Some years ago I gave a Dharma talk in the southern part of the United States. The talk was on faith, and many of the trainees in the group had a big problem with faith. They said they were “force fed” faith when they were young and the word really pushed their buttons. I have been reflecting on this for a while and recently I have again done a series of talks here in Seattle on faith.
One thing I have focused on is examining aspects of the idea of faith that so many people seem to have trouble with. To that end I find three dictionary definitions of faith to be helpful. The first two definitions describe the problematic aspects of faith: “The body of dogma for a religion,” and “Trusting acceptance of God’s will.” Rev. Master Jiyu also talks about faith in a talk she gave at a retreat at Shasta Abbey in 1980. First, Rev. Master talks about the problematic kind of faith. She calls this type of faith absolute faith. She said:
Absolute faith, which is a requirement of many religions…implies a hardness, with no means whatsoever of allowing for softness or change. It is absolute— there can be no differences or movement within it. Absolute faith is rigid and results in bigotry, fear and frequently in the giving up of the will…. In absolute faith the residual hardness is as some-thing rather than no-thing.1
The third dictionary definition of faith describe its helpful aspects: “confident belief in the truth, value, or trustworthiness of a person, idea or thing.” Rev. Master calls this perfect faith, and says of it:
Perfect faith is full of lightness and acceptance. It is softer than a cloud yet harder than a diamond. It is all of these things and changes constantly in a positive direction.... Perfect faith is always changing and always the same, always interesting and always joyful, never seeing an opposite because it has indeed gone beyond opposites. Opposites can only exist when we have not yet transcended them.... We need to have a faith that does not insist upon faith.
Rev. Master Koshin Schomberg also addresses faith in his book Dependent Origination.2 First, he talks about “misplaced faith,” writing that “it is a conviction that some part of the world of impermanence can endure and this enduring part can be a refuge which can provide true spiritual satisfaction.” I see this a good deal in my hospice work, when the refuge that people are really holding onto is dissipating. They get full of fear and terror. This is quite normal. I try to guide them to the “Perfect Faith” of the Eternal that is always there with pure love now and after death.
I would like to end with what Rev. Master Koshin says about faith in his book:
It is this intuitive root—faith—that enables us to begin to turn from that which, at least in a deeply intuitive way, is at last being recognized as unreal. And this turning from illusion is a turning toward True Reality and True Life.
This True Reality is always there, always. It is the refuge that always helps us. This is beautifully expressed in the Avatamsaka Sutra:
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 way of ultimate peace.
When faith is undefiled, the heart and mind are pure;
Converting pride, it is the root of reverence,
And the foremost wealth in the treasury of religion
Being a pure hand to receive the practices.3
1 The complete transcript of the talk can be found in the Introduction to Serene Reflection Meditation booklet at: https://www.shastaabbey.org/pdf/IntroSRM13.pdf
Serene Reflection Meditation Refuge, Olympia, WA
We have started a weekly meditation group on Wednesday evenings in Olympia. The group meets at 1713 State Street NE at 5:30. There is meditation instruction, evening service, meditation and a Dharma talk. For more information, please contact Rev. Master Clement at (360) 458-5075.