Reflection on Faith
A reflection on practice by Marcia Rose
Henry David Thoreau from ‘Faith In A Seed’…
”Though I do not believe that a plant will spring up where no seed has been,
I have great faith in a seed. Convince me that you have a seed there,
and I am prepared to expect wonders.”
Recently I received seeds from my favorite gardening catalogue. I’ve been noticing them every day as they sit on the dining room table waiting for the sustaining warmth of spring before I put them into the ground. I’ve been growing vegetables and flowers for many years and still every single year a sense of awe and faith arises as I observe the tiny seeds in my hand and then carefully put them into the ground. AWE in relationship to the mystery that these tiny dots do what they do, and FAITH based in years of experience that at least most of them will eventually burst out of their tiny tight selves and grow into lettuce, beets, carrots, sunflowers…etc.
So, I’ve been considering FAITH recently. What is it? Where does it come from? How does it work? What is its role in relationship to the teachings & practices as taught by the Buddha? Is there a difference between FAITH and BELIEF…and if so, what is the difference? FAITH in what…in who?
In the Buddha Dhamma, FAITH is a wholesome and beautiful mental factor that develops and blossoms through our practice of concentration and mindfulness. And, it’s the first of the five spiritual powers that feed and strengthen our practice…the other four being: effort/energy, mindfulness, concentration, and wisdom.
So one aspect of FAITH is that it’s a wholesome power…a strength.
The literal translation of the Pali word ‘saddha’/FAITH is “to place the heart upon”. Consequently FAITH encompasses trust, confidence, courage, strength, devotion and clarity. My Israeli students tell me that the root of the word FAITH in Hebrew is a verb. They tell me that it’s not something that we have, but rather something that we do.
So another aspect of FAITH is that it’s a verb, an action…to connect from the heart…’to place the heart upon’…willingness to embark on the journey, to open to the unknown.
The Buddha Dhamma understands three levels of faith…the first being ’blind faith’ which can happen when we encounter something or someone that inspires us and we feel a degree of brightness, devotion and love. This type of faith is often based in dependence on someone or something outside of ourselves to make us feel good. Thus it’s not sustainable and maybe not rooted in wisdom.
The second level of FAITH is ’Verified Faith’ which is rooted in confidence born of our own wise reflection and discriminating wisdom as we investigate our direct experience. For example, we have FAITH in the truth of impermanence, not because we heard or read about it, but because of our own clear observation, investigation, reflection and the intuitive understanding that arises out of our focused mindful attention to our experience of body, mind, and heart.
The third level of FAITH is the great power of ‘Unshakable Faith’ which is rooted in ‘Verified Faith’. As we continue developing a meditation practice that evolves towards the blossoming of concentration, clear mindful awareness and understanding/insight we begin to touch an unfettered FAITH in the incredibly vast potential of understanding that is available via our spiritual path. ‘Unshakable Faith’ is rooted in staying open and connected in the experience of the moment…open to the mystery/the truth beyond the realm of our often tightly clung to conditioned habituated ideas, opinions, beliefs, interpretations and feelings. This path of awakening asks a very deep and profound willingness of us…willingness to open directly to our experience…to open the heart and mind to the mystery of experience.
Traveling this path, we actually must rely on faith. It’s not a path rooted in belief. Meeting our experience with a set of beliefs is a process of perceiving and interpreting experience so that it conforms with our learned habituated patterns of thinking & acting, which then leads us to re-act these habituated ways of thinking & acting again & again.
So, FAITH as willingness, confidence and trust in our own potential for ‘waking up,’ based on experience not on beliefs…waking up out of ongoing dissatisfaction, out of feeling incomplete, hollow, separate and disappointed. Learning to live our life grounded in an open and kindhearted mindful presence, we access FAITH in the real possibility of waking up into the spaciousness of openhearted presence and ease of being with things as they are…however they are, inside us and outside us.
As we gently and patiently hold the seeds of the Buddha’s teaching in our heart, they develop and blossom into beautiful and liberating fruit through our diligent practice.
An excerpt from ‘Arctic Dreams’ by naturalist & author Barry Lopez:
“I bowed to what knows no deliberating legislature or parliament, no religion, no competing theories of
economics, an expression of allegiance with the mystery of life. I held the bow until my back ached,
and my mind was emptied of its categories and designs, its plans and speculations.”
“When I stood I thought I glimpsed my own desire. The conscious desire is to achieve
a state, even momentarily, that like light is unbounded, nurturing, suffused with wisdom and
creation, a state in which one has absorbed that very darkness which before was the perpetual sign of defeat.”
“Whatever world that is, it lies far ahead. But its outline, its intimation
is clear in the landscape, and upon this, one can actually hope we will find our way. I bowed again,
deeply, toward the north…. I was full of appreciation for all that I had seen.”
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