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Faith in Buddhism

Faith (Pali: saddhā, Sanskrit: Śraddhā) is an important constituent element of the teachings of the Buddha - both in the Theravada tradition and especially in the Mahayana. Some of the first words which the Buddha is alleged to have spoken after deciding to teach Dharma
(Truth) to the world were: “Wide opened is the door of the Immortal to
all who have ears to hear; let them send forth faith [saddha] to meet
it.” (Mahavagga, I, 5,11; Vinaya Texts, T.W. Rhys Davids, Motilal
Banarsidass, Delhi 1996, p. 88). It betokens faith in the reliability
of the Buddha as a truly awakened guide and confident trust in the
truth of the Buddha’s teachings (his Dharma). It can be inspired in
part by the charisma of the Buddha himself. Buddhists claim that it is
certainly not “blind faith” in just anyone and anything.

In the Kalama Sutta
the Buddha himself argues against “blind faith” based simply on
authority, tradition or specious reasoning; for even though one’s own
experience is emphasized in accepting Buddha and Buddhism, the counsel
of the wise (implicitly meaning a Buddha, ultimately Gautama himself,
or a Buddhist master well versed in Dharma) should always be depended
upon — whence there remains a requirement for a degree of trusting
confidence in Buddhism, essentially in the authority of Gautama as the
ultimate Buddha, based on his spiritual attainment and salvational

Faith in Buddhism centres on the authority of Gautama as a supremely
Awakened being, by assenting to his unsurpassed role as teacher of both
humans and gods, to the truth of his Dharma (spiritual Doctrine), and
in accepting the Sangha (community of spiritually developed followers).
Faith in Buddhism can be said to function as a form of motor, which propels the Buddhist practitioner towards the goal of Awakening (bodhi) and Nirvana.

Buddha Dhamma

Of the teachings of the Shakyamuni Buddha,
faith was subsumed within his earliest discourse: “Wide opened is the
door of the Immortal to all who have ears to hear; let them send forth
faith [saddha] to meet it.”[1]

In the Kalama Sutta, Shakyamuni Buddha remonstrates “blind faith” based upon authority, tradition and/or specious reasoning.

The Pali suttas (scriptures) list faith as one of the Seven Treasures (dhanas), one of the five “spiritual faculties” (indriyas), one of the four “streams of merit”, and one of the “spiritual powers” (balas).

When a person decides to give up domestic life and live as a monk or
nun, it is said to be out of faith “through faith in the Lord”[2]. First comes the hearing () of Dharma and then the apirant follows the Dharma teachings and instructions on faith, reflecting upon the value of its application.

Faith is primarily faith in the Buddha himself as the Teacher of
supreme spiritual realization and accomplishment. The Buddha extols
such faith as befitting a “noble” Buddhist disciple:

“The ariyan [noble] disciple is of faith; he has faith in the
Awakening of the Tathagata [Buddha], and thinks: He is indeed Lord,
perfected one, fully Self-Awakened One, endowed with right knowledge
and conduct, well-farer, knower of the world(s), matchless charioteer
of men to be tamed, teacher of devas [gods] and men, the Awakened One,
the Lord.”

In the Kasibharadvaja Sutta of the Samyutta Nikaya, we have the relationship of faith, practice and wisdom:

Faith is the seed, practice the rain,

And wisdom is my yoke and plough.

Modesty’s the pole, mind the strap,

Mindfulness my ploughshare and goad.

Such faith, it is said, can lead towards Liberation. Indeed, a
person who is “released by faith” can well, in consequence, be “on the
path to arahantship” (spiritual adeptship). It is for such reasons that faith is stated by the Buddha to be appropriate as “a person’s partner” and to be “a man’s best treasure” The Buddha even quotes with evident approval the god Sakka’s Dharma-charged words:

“… faith in the Tathagata

unshakable and well established …

… the person of intelligence,

remembering the Buddha’s Teaching,

should be devoted to faith and virtue,

to confidence and vision of the Dhamma [Dharma].”

Ananda and Vakkali

Two disciples of Buddha in the Theravada canon exemplify faith in Buddha — Ananda and Vakkali.

The power of visionary faith over skepticism is exemplified in An
3.8, a passage which more closely resembles in tone and quality many of
the later Mahayana
sutras. Buddha extols Ananda over the skeptic Udayi when Ananda is awed
and overwhelmed by the power of the Buddha, “Ananda had asked the
Blessed One how far his voice would reach in the universe. The Lord had
answered that the Enlightened Ones were immeasurable and could reach
further than a thousandfold world system (with a thousand suns, a
thousand heavens, and a thousand brahma worlds), even further than a
three-thousandfold world system. They could penetrate all those worlds
with their shining splendor and reach all beings living there with
their voice.

Ananda was delighted with this description, so all-encompassing and
transcending all horizons, and he exclaimed: “How fortunate I am, that
I have such an almighty, powerful master!” Udayi objected: “What good
does it do to you brother Ananda, that your master is almighty and
powerful?” The Buddha immediately took sides with Ananda with the
following words:

“Not so, Udayi, not so, Udayi! Should Ananda die without being fully
liberated; he would be king of the gods seven times because of the
purity of his heart, or be king of the Indian subcontinent seven times.
But Udayi, Ananda will experience final liberation in this very life.”

Vakkali Thera was considered one of the Chief Arahants who had obtained Arahanthood
through faith and love (saddhādhimuttānam) for Buddha. After seeing the
Buddha, he could never tire of looking at him and became a monk just to
be near him. Apart from eating and bathing, spent all his time
meditating on the Buddha’s appearance, to which Buddha admonished
Vakkali with his famous utterence on the transcendental nature of
Buddha’s true Dharmakaya, “The sight of my foul body is useless; he who sees the Dhamma, he it is that seeth me”.[10] Buddha had to command Vakkali to leave. With a heavy heart he went up to Gijjhakuta mountains. In the Apadana
Buddha is said to have spoken to him from the foot of the rock, saying
“Come, monk.” Filled with joy Vakkali jumped down the mountain to greet
Buddha dropping a depth of many cubits but remained unhurt and realized
Arahantship. Here, Buddha declared him to be amongst the foremost among
those of great faith.

