Buddhist Faith – Be honest, humble, and open and do not believe without thinking carefully.

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“The brahmins honor this not only out of faith, Master Gotama. They also honor it as oral tradition.”

“Bhāradvāja, first you took your stand on faith, now you speak of oral tradition. There are five things, Bhāradvāja, that may turn out in two different ways here and now. What five? Faith, approval, oral tradition, reasoned cogitation, and reflective acceptance of a view. These five things may turn out in two different ways here and now. Now something may be fully accepted out of faith, yet it may be empty, hollow, and false; but something else may not be fully accepted out of faith, yet it may be factual, true, and unmistaken. 

Again, something may be fully approved of…well transmitted…well cogitated…well reflected upon, yet it may be empty, hollow, and false; but something else may not be well reflected upon, yet it may be factual, true, and unmistaken. [Under these conditions] it is not proper for a wise man who preserves truth to come to the definite conclusion: ‘Only this is true, anything else is wrong.’

Majjīma Nikaya 95 Cankī Sutta, Translated by Bhikkhu Bodhi

First, by listening to this passage from the Dhamma, may all people in this room be well, safe, happy, and free from all suffering. 

Buddhist Faith

Today, we are going to talk and think about religious faith in general and Buddhist faith in specific. In sum, religious faith is often built upon the authority of tradition, popularity, and big names. Nonetheless, no matter how we form our religious belief and faith, these should not lack careful and critical thinking. Otherwise, it likely to be simply blind folded faith, causing many issues in our life and community.

The rock band Journey sings “Don’t stop believing, Hold on to the feeling” in one of their famous song. The lyric of the song does not explicitly say what to believe, although it says implicitly. The only thing we are sure of in the lyric is that we know believing is closely related to feeling.  

Feeling and Believing

Feeling is a subjective state of human mind. You like something or someone, but all the reasons behind that are subjective, which means that it is illogical. Others would not like what you like in many cases. I like the bitterness of black coffee without any sugar or milk whereas many others don’t. Likewise, feeling is often not mathematics that everyone can or likely will agree upon. 

As the song “Don’t Stop Believing” points out, believing something seems to be based upon feeling: subjective state of human mind saying that something is right or come true. The close connection between the two feeling and believing seems true in regards to religious belief and faith as well. 

Faith is the state of mind that feeling holds on to something without waving. We have faith toward something that does not have definite evidence or proof, but we still hold on to feeling that that seems right. 

Two Kinds of Objects of Religious Beleif

There are various objects that we believe in within the world. These objects of belief and faith can be divided into two types in general, I think. One is inner qualities of human mind such as love, friendship, honesty, innocence, or enlightenment. 

The other is the mysterious aspect of the world that is invisible and unidentifiable such as God, gods, spirits, ghosts, heaven, hell, or cosmic law and principle. In religion, these two kinds, the inner qualities of human mind and mysterious aspect of the world, are combined together to form the contents of faith in the religious life. Likewise, Jesus is a mysterious aspect of the world since Christians think him as the son of God, and the love, which Jesus preached is a noble inner quality of human mind.   

In this regards, Buddhism is not an exception. We believe in enlightenment, which is the inner quality of the human mind. We also believe in co-dependent arising, various gods, spirits, heavenly and hell-like places, which is the mysterious aspect of the world. 

This is why Buddhism cannot be thought of as anything other than religion, although some people think Buddhism is too rational to be a religion and insist that Buddhism should be put in the category of philosophy. Buddhism as a religion is built upon the foundation of faith like other religions. In Buddhist scripture the Buddha quite often emphasized on faith (saddhā/śraddhā).

Conviction Through Thinking

The original Pali and Sanskrit term for faith are saddhā and śraddhā respectively. The literal meaning of the two terms is more like conviction or confidence. So someone obtains faith in the Buddha and his teaching because the person got to be confident that the Dhamma is truth. The initial confidence in the Buddha is followed by faith in others such as enlightenment, compassion, loving-kindness, and co-dependent arising. And his or her faith does not waver when his or her practice goes on and experiences oneself what the Buddha showed. Eventually, one can achieve enlightenment of the ultimate happiness based on the faith of unwavering mind toward the Buddha, Dhamma, and Sangha. This is how Buddhist scripture underlines that faith is one of the crucial elements for achieving enlightenment.

Unfortunately, in this modern day, people sometimes equate religious belief with blind, folded faith. People now have to become more suspicious about religion since belief in the mysterious aspects of the world cannot be proved by scientific evidences. Any technology cannot bring anyone to heaven yet. Furthermore, this mistrust of people toward religion is often verified with terrorism, violence, discrimination, and suppression that is created by wrong-doing of blind folded religious faith. 

The Buddha’s Teaching About Blind Folded Faith

Interestingly, the Buddha talked about blind-folded religious faith in his life time, which appears in the passage that I read at the beginning of this talk. In the discourse, the Buddha warns people about believing in something without thinking and seeing carefully. Faith must be based upon thinking, judging, and seeing through one’s own experience and reflection. More importantly, faith should be humble, honest, and open as long as a person does not attain the ultimacy of enlightenment. He never encourages his disciple or lay people to have faith, even himself and his teaching.

One day, the Buddha stops by a village and many renowned brahmins and officials found where the Buddha stays. Among the group of people, a young brahmin, names Bhāradvāja, brags about the greatness of Vedas, the sacred text of Brahmanism. 

Then, the Buddha asks him whether he or his predecessors saw in themselves what Vedas talk about. On hearing no from young brahmin, the Buddha gives him a simile that believing something generation by generation based upon the authority of tradition is like

“there were a file of blind men each in touch with the next: the first one does not see, the middle one does not see, and the last one does not see.”

Using the authority of tradition is widespread in human affairs. In order to justify what they do, some people often say “as the tradition is so.” But the funny thing is nobody saw how the tradition began. 

Buddhist Wisdom for Fake News

As the Buddha points out in the discourse, some people use not only the authority of tradition, but various forms of authority such as fame, popularity, and incomplete rationality in order to spread what they think is right. The file of blind men still continue until today, which can explain why the fake news are widespread in social media like facebook. The fake news uses the authority of name, which is Media. Unfortunately, people tend to believe what news says without thinking properly. 

Further, the blessed one points out that having religious faith has the possibility of fallacy no matter how firm or sincere your faith is. So the Buddha says,

“Now something may fully accepted out of faith, yet it may be empty, hollow, and false.” 

The Buddha also add a statement,

“it is not proper for a wise man who preserves truth to come to the definite conclusion: ‘Only this is true anything else is wrong.” 

Honest, Humbel, and Open Faith of Buddhism

Thus, what the Buddha taught about faith gives us very important lesson: we should be honest, open, and humble with what we know and believe as long as we are yet enlightened.

To help his disciples to form better faith in him and his teaching, the Buddha almost every time starts his sermon with a phrase: sādhukaṁ mansikarotha, which is often translated as “Listen Carefully.” Indeed, sādhukaṁ mansikarotha has deeper meaning than just listen carefully. The phrase more precisely means exerting mental efforts, like thinking deeply and carefully. In other words, the Buddha implies with the phrase, ‘do not take what I teach for you without thinking deeply.’

In this way, the characteristics of Buddhist faith do not comply with a blind-folded faith. Likewise, no matter how famous or renowned monks are we should not regard what they state as true at face value. Furthermore, this should be applied to everywhere including within a school, politics, community, our everyday conversation. Otherwise, we will never get out of the bottomless trench of ignorance. 

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