendously helpful for me. Faith can also take the form of inspiration, where all of our being comes together behind something, behind an endeavor. This doesn’t feel like a struggle, because we are so inspired to engage in a pursuit. We might be inspired by a teacher or a teaching, but whatever it is a sense of possibility is awakened for us. This initial inspiration is what brings us to a practice or to any deeper exploration, and it helps sustain us in the difficulties we inevitably encounter.
Faith can mean confidence. You might think of a time in your life when you faced a task that was a little bit daunting, but you had a quality of confidence so you persevered. As we begin to practice, there may be a lot of restlessness and sleepiness and resistance and pain and boredom and angst – all kinds of different experiences. It can be very hard. But what allows us to keep going? What allows us to say “Well, maybe this is just the way things are in the beginning, or maybe this is just going to take some time, and I need to devote time to see what happens?” What allows us to take that risk and keep going? This also is a form of faith.
Another way we might think of faith is in terms of patience: when we can be present in a situation and allow it to unfold without needing to manipulate it, letting things take their natural course, allowing things time to ripen. You might think of a time in your life when this was very present for you. The faith that inspires us to take a step away from the normal dictates of society, as it defines happiness, success, prosperity or goodness, and perhaps to begin a meditation practice is courage. We step back from our conditioning, from our past, from our belief systems, and then we step forward to take a look in order to allow the truth to speak to us, in order to be present for whatever might be revealed through our own experience. All this takes courage, and this courageous aspect of faith is by no means insignificant. The purity and simplicity of faith is very powerful. Faith is what begins our energy, our willingness to look; it is what sustains it. It is what allows us to take a risk, to open up to seeing the truth for ourselves, rather than simply going along conventionally or conveniently believing only what we have been told.
So, Just what is faith? I prefer to think of faith as the willing suspension of disbelief. So rather than thinking of it as the assumption or the taking up of a belief, it’s the willing suspension of disbelief – a willingness to be open, to explore, to investigate.
Peace and Love, Jim