Criticism of blind faith

In Buddhism, faith is only one part of five characteristics that a
Noble disciple must possess. In other words, in Buddhism faith is
qualified. Blind faith is especially not treated well. In Sutta 44(iv,
220), Buddha questions Sariputta
to which Sariputta answers, “Herein, O Lord, I do not follow the
Exalted One out of faith. Those by whom this is unknown, unseen,
uncognized, unrealized and unexperienced by wisdom, they will herein
follow others out of faith.” In other words, in blind faith there is no
knowledge or conviction, and one can have blind faith in anyone and
such blind faith never leads to wisdom and true conviction. Only the
actual experience of regular practice can lead to true faith and
conviction born out of realization. “But those by whom this is known,
seen, cognized, realized and experienced by wisdom, they have no
uncertainty, no doubt about it that these five faculties, if cultivated
and regularly practiced, lead to the Deathless, are bound for the
Deathless, end in the Deathless.”

Faith in Mahayana Buddhism

In general, the role of faith in Mahayana Buddhism is as strong as that of the Theravadin. Though the depth and range of faith may be perceived as being intensified, particularly in the tathagatagarbha sutras and the Pure Land literature.

In the Mahaparinirvana Sutra, Shakyamuni Buddha accords a foundational position to faith. Shakyamuni states: “we say that unsurpassed Awakening [bodhi] has faith as its cause. The causes of Awakening are innumerable, but if stated as faith, this covers everything.”

Faith as understood in this, the Buddha’s final Mahayana sutra, is
belief in the teachings of the Buddha and in the Buddha’s own
eternality. More specifically, it is belief in such doctrines as the
law of karma, in the reality and eternity of the Three Jewels (i.e. the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha), as well as in the efficacy of the Buddhist Path. The Buddha comments:

“All that is said in these Mahayana sutras is the truths of the Way [marga]
… As I have already stated, if one believes in the Way, such a Way of
faith is the root of faith. This assists the Way of Awakening … The
Way begins with the root of faith..

The Buddha further notes that a person possessed of faith is superior to one lacking in it:

“There are two kinds of men: one who has faith, and the other who
has not. O Bodhisattva! Know that he with faith is one who is good, and
that he who has no faith is one who is not good.”

Faith in the Buddha is seen as a positive virtue as it leads to more
attentive absorption in Dharma, which in turn strengthens faith still
further. The Buddha remarks: “Faith arises out of listening to Dharma,
and this listening is [itself] grounded in faith.”

Through such faith, along with other spiritual practices, the
Buddhist aspirant is enabled to attain Nirvana, so the Buddha of the Mahaparinirvana Sutra
teaches. Faith is the first step for the Bodhisattva to tread along
that path to Nirvana. It is viewed as a basic requirement, and
crucially entails the understanding that the “real” Buddha is not a
being of flesh and blood who can bleed and who dies, or whose Truth
(Dharma) perishes with his physical body. The true Buddha and his
Dharma are utterly deathless and eternal, so the Mahaparinirvana Sutra insists. This the Bodhisattva is urged to believe:

“First, he [ i.e. the Bodhisattva] is perfect in faith. How is faith
perfect? This is believing deeply that the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha
are Eternal, that all Buddhas of the ten directions [ = everywhere]
make use of expedients [effectively to convey Dharma to the different
types of being], and that beings and icchantikas [ = the most spiritually depraved of persons] all possess the Buddha-dhatu [Buddha-Principle, Buddha-nature
]. It is not believing that the Tathagata is subject to birth, old age,
illness, and death, that he has undergone austerities, and that
Devadatta [ = Buddha’s cousin] really caused blood to flow from the
Buddha’s body, that the Tathagata ultimately enters Nirvana [ = finally
dies], and that authentic Dharma dies out. This is where we speak of
the Bodhisattva’s being perfect in faith.”

Yet faith in the Buddha should not be blind. The Mahayana not infrequently links faith with discernment and spiritual insight (prajna) - spiritual penetration. The following words of the Buddha’s indicate the need for a balance:

“If a person does not possess faith and insight [prajna],
such a person increases his ignorance. If a person possesses insight,
but not faith, such a person will increase [his/her] distorted views.
… A person who has no faith will say, out of an angry mind: ‘There
cannot be any Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha!”

Tathagatagarbha literature

The Nirvana Sutra is not alone in according a foundational position to faith. The “Tathagatagarbha” sutra entitled, Anunatva-Apurnatva-Nirdesa
(”Exposition of Non-Decrease, Non-Increase”) tells of how the essence
of Ultimate Truth, the “Tathagatagarbha”, can be perceived by means of
faith. This matter of the Tathagatagarbha lies beyond the reach of the
foolish, of the ordinary person, unless that person possess faith,
which will gain him or her entry into the realm of the Tathagatagarbha:

“No sravakas [ = elementary students of the Buddha’s] or pratyekabuddhas
[ = “private” Buddhas, who usually sequester themselves away from
people and generally do not teach] are able to know, see or investigate
this matter with their insight. How much less able to do so are foolish
ordinary people, except when they directly realise it by faith!”

Faith is thus presented as a powerful means for the Buddhist
practitioner to penetrate through to, and realise for him/herself, deep
spiritual truths.

It is not only in the tathagatagarbha literature that faith is lauded. In the prajnaparamita
scriptures, too, faith is extolled. Here it is usually in connection
with trust and belief in the sutra which is at that moment being
expounded. Thus in the Prajnaparamita Sutra on How Benevolent Kings May Protect Their Countries,
the Buddha declares that even if living beings were to give away the
most precious substances known to humanity in a huge act of generosity,
still “their merit would not be such as that of the production of one
single thought of serene faith in this Sutra” (Conze II, p. 203). This
and other prajnaparamita sutras explain that such persons who
naturally engender faith in these texts are those who have worshipped
and revered countless Buddhas in past incarnations. Faith comes
naturally to them. Moreover, faith in, and reverence towards, such
sutras is tantamount to faith and reverence directed towards all
Buddhas. The Buddha asserts in the 18,000-Line Prajnaparamita Sutra:

“If anyone, when this deep perfection of wisdom is being preached,
feels respect, affection, and serene faith for it, then he feels
respect, affection and serene faith also for the Buddhas and Lords of
the past, future, and present.”

