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Relying on Faith

December 7, 2012

“Faith is more than just belief… views its object as pure and holy. Without faith, everything is mundane. We are blind to anything beyond the ordinary and imperfect world we normally inhabit, and cannot even imagine that pure faultless beings, worlds, or states of mind exist. Faith is like pure eyes that enable us to see a pure and perfect world beyond the suffering world of samsara.” – from the chapter, “A Daily Practice” in Transform Your Life by Geshe Kelsang Gyatso

Faith is not only something that we do in religion and objects of faith are not exclusively celestial or supernatural. The valid object of faith functions to reduce or eradicate suffering. When we feel sad, or things are going badly it is faith which makes us believe that things will or can improve. This belief that positive change is possible gives us the motivation to try. That is one of the incredible results of faith, that it induces effort.


Faith is like pure eyes that enable us to see a pure and perfect world

A little while ago I wrote about building up our own Scriptures of Examples, and I think this is a good case in point. At first glance, we may feel that Geshe-la’s description of faith has nothing in common with non religious roles such as scientists and engineers. But it is hard to imagine that any innovation could ever occur if the inventor and developer didn’t believe that they were working to overcome the “ordinary and imperfect world”, for example by inventing taps for fresh water, or medicine or heating and roads. Or even that the artist would bother to produce a play or a painting or music if they didn’t believe that in some way it would make the world less “mundane”. So faith is an absolutely integral part of being human.

For me its really inspiring to see, touch, hear, feel and taste the very concrete results of faith because it gives me confidence that it is a quality that is extremely powerful and therefore worthwhile to develop. At the same time I can see that despite their best intentions, the builders of this modern world are still no closer to really solving the fundamental problems of birth, aging, sickness and death. The sum of human happiness is probably no greater than it was 2000 years ago and the amount of suffering either physical or mental may even be greater now. This is because the objects of people’s faith have not been completely reliable. Solving one problem (like providing fresh water) brings other problems, like over population or deforestation.

Faith in Buddha’s Teachings

Buddha taught that the root of all problems is the mistaken view of self and other (called ignorance) which in turn leads to attachment and aversion, which in turn produce all other sufferings such as jealousy, dissatisfaction, fear and so on, leading us to perform negative actions, which in turn produce suffering results, in an endless circle. To solve all problems, Buddha therefore taught that ultimately we must eradicate ignorance. This is the ultimate purpose of all Buddha’s teachings. Luna Kadampa has written some great articles on this subject. To realise the truth of this teaching for ourself, we must first have faith that such a thing is possible.

One of the ways that ignorance manifests is in non-faith, such as holding a belief that our happiness and sadness depend on other people, the environment, circumstances and so on. We know this is non-faith because it produces the “mundane”, “impure” world that the quote above characterises as one consequence of lacking faith. For as long as we assent to this mundane world, we will naturally try to find happiness where there is non to be found. And even the best job, the best teacher or partner will eventually “let us down” because a mind without faith will only see faults. Non-faith is a type of ignorance. Faith on the other hand is a type of wisdom, because it frees us, in any moment to see what is possible and to see what is good; it therefore has the power to give us happiness right now.

Listening with Faith

Of course, to eradicate ignorance, we need a qualified teacher, and Buddha explained at length how to identify such a person (you can read more about this in Joyful Path of Good Fortune) but we have to be very careful not to rely on the “teacher” that appears to our ignorant mind. Atisha famously refused to even answer one petitioners questions because he had no faith. No matter how perfect the teacher may be, if our view of them is rooted in ignorance they will disappoint us because at some point they are bound to say or do something we don’t agree with and then due to believing our happiness or suffering is coming from them, we will become unhappy with them and may even turn away from them.

The correct way to regard a qualified spiritual teacher is with faith because it allows us to see beyond what our current ignorant mind and senses are telling us. In fact, this is the correct way to regard ourself and all living beings. Faith as Geshe-la says “is like pure eyes that enable us to see a pure and perfect world”. This means specifically to follow the Kadampa teaching that:

“The fault I see is not the fault of the person
But the fault of delusion.
Realising this, may I never view others faults
But see all beings as supreme”

In this way whatever others, including our spiritual teachers, may or may not do, we always follow Buddha’s advice to direct our efforts into identifying the main cause of our experience as being in our own mind, and work to understand and solve the causes of ignorance there, rather than by wasting our time trying to find fault or solve problems we perceive in others. This of course doesn’t negate also taking whatever practical steps are necessary at any given moment like protecting your self from an assailant!

Faith in our Precious Daily Life

Faith is sometimes called a protector, because without it, we would have no defence against seeing the world and all beings in it as faulty and un-reliable. In its extreme form this means mistrusting everyone so that we will not be able to receive benefit from others or take advantage of good advice. Especially we shall be cut off from qualified spiritual teachers. On the other hand, with faith in the good qualities of others, and especially in Dharma and it teachers and practitioners, we can easily benefit from anything and anyone, because our mind is open and positive. Of course this does not negate the need for discrimination and common sense to really judge what is useful and what is not. I contend that faith is so fundamentally important to human happiness and development, that religious or not, a person with no faith will see nothing good and find no happiness.

Faith in one’s self is essential. Buddha taught that all living beings have Buddha nature and particularly that as a human being with good circumstances and conditions we have a tremendous opportunity to realise our Buddha nature. Having faith in this teaching of Buddha transforms how we see ourselves, our daily life experiences and the world, so that we can see opportunity and feel fortunate in any situation. In the Buddhist teachings we can read again and again about people of all ages and backgrounds, even criminals and murderers, who when they realise the opportunity they have and develop faith in Buddha’s teachings, quickly eradicate their ignorance and transform their lives.

Kyabje Trijang Dorje Chang

Kyabje Trijang Dorje Chang

In Guide to Dakini Land, Geshe-la tells the story of a member of the Tibetan resistance, who had killed many Chinese soldiers by shooting their boat and causing them to drown. In his old age the man met Geshe-la’s teacher, Trijang Rinpoche and asked his advice. Trijang Rinpoche gave him a specific practice and the old man developed great faith and so practiced diligently. Just a few years after this meeting, the old man died, but Geshe-la describes that during the cremation there were many wonderful signs, like rainbows over the funeral pyre indicating that the old man had taken rebirth in a Buddha’s pure land, from where he would no longer have to take uncontrolled rebirth again (here is part one of a two part article on the subject of pure lands – again from Luna Kadampa – thank you!).

Keeping this in mind, whenever I become depressed or unhappy, which in turn takes away my wish or desire to practice dharma, I focus on faith. I remember that the person I think I am at that moment (a negative incapable person) is a mistake. I remember Buddha’s teachings on the potential and preciousness of a human life and I think of all the practitioners both now and in the past who have accomplished incredible minds of love and wisdom by practicing Dharma. This faith nourishes me and encourages me to try again and keep making an effort. It reminds me who I really am and brings me back to the world.

Thank you once again for reading. I hope you found some thing useful in here. Please do leave your comments, and if you think it will help others, please share on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr etc. Many thanks 🙂

From → Fundamental

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