Deep Faith in the Dharma
Thank you for giving me this opportunity to gather some thoughts and share them with you all. These are ideas I have been considering, if they are useful to you, that is good. If they cause you to bridle or clutch, that is OK too. Usually worth looking at. Every time we come together on Sunday is a big deal for me. Thank you.
Today we will talk about faith. Whenever we talk about this there are some who feel that faith has no place in Buddhism. If that is you - that is ok. But please bare with me as I work through my thoughts. I know some people have been burned before and might hesitate to open to faith. That is a mind-state that can heal and you can find faith again. Faith is important. It is essential.
What am I talking about - Faith?
Usually in churches of many traditions, faith is equivalent to “blind faith”. If humans are seen as inferior beings that can’t know or understand, they just need to accept the truth given. A blind trust - By means of scriptures, position of speaker, and tradition. We don’t mean it that way here. In the Kalama Sutra, the Buddha was very specific about this -
Do not go upon what has been acquired by repeated hearing; nor upon tradition; nor upon rumor; nor upon what is in a scripture; nor surmise; nor an axiom; nor specious reasoning; nor upon a bias towards a notion that has been pondered over; nor upon another's seeming ability; nor the consideration, 'The monk is our teacher.'
Kalamas, when you yourselves know: 'These things are bad; these things are blamable; these things are avoided by the wise; undertaken and observed, these things lead to harm and ill,' abandon them.
And ...when you yourselves know: 'These things are good; these things are blameless; these things are done by the wise; undertaken and observed, these things lead to joy and freedom from suffering,' do them.
Your own experience of faith is the only touchstone.
In Buddhism faith is aware. It is seeking and it is supported by experience. The word the Buddha spoke was Saddha . I’ll translate it as faith, or Confidence or maybe Conviction. He taught that it is one of the Five Spiritual faculties - what are those five...
When we have come in contact with the Dharma and have weighed it against our experiences and come to a measure of faith, this energizes us. Like looking for a lost treasure at home - You have the feeling that you are Confident it is here somewhere [that’s faith]. When you find it you have a burst of energy - yes! - I got it. This energy in turn propels us toward mindfulness - like turning on a light in the room - you can’t do it without energy. This Mindfulness leads to concentration - a heightened ability to stay focused and free of distractions. Confident, Energized, Aware and Focused true wisdom comes. These are the five spiritual faculties - Faith - Energy -Mindfulness - Concentration - Wisdom.
Today we’ll look closely at Faith. Another time we can explore the other faculties.
At the beginning of the service we take refuge. Really - all Buddhists start by taking refuge. What do we take refuge in? The Buddha, The Dharma, and the Sangha. Taking refuge is an act of faith, confident aware resolute. You can’t take refuge in something you don’t trust. So this Faith is confidence in the Buddha, the Dharma and the sangha.
Confidence in the Buddha -
We have confidence in the Buddha as a real enlightened teacher. We have confidence that he taught about Amida Buddha [in the about one hundred different sutras]. We have confidence in the Primal Vow of Amida Buddha - that the wisdom and compassion of the universe is there for us. This is faith in Buddha Nature - our true nature - in all of us and all things. Faith that our true nature - is eternal, joyous, selfless, and pure.
Confidence in the Dharma -
The teaching of the Buddhas of how the universe works: The basic principles of karma and rebirth - the interdependent co-arising of all things.
Dharma is also the Buddha’s various methods of reaching unconditioned peace, happiness, and joy. Ways of becoming truly human. They are Effective methods. Dharma is not conceptual or hypothetical - it is an experience. ‘Come see for yourself” as the Buddha said to the Kalamas.
We have confidence in the Sutras - they are the teachings of the Buddha. 84,000 volumes of dharma talks like this one. Spanning the 45 teaching years of the Buddha’s life.
This is an Ancient heritage that is relevant now. It was relevant in Shinran’s time 750 yrs ago, it was relevant 2600 yrs ago when the Buddha traveled and taught. This is something we can have confidence in - we can have faith in the Dharma.
Confidence in the Sangha -
A community where we are accepted nurtured and supported on our spiritual journey. We see in the sangha compassion, peace, caring, independence. We are all part of that. We often show each other that we are trustworthy - the sangha is trustworthy. And this gives rise to deep confidence, faith in the sangha. When Dr. Matsunaga died six years ago, we gathered together and took refuge in the sangha. When we looked into each others faces we knew that one way or another RBC would continue and be a positive place in our community.
Taking refuge is made possible by faith. This Confident faith is a force, a strength, and a power inside you - we say it is a spiritual ability or faculty. We can develop it.