Pure Land literature

It is perhaps in the “Pure Land” sutras that faith and devotion
reach a pinnacle of soteriological importance. Here it is one’s faith
in the salvific compassion of the Buddha Amitabha,
coupled with one’s development of “roots of goodness” and the earnest
wish to enter the Buddha’s happy land, that is said to bring
deliverance into Buddha Amitabha’s Western Paradise, the “land of
bliss”, preparatory to entry into Awakening and Nirvana. In the Contemplation of Amitayus Sutra, the Buddha tells of the types of being who gain birth in this happy realm - and they are all characterised by faith:

“Those born in the Western Land are of nine grades. Those who attain
birth on the highest level of the highest grade are sentient beings who
resolve to be born in that land, awaken the three kinds of faith and so
are born there. What are the three? They are, first, the sincere faith,
second, the deep faith; and third, the faith that seeks birth there by
transferring one’s merit. Those who have these three kinds of faith
will certainly be born there.”

However, even in these faith-oriented sutras of “Pure Land” Dharma,
faith is often linked with understanding (it is not totally “blind
faith”). The Buddha of the Smaller Pure Land Sutra speaks of faith allied with understanding as a prerequisite for the attainment of supreme Awakening (bodhi), when hearing this text. Thus:

“Furthermore … if there is a good son or good daughter, whether
having already heard this, or shall hear it, or who is now hearing it –
once hearing this Sutra, profoundly is there born an understanding
faith. Once there is born an understanding faith, a certainty about the
accumulations of merit residing in the ten directions with the Buddha
World-Honoured Ones, whose number is like the sands of ten River
Ganges, and they practice as instructed, all will be firmly in the
supremely unexcelled Bodhi.”

This teaching of faith, originally advocated in conjunction with
discernment and Dharmic practice, received a new interpretation in the
teachings of the Japanese Buddhist saint, Shinran Shonin
(1173-1262 CE), who taught that just one recitation of the mantra,
“Homage to Amida Buddha”, with deep faith, would be enough to secure
the faithful person entrance into the Western Paradise. Subsequent
utterances of that formula would be expressions of gratitude to Buddha
Amida (Amitabha). Deep understanding of the Buddha’s teachings and
Buddhic practice were not necessary, Shinran claimed. This
interpretation of the “Pure Land” sutras represents perhaps the zenith
of faith-oriented Buddhism and remains controversial, although
Shinran’s school of “Jodo Shinshu” is today perhaps the largest
Buddhist sect in Japan.

One of the most famous of Mahayana sutras, the Lotus Sutra, also embraces the ideal of faith, but links it to discernment. The Buddha tells his audience in the Lotus Sutra:

“If any living beings who seek after the Buddha-way either see or hear this Law-Flower Sutra [i.e. the Lotus Sutra], and after hearing it believe and discern, receive and keep it, you may know that they are near Perfect Enlightenment.”

The same sutra asserts that the Dharma as a whole is difficult to
grasp with mere words, and that ultimately only those Bodhisattvas who
believe with firm faith can penetrate its nature. The Buddha says:

“This Law [Dharma] is inexpressible,
It is beyond the realm of terms;
Among all the other living beings
None can apprehend it
Except the bodhisattvas
Who are firm in the power of faith.”

Thus faith is a major element within Buddhism. While it is rarely
(if ever) taught by the Buddha in any “blind” form and is often linked
to discernment and understanding, it is nevertheless viewed as a
powerful force which can start the Buddhist practitioner on his or her
spiritual journey and convey him or her towards Awakening itself.
Perhaps the most enthusiastic paean to faith can be found in the
massive Avatamsaka Sutra,
where, to the delight of all the Buddhas, the Bodhisattva
Chief-in-Goodness proclaims the following verses in a great eulogy of
bodhisattvas’ Faith:

“Deep faith, belief, and resolution always pure,
They [ = bodhisattvas] honour and respect all Buddhas …

Deeply believing in the Buddha and the Buddha’s teaching,
They also believe in the Way traversed by buddhas-to-be,
And believe in unexcelled great enlightenment:
Thereby do enlightening beings [ = bodhisattvas] first rouse their will.

Faith is the basis of the Path, the mother of virtues,
Nourishing and growing all good ways,
Cutting away the net of doubt, freeing from the torrent of passion,
Revealing the unsurpassed road of ultimate peace.

When faith is undefiled, the mind is pure;
Obliterating pride, it is the root of reverence,
And the foremost wealth in the treasury of religion …

Faith is generous …
Faith can joyfully enter the Buddha’s teaching;
Faith can increase knowledge and virtue;
Faith can ensure arrival at enlightenment …
Faith can go beyond the pathways of demons,
And reveal the unsurpassed road of liberation.

Faith is the unspoiled seed of virtue,
Faith can grow the seed of enlightenment.
Faith can increase supreme knowledge,
Faith can reveal all Buddhas …
Faith is most powerful, very difficult to have;
It’s like in all worlds having
the wondrous wish-fulfilling pearl.”

Faith In Awakening

The Buddha never placed unconditional demands on anyone’s faith. And for anyone from a culture where the dominant religions do
place such demands on one’s faith, this is one of Buddhism’s most
attractive features. We read his famous instructions to the Kalamas, in
which he advises testing things for oneself, and we see it as an
invitation to believe, or not, whatever we like. Some people go so far
as to say that faith has no place in the Buddhist tradition, that the
proper Buddhist attitude is one of skepticism.

But even though the Buddha recommends tolerance and a healthy
skepticism toward matters of faith, he also makes a conditional request
about faith: If you sincerely want to put an end to suffering — that’s
the condition — you should take certain things on faith, as working
hypotheses, and then test them through following his path of practice.

There’s a hint of this need for faith even in the discourse to the Kalamas:

“Don’t go by reports, by legends, by traditions, by scripture, by
logical conjecture, by inference, by analogies, by agreement through
pondering views, by probability, or by the thought, ‘This contemplative
is our teacher.’ When you know for yourselves that, ‘These mental
qualities are skillful; these mental qualities are blameless; these
mental qualities are praised by the wise; these mental qualities, when
adopted & carried out, lead to welfare and to happiness’ — then you
should enter & remain in them.”

The first few phrases in this passage, refuting the authority of
scripture and tradition, are so strikingly empirical that it’s easy to
miss the phrase buried further on, asserting that you have to take into
account what’s praised by the wise. That phrase is important, for it
helps to make sense of the Buddha’s teachings as a whole. If he had
simply wanted you to trust your own unaided sense of right and wrong,
why would he have left so many other teachings?

So the Buddha’s advice to the Kalamas is balanced: Just as you
shouldn’t give unreserved trust to outside authority, you can’t give
unreserved trust to your own logic and feelings if they go against the
genuine wisdom of others. As other early discourses make clear, wise
people can be recognized by their words and behavior, but the standards
for wisdom are clearly measured against the Buddha and his noble
disciples, people who’ve already touched awakening. And the proper
attitude toward those who meet these standards is faith.

“For a disciple who has conviction in the Teacher’s message &
lives to penetrate it, what accords with the Dhamma is this: ‘The
Blessed One is the Teacher, I am a disciple. He is the one who knows,
not I’… For a disciple who has conviction in the Teacher’s message
& lives to penetrate it, what accords with the Dhamma is this:
‘Gladly would I let the flesh & blood in my body dry up, leaving
just the skin, tendons, & bones, but if I have not attained what
can be reached through human firmness, human persistence, human
striving, there will be no relaxing my persistence.’”

Repeatedly the Buddha stated that faith in a teacher is what leads
you to learn from that teacher. Faith in the Buddha’s own Awakening is
a requisite strength for anyone else who wants to attain Awakening. As
it fosters persistence, mindfulness, concentration, and discernment,
this faith can take you all the way to the deathless.

So there’s a tension in the Buddha’s recommendations about faith and
empiricism. I’ve discussed this point with many Asian Buddhists, and
few of them find the tension uncomfortable. But Western Buddhists,
raised in a culture where religion and faith have long been at war with
science and empiricism, find the tension very disconcerting. In
discussing the issue with them over the past several years, I’ve
noticed that they often try to resolve it in the same ways that,
historically, the tension between Christian faith and scientific
empiricism has been resolved in our own culture. Three general
positions stand out, not only because they are the most common but also
because they are so clearly Western. Consciously or not, they attempt
to understand the Buddha’s position on faith and empiricism in a way
that can be easily mapped onto the modern Western battle lines between
religion and science.

The first interpretation has its roots in the side of Western
culture that totally rejects the legitimacy of faith. In this view, the
Buddha was an embodiment of the Victorian ideal of the heroic agnostic,
one who eschewed the childish consolations of faith and instead
advocated a purely scientific method for training and strengthening
one’s own mind. Because his method focused entirely on the present
moment, questions of past and future were totally irrelevant to his
message. Thus any references to faith in such issues as past karma,
future rebirth, or an unconditioned happiness separate from the
immediate input of the senses are later interpolations in the texts,
which Buddhist agnostics, following the Buddha’s example, should do
their best to reject.

The second interpretation has roots in the side of Western culture
that has rejected either the specifics of Christian faith or the
authority of any organized religion, but has appreciated the emotion of
faith as an essential requirement for mental health. This view presents
the Buddha as a Romantic hero who appreciated the subjective value of
faith in establishing a sense of wholeness within and
interconnectedness without. Tolerant and opposed to dogmatism, he saw
the psychological fact of a living faith as more important than its
object. In other words, it doesn’t matter where faith is directed, as
long as it’s deeply felt and personally nourishing. Faith in the
Buddha’s Awakening means simply believing that he found what worked for
himself. This carries no implications for what will work for you. If
you find the teaching on karma and rebirth comforting, fine: Believe
it. If not, don’t. If you want to include an all-powerful God or a
Goddess in your worldview, the Buddha wouldn’t object. What’s important
is that you relate to your faith in a way that’s emotionally healing,
nourishing, and empowering.

Because this second interpretation tends to be all-embracing, it
sometimes leads to a third one that encompasses the first two. This
interpretation presents the Buddha as trapped in his historical
situation. Much like us, he was faced with the issue of finding a
meaningful life in light of the worldview of his day. His views on
karma and rebirth were simply assumptions picked up from the crude
science of ancient India, while his path of practice was an attempt to
negotiate a satisfying life within those assumptions. If he were alive
today, he would try to reconcile his values with the discoveries of
modern science, in the same way that some Westerners have done with
their faith in monotheism.

The underlying assumption of this position is that science is
concerned with facts, religion with values. Science provides the hard
data to which religion should provide meaning. Thus each Buddhist would
be performing the work of a Buddha by accepting the hard facts that
have been scientifically proven for our generation and then searching
the Buddhist tradition — as well as other traditions, where appropriate
— for myths and values to give meaning to those facts, and in the
process forging a new Buddhism for our times.

Each of these three interpretations may make eminent sense from a
Western point of view, but none of them do justice to what we know of
the Buddha or of his teaching on the role of faith and empiricism on
the path. All three are correct in emphasizing the Buddha’s
unwillingness to force his teachings on other people, but — by forcing
our own assumptions onto his teachings and actions — they misread what
that unwillingness means. He wasn’t an agnostic; he had strong reasons
for declaring some ideas as worthy of faith and others as not; and his
teachings on karma, rebirth, and nirvana broke radically with the
dominant worldview of his time. He was neither a Victorian nor a
Romantic hero, nor was he a victim of his times. He was a hero who,
among other things, mastered the issue of faith and empiricism in his
own way. But to appreciate that way, we first have to step back from
the Western cultural battlefield and look at faith and empiricism in a
more basic context, simply as processes within the individual mind.

There, they play their major roles in the psychology of how we
decide to act. Although we like to think that we base our decisions on
hard facts, we actually use both faith and empiricism in every decision
we make. Even in our most empirically based decisions, our vision is
hampered by our position in time. As Kierkegaard noted, we live
forwards but understand backwards. Any hard-headed business
entrepreneur will tell you that the future has to be taken on faith, no
matter how much we know of the past. What’s more, we’re often forced
into decisions where there’s no time or opportunity to gather enough
past facts for an informed choice. At other times we have too many
facts — as when a doctor is faced with many conflicting tests on a
patient’s condition — and we have to go on faith in deciding which
facts to focus on and which ones to ignore.

However, faith also plays a deeper role in many of our decisions. As
William James once observed, there are two kinds of truths in life:
those whose validity has nothing to do with our actions, and those
whose reality depends on what we do. Truths of the first sort — truths
of the observer — include facts about the behavior of the physical
world: how atoms form molecules, how stars explode. Truths of the
second sort — truths of the will — include skills, relationships,
business ventures, anything that requires your effort to make it real.
With truths of the observer, it’s best to stay skeptical until
reasonable evidence is in. With truths of the will, though, the truth
won’t happen without your faith in it, often in the face of unpromising
odds. If you don’t believe that democracy will work in your nation, it
won’t. If you don’t believe that becoming a pianist is worthwhile, or
that you have the makings of a good pianist, it won’t happen. Truths of
the will are the ones most relevant to our pursuit of true happiness.
Many of the most inspiring stories in life are of people who create
truths of this sort when a mountain of empirical evidence is against
them. In cases like this, the truth requires that faith actively
discount the immediate facts.

If we dig even deeper into the psychology of decision-making, we run
into an area for which no scientific evidence can offer any proof: Do
we actually act, or are actions an illusion? Are our acts already
predetermined by physical laws or an external intelligence, or do we
have free will? Are the results of our acts illusory? Are causal
relationships real, or only a fiction? Even the most carefully planned
scientific experiment could never settle any of these issues, and yet
once we become aware of them we have to take a stand on them if we want
to continue putting any energy into our thoughts, words, and deeds.

These were the areas where the Buddha focused his teachings on
empiricism and faith. Although his first noble truth requires that we
observe suffering until we comprehend it, we have to take on faith his
assertion that the facts we observe about suffering are the most
important guide for making decisions, moment by moment, throughout
life. Because his third noble truth, the cessation of suffering, is a
truth of the will, we have to take it on faith that it’s a possible
goal, a worthwhile goal, and that we’re capable of attaining it. And
because the fourth noble truth — the path to the cessation of suffering
— is a path of action and skill, we have to take it on faith that our
actions are real, that we have free will, and yet that there’s a causal
pattern to the workings of the mind from which we can learn in
mastering that skill. As the Buddha said, the path will lead to a
direct experience of these truths, but only if you bring faith to the
practice will you know this for yourself. In other words, “faith” in
the Buddhist context means faith in the ability of your actions to lead
to a direct experience of the end of suffering.

The Buddha offered these teachings to people seeking advice on how
to find true happiness. That’s why he was able to avoid any coercion of
others: His teachings assumed that his listeners were already involved
in a search. When we understand his views on what it means to search —
why people search, and what they’re searching for — we can understand
his advice on how to use faith and empiricism in a successful search.
The best way to do this is to examine five of his similes illustrating
how a search should be conducted.

The first simile illustrates search in its most raw and unfocused form:

Two strong men have grabbed another man by the arms and are
dragging him to a pit of burning embers. The Buddha notes, “Wouldn’t
the man twist his body this way and that?”

The twisting of his body stands for the way we react to suffering.
We don’t bother to ask if our suffering is predetermined or our actions
have any hope of success. We simply put up a struggle and do what we
can to escape. It’s our natural reaction.

The Buddha taught that this reaction is twofold: We’re bewildered —
“Why is this happening to me?” — and we search for a way to put an end
to the suffering. When he stated that all he taught was suffering and
the end of suffering, he was responding to these two reactions,
providing an explanation of suffering and its end so as to do away with
our bewilderment, at the same time showing the way to the end of
suffering as a way of satisfying our search. He had no use for the idea
— often advanced by later writers in the Buddhist tradition — that our
suffering comes from our struggle to resist suffering; that the search
for an end to suffering is precisely what keeps us from seeing the
peace already there. In the light of the above simile, simply relaxing
into a total acceptance of the moment means relaxing into the prospect
of being burned alive. The present keeps morphing into the future, and
you can’t turn a blind eye to where it’s taking you.

This simile also explains why the idea of a Buddhism without faith
holds little appeal for people suffering from serious illness,
oppression, poverty, or racism: Their experience has shown that the
only way to overcome these obstacles is to pursue truths of the will,
which require faith as their rock-solid foundation.

The second simile:

A man searching for fruit climbs a tree to eat his fill and to
stuff his garments with fruit to take home. While he is there, another
man searching for fruit comes along. The second man can’t climb the
tree but he has an axe, so he chops the tree down. If the first man
doesn’t quickly get out of the tree, he may break an arm or a leg, or
even die.

This simile shows the perils of looking for true happiness in the
wrong place: in sensual pleasures. If your happiness depends on
anything other people can take away from you, you’re putting yourself
in danger. As the Buddha notes, we hope for happiness in sensual
pleasures not because they’ve ever really satisfied us but because we
can’t imagine any other escape from pain and suffering. If we allowed
ourselves to believe that there is another alternative, we’d be
more willing to question our strong faith in our cravings and
attachments, more willing to look for that alternative and give it a
try. And, as the third simile argues, if we look in the right way,
we’ll find it.

A person searching for milk tries to get milk out of a cow by
twisting its horn. Another person searching for milk tries to get milk
out of the cow by pulling at its udder.

The Buddha taught this simile in response to an assertion that there
is nothing a human being can do to attain release from suffering. We can attain it, he said, as long as we follow the right method, like the person pulling at the udder of the cow.

The right method starts with right understanding, and this is where
faith in the Buddha’s Awakening comes in. As the Buddha once stated, he
didn’t tell us everything he awakened to. What he told was like a
handful of leaves; what he learned was like the leaves in the forest.
Still, the leaves in the handful contained all the lessons that would
help others to awaken; right understanding begins with learning what
those specific lessons are.

The most important lesson, and the most important item of faith, is
simply the fact of the Awakening itself. The Buddha achieved it through
his own efforts, and he did so, not because he was more than human, but
because he developed mental qualities that we each have the potential
to develop. To have faith in his Awakening thus means having faith in
your own potential for Awakening.

However, the specifics of what he learned in his Awakening are
important as well. It’s not simply the case that he found what worked
for him, while what works for you may be something else entirely. No
matter how much you twist a cow’s horn, it’ll never produce milk. The
Buddha’s insights penetrated into how things work, what it means for
them to work. These insights apply to everyone throughout time.

When summarizing his Awakening in the most condensed form, the
Buddha focused on a principle of causality that explains how we live in
a world where patterns of causality fashion events, and yet those
events are not totally predetermined by the past.

The principle is actually a dual one, for there are two kinds of
causality interweaving in our lives. The first is that of a cause
giving results in the immediate present: When this is, that is; when this isn’t, that isn’t.
When you turn on a stereo, for example, the noise comes out; when you
turn it off, the noise stops. The second type of causality is that of a
cause giving results over time: From the arising of this comes the arising of that; from the cessation of this comes the cessation of that.
If you study now, you’ll have knowledge long into the future. If you
damage your brain, the negative effects will be long-term as well.

Applied to karma, or intention, the dual principle means this: Any
moment of experience consists of three things: (1) pleasures and pains
resulting from past intentions, (2) present intentions, and (3)
pleasures and pains resulting from present intentions. Thus the present
is not totally shaped by the past. In fact, the most important element
shaping your present experience of pleasure or pain is how you fashion,
with your present intentions, the raw material provided by past
intentions. And your present intentions can be totally free.

This is how there’s free will in the midst of causality. At the same
time, the pattern in the way intentions lead to results allows us to
learn from past mistakes. This freedom within a pattern opens the way
to a path of mental training that can lead to the end of suffering. We
practice generosity, virtue, and meditation to learn the power of our
intentions and in particular to see what happens as our intentions grow
more skillful, so skillful that present intentions actually stop. Only
when they stop can you prove for yourself how powerful they’ve been.
And the spot where they stop is where the unconditioned — the end of
suffering — is found. From there you can return to intentions, but
you’re no longer their captive or slave.

In presenting his teachings on karma and suffering to his listeners,
the Buddha would offer empirical evidence to corroborate them — noting,
for instance, how your reaction to another person’s misery depends on
how attached you are to that person — but he never attempted to back
these teachings with full-scale empirical proof. In fact, he heaped
ridicule on his contemporaries, the Jains, who attempted to prove their
more deterministic teaching on karma by claiming that all those who
kill, steal, lie, or engage in illicit sex will suffer from their
actions here and now. “Haven’t you seen the case,” the Buddha asked,
“where a man is rewarded by a king for killing the king’s enemy, for
stealing from the king’s enemy, for amusing the king with a clever lie,
for seducing the king’s enemy’s wife?” Even though the basic principle
of karma is simple enough — skillful intentions lead to pleasure,
unskillful intentions to pain — the dual principle of causality through
which karma operates is so complex, like a Mandelbrot set, that you
would go crazy trying to nail the whole thing down empirically.

So instead of an empirical proof for his teaching on karma, the
Buddha offered a pragmatic proof: If you believe in his teachings on
causality, karma, rebirth, and the four noble truths, how will you act?
What kind of life will you lead? Won’t you tend to be more responsible
and compassionate? If, on the other hand, you were to believe in any of
the alternatives — such as a doctrine of an impersonal fate or a deity
who determined the course of your pleasure and pain, or a doctrine that
all things were coincidental and without cause — what would those
beliefs lead you to do? Would they allow you to put an end to suffering
through your own efforts? Would they allow any purpose for knowledge at
all? If, on the other hand, you refused to commit to a coherent idea of
what human action can do, would you be likely to see a demanding path
of practice all the way through to the end?

This was the kind of reasoning that the Buddha used to inspire faith
in his Awakening and in its relevance to our own search for true

The fourth simile stresses the importance of not settling for anything less than the genuine thing:

A man searching for heartwood goes into a forest and comes to a
tree containing heartwood, but instead of taking the heartwood, he
takes home some sapwood, branches, or bark.

Faith in the possibility of nirvana — the heartwood of the path — is
what keeps you from getting waylaid by the pleasures of the sapwood and
bark: the gratification that comes from being generous and virtuous,
the sense of peace, interconnectedness, and oneness that comes with
strong concentration. Yet, surprisingly, modern discussions of the role
of faith in the Buddha’s teachings rarely mention this point, and focus
on faith in karma and rebirth instead. This is surprising because
nirvana is much less related to our everyday experience than either
karma or rebirth. We see the fruits of our actions all around us; we
see people being born with distinct personalities and differing
strengths, and it’s only a short leap to the idea that there’s some
connection between these things. Nirvana, however, isn’t connected to
anything we’ve experienced at all. It’s already there, but hidden by
all our desires for physical and mental activity. To touch it, we have
to abandon our habitual attachment to activity. To believe that such a
thing is possible, and that it’s the ultimate happiness, is to take a
major leap.

Many in the Buddha’s time were willing to take the leap, while many
others were not, preferring to content themselves with the branches and
sapwood, wanting simply to learn how to live happily with their
families in this life and go to heaven in the next. Nirvana, they said,
could wait. Faced with this honest and gentle resistance to his
teaching on nirvana, the Buddha was happy to comply.

But he was less tolerant of the stronger resistance he received from
brahmas, heavenly deities who complacently felt that their experience
of limitless oneness and compassion in the midst of samsara — their
sapwood — was superior to the heartwood of nirvana. In cases like this
he used all the psychic and intellectual powers at his disposal to
humble their pride, because he realized that their views totally closed
the door to Awakening. If you think that your sapwood is actually
heartwood, you won’t look for anything better. When your sapwood
breaks, you’ll decide that heartwood is a lie. But if you realize that
you’re using bark and sapwood, you leave open the possibility that
someday you’ll go back and give the heartwood a try.

Of course, it’s even better if you can take the Buddha’s teachings
on nirvana as a direct challenge in this lifetime — as if he were
saying, “Here’s your chance. Can you prove me wrong?”

The fifth simile:

An experienced elephant hunter, searching for a big bull
elephant, comes across a large elephant footprint in the forest.
However, he doesn’t jump to the conclusion that it’s the footprint of a
big bull elephant. Why? Because there are dwarf female elephants with
big feet. It might be one of theirs. He follows along and sees some
scratch marks and tusk marks high up on the trees, but still doesn’t
jump to the conclusion that he’s on the trail of a big bull elephant.
Why? Because there are tall female elephants with tusks. The marks
might be theirs. He follows along and finally sees a big bull elephant
under a tree or in a clearing. That’s when he concludes that he’s found
his bull elephant.

In explaining this simile, the Buddha said that all the preliminary
steps of the practice — going into the wilderness as a monastic;
adhering to the precepts; developing restraint, contentment, and strong
concentration; seeing past lives and gaining vision of the beings of
the cosmos dying and being reborn in line with their karma — are simply
footprints and scratch marks of the Buddha’s Awakening. Only when you
have your own first taste of Awakening, having followed his path, do
you really know that your faith in his Awakening was well placed.
Touching the dimension where suffering ends, you realize that the
Buddha’s teachings about it were not only true but also useful: He knew
what he was talking about and was able to point you there as well.

What’s interesting about this simile is the way it combines healthy
faith with honest skepticism. To act on this faith is to test it, the
way you’d test a working hypothesis. You need faith to keep following
the footprints, but you also need the honesty to recognize where faith
ends and knowledge begins. This is why, in the Buddhist context, faith
and empiricism are inseparable. Unlike a monotheistic religion — where
faith centers on the power of another — faith in the Buddha’s Awakening
keeps pointing back to the power of your own actions: Do you have
enough power over your intentions to make them harmless? Do harmless
intentions then give you the freedom to drop intention entirely? The
only way you can answer these questions is by being scrupulously honest
about your intentions, to detect even the slightest traces of harm,
even the slightest movement of intention itself. Only then will you
know the deathless, totally unconditioned by intention, for sure. But
if you claim to know things that you don’t, how can you trust yourself
to detect any of these things? You need to make your honesty worthy of
your faith, testing its assumptions until you find true knowledge in
the test.

This is why science will never be able to pass valid judgment on the
truths of Awakening, for the path deals in matters that outside
experimenters can’t reach. Although others may sympathize with your
suffering, the suffering itself is an experience you can share with no
one else. The honesty and skillfulness of your intentions is an affair
of your internal dialogue, something that is also purely your own.
Scientists can measure the neurological data indicating pain or
intentional activity, but there’s no external measurement for how the
pain feels, or how honest your intentional dialogue may be. And as for
the deathless, it has no physical correlates at all. The closest that
outside empirical measurement can get is to pictures of the footprints
on the ground and the marks in the trees.

To get to the bull elephant, you have to do what the Buddha’s
disciple Sariputta did. He kept following the path, without jumping to
dishonest conclusions, until he saw the elephant within. Then, when the
Buddha asked him, “Do you take it on faith that these five strengths —
faith, persistence, mindfulness, concentration, and discernment — lead
to the deathless,” Sariputta could answer honestly, “No, I don’t take
it on faith. I know.”

As Sariputta stated in another discourse, his proof was experiential
but so inward that it touched a dimension where not only the external
senses but even the sense of the functioning of the mind can’t reach.
If you want to confirm his knowledge you have to touch that dimension
in the only place you can access it, inside yourself. This is one of
two ways in which the Buddha’s method differs from that of modern

The other has to do with the integrity of the person attempting the proof.

As in science, faith in the Buddha’s Awakening acts like a working
hypothesis, but the test of that hypothesis requires an honesty deeper
and more radical than anything science requires. You have to commit
yourself — every variation on who you feel you are — totally to the
test. Only when you take apart all clinging to your inner and outer
senses can you prove whether the activity of clinging is what hides the
deathless. The Buddha never forced anyone to commit to this test, both
because you can’t coerce people to be honest with themselves, and
because he saw that the pit of burning embers was coercion enough.

Buddhism in a Nutshell

it a religion?

It is neither
a religion in the sense in which that word is commonly understood,
for it is not “a system of faith and worship owing any allegiance
to a supernatural being.”

Buddhism does
not demand blind faith from its adherents. Here mere belief is dethroned
and is substituted by confidence based on knowledge, which, in Pali,
is known as saddha. The confidence placed by a follower on
the Buddha is like that of a sick person in a noted physician, or
a student in his teacher. A Buddhist seeks refuge in the Buddha because
it was he who discovered the path of deliverance.

A Buddhist does
not seek refuge in the Buddha with the hope that he will be saved
by his (i.e. the Buddha’s own) personal purification. The Buddha gives
no such guarantee. It is not within the power of a Buddha to wash
away the impurities of others. One could neither purify nor defile
another. The Buddha, as teacher, instructs us, but we ourselves are
directly responsible for our purification. Although a Buddhist seeks
refuge in the Buddha, he does not make any self-surrender. Nor does
a Buddhist sacrifice his freedom of thought by becoming a follower
of the Buddha. He can exercise his own free will and develop his knowledge
even to the extent of becoming a Buddha himself.