It is important to remember that knowledge is not enough - to have confident faith. Professor John Holt - my advisor in college - was a religion professor and had lots of knowledge about Buddhism. He was very sympathetic and he had an affinity to Buddhism, but he had no faith in the Dharma. He was content with his Lutheran upbringing and the values it taught; he them taught to his children. When I studied Buddhism in his classes I was changed by the experience. I had that feeling of bright energy that comes - The experience of the Dharma was like “This is really something special.”
Faith comes in stages - there is an initial spark awakened inside us when we come to Buddhism. The impulse toward understanding and joy. Like a first taste of brownies - you take a bit - you experience the brownie - and you think - this is good. I could eat this. This can sustain me. And then over time we continue our studies. Different recipes, different ingredients, choco chips, no choco chips. white chocolate chips, gooey, crispy ….what were we talking about?
Over time - Deeper understanding and deeper confidence. It feels so true. This is when deep faith develops. From long experience.
At the new member dinner last weekend we went around the circle and shared our path. And though everyone’s experience was unique, the common thread was that Buddhism made sense and was worth diving deeper. That is that initial taste - that awakening of faith and confidence in the teaching in our life. Then we deepen that faith though experience and study and natural absorption that happens over time. The Buddha Dharma and Sangha.
Why is this worth having, this faith. We live our lives in varying states of worry. the Buddha called it Dukkha, wonkyness is the literal translation. Like a shopping cart wheel that is just not right - it goes wobba-wobba-wobba. It is very annoying.
We want things we can’t have, we lose things we want. This clinging to things and people and ideas is never satisfying. It may be briefly pleasurable -- but not satisfying. So we fear the loss. And we react by imposing control. We grab tighter. We we use anger to control, we use all manner of calculation to avoid losing what we cling to. We just keep banging our heads against the same challenge.
We try really hard to control things. At work if we are a manager or on the line, we try our best to control. But does it give us peace of mind? If everybody is doing what they are supposed to be doing - then you can relax. But do you? When business is going good, you can relax. But do you? When we are getting what I want, we can relax. But we don’t.
As a species we are all about control. We are this way about our mind and our bodies - judging, controlling. Even more so in relationships, we try to control.
But any feeling of control, is brief. With this grasping for control come the feelings of frustration, fear and anger. Our sense of security is challenged. Our sense of self is challenged. This is how we live. Sometimes it’s difficult to admit, but it’s the truth. The Dharma.
The Buddha saw that we are not happy. He saw that we are not happy because we want and want and want. He saw that we can stop the wanting and joys flow in.
What can we do? The grasping is the result of being attached to a specific outcome - that we are sure is best for us. As if we always know what’s best for us?
When we have faith and let go - When we trust that we are okay no matter what comes our way, we don’t need to control the universe. We let go. And we open ourselves to all sorts of wonderful possibilities that aren’t there when we’re attached to one narrow path.
The energy we get from faith accomplishes much more than the energy of doubt. When we are doubting or afraid, our vision narrows, breath is shallow, and heart rate jumps. Our monkey mind jumps from thought to thought and from past to future very quickly. Our concentration is gone, memory gets foggy, and we have almost no awareness of this present moment. The present moment is important! that's when life happens.
When we have faith, were calm and peaceful. Our breathing is deep, we are present in this moment. We see clearly and our vision extends all around, we literally see the bigger picture. Gratitude washes over us.
It’s like the Chinese finger trap - when we try to control things we actually feels more constrained - less in control. We pull against the trap and it hold us tighter.
When we have faith, we take refuge and stop trying to make what we want happen. We stop pulling against the universe and the natural flow of things. Stop calculating and resisting and pushing against reality.
We have Faith that all is well, even without my input. Maybe more so without my clever trying. Natural, accepting life is peaceful. Joyful.
This is not inaction - it’s aware, present, accepting of the natural flow of life. there’s a famous Einstein quote…
“The most important decision we make is whether we believe we live in a friendly or hostile universe.”
The Buddha teaches we live in a friendly universe. He taught us how to be receptive and allow things to happen. This faith in the Wisdom and Compassion of the universe is a faculty we can practice and deepen. Amida Buddha made a great vow - to bring all beings to realization of oneness in his pure land. The Wisdom and compassion of this friendly universe is supporting us at every turn - we don’t have to worry over the details all the time. In Buddhism there are many paths - We can always choose to do things the easy way or the hard way. We can muscle through trying to purify ourselves and teach ourselves and enlighten our selves, or we can let go of the trying - and gently remove our fingers from the trap.
What I am saying is - relax - it