The starting point
of Buddhism is reasoning or understanding, or, in the Pali words,

To the seekers
of truth the Buddha says:

“Do not accept
anything on (mere) hearsay — (i.e., thinking that thus have we heard
it for a long time). Do not accept anything by mere tradition — (i.e.,
thinking that it has thus been handed down through many generations).
Do not accept anything on account of mere rumors — (i.e., by believing
what others say without any investigation). Do not accept anything
just because it accords with your scriptures. Do not accept anything
by mere suppositions. Do not accept anything by mere inference. Do
not accept anything by merely considering the reasons. Do not accept
anything merely because it agrees with your pre-conceived notions.
Do not accept anything merely because it seems acceptable — (i.e.,
thinking that as the speaker seems to be a good person his words should
be accepted). Do not accept anything thinking that the ascetic is
respected by us (therefore it is right to accept his word).

“But when
you know for yourselves — these things are immoral, these things
are blameworthy, these things are censured by the wise, these things,
when performed and undertaken conduce to ruin and sorrow — then indeed
do you reject them.

“When you
know for yourselves — these things are moral, these things are blameless,
these things are praised by the wise, these things, when performed
and undertaken, conduce to well-being and happiness — then do you
live acting accordingly.”

These inspiring
words of the Buddha still retain their original force and freshness.

Though there is
no blind faith, one might argue whether there is no worshipping
of images etc., in Buddhism.

Buddhists do not
worship an image expecting worldly or spiritual favors, but pay their
reverence to what it represents.
An understanding Buddhist, in offering flowers and incense to an image,
designedly makes himself feel that he is in the presence of the living
Buddha and thereby gains inspiration from his noble personality and
breathes deep his boundless compassion. He tries to follow the Buddha’s
noble example.

The Bo-tree is
also a symbol of Enlightenment. These external objects of reverence
are not absolutely necessary, but they are useful as they tend to
concentrate one’s attention. An intellectual person could dispense
with them as he could easily focus his attention and visualize the
Buddha. For our own good, and out of gratitude, we pay such external
respect but what the Buddha expects from his disciple is not so much
obeisance as the actual observance of his Teachings. The Buddha says
— “He honors me best who practices my teaching best.” “He
who sees the Dhamma sees me.”

With regard to
images, however, Count Kevserling remarks — “I see nothing more
grand in this world than the image of the Buddha. It is an absolutely
perfect embodiment of spirituality in the visible domain.”

Furthermore, it
must be mentioned that there are no petitional or intercessory prayers
in Buddhism. However much we may pray to the Buddha we cannot be saved.
The Buddha does not grant favors to those who pray to him. Instead
of petitional prayers there is meditation that leads to self-control,
purification and enlightenment. Meditation is neither a silent reverie
nor keeping the mind blank. It is an active striving. It serves as
a tonic both to the heart and the mind. The Buddha not only speaks
of the futility of offering prayers but also disparages a slave mentality.
A Buddhist should not pray to be saved, but should rely on himself
and win his freedom.

take the character of private communications, selfish bargaining with
God. It seeks for objects of earthly ambitions and inflames the sense
of self. Meditation on the other hand is self-change.” — Sri

In Buddhism there
is not, as in most other religions, an Almighty God to be obeyed and
feared. The Buddha does not believe in a cosmic potentate, omniscient
and omnipresent. In Buddhism there are no divine revelations or divine
messengers. A Buddhist is, therefore, not subservient to any higher
supernatural power which controls his destinies and which arbitrarily
rewards and punishes. Since Buddhists do not believe in revelations
of a divine being Buddhism does not claim the monopoly of truth and
does not condemn any other religion. But Buddhism recognizes the infinite
latent possibilities of man and teaches that man can gain deliverance
from suffering by his own efforts independent of divine help or mediating

Buddhism cannot,
therefore, strictly be called a religion because it is neither a system
of faith and worship, nor “the outward act or form by which men
indicate their recognition of the existence of a God or gods having
power over their own destiny to whom obedience, service, and honor
are due.”

If, by religion,
is meant “a teaching which takes a view of life that is more
than superficial, a teaching which looks into life and not merely
at it, a teaching which furnishes men with a guide to conduct that
is in accord with this its in-look, a teaching which enables those
who give it heed to face life with fortitude and death with serenity,”

or a system to get rid of the ills of life, then it is certainly a
religion of religions.

What does those words of the Buddha mean to you?

Believe nothing on the faith of traditions,

even though they have been held in honor

for many generations and in diverse places.

Do not believe a thing because many people speak of it.

Do not believe on the faith of the sages of the past.

Do not believe what you yourself have imagined,

persuading yourself that a God inspires you.

Believe nothing on the sole authority of your masters and priests.

After examination, believe what you yourself have tested

and found to be reasonable, and conform your conduct thereto.

Best Answer

To me it means that the only doorway we can enter is our own. We cannot
transfer our perceptions or experience to anyone and we cannot accept
anything other than direct experience. Even our imaginings and our
deductions about the reasons and methods we ourselves adopt are
worthless substitutes for direct experience. We trust that the
multitude of functions that occur in our own body will occur so how
much easier then to trust that the same Divine Presence will also guide
us in our spiritual conduct?
thank you - I need your questions even on holiday (especially on holiday)

Thaindian News

A file-photo of Bahujan Samaj Party

Lucknow, Aug 1(IANS) Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) leader and
parliamentarian Akbar Ahmed Dumpy Friday met expelled Samajwadi Party
MP Afzal Ansari in the Ghazipur district jail in Uttar Pradesh where
the latter is lodged on murder charges. Ansari was recently expelled
from the Samajwadi Party for voting against the United Progressive
Alliance government during the trust vote over the India-US civilian
nuclear deal.

Two other prominent BSP legislators of the region, Raj Kumar Singh
and Saleem Siddiqui, also accompanied Dumpy. The meeting lasted for
about two hours, official sources said.

The BSP leaders refused to comment on the motive behind the visit.

“It was a personal visit and we would not like to speak about it,” Dumpy told reporters after coming out of the jail.

Dumpy had visited Ansari July 17 just before the trust vote. Ansari
is said to be negotiating a BSP ticket for the next Lok Sabha elections.

Afzal’s brother, Muktar Ansari, an underworld don-turned-independent
legislator from Mau, is also lodged in the jail on murder charges.

Both are accused of killing Bharatiya Janata Party (JBP) legislator Krishnan Rai.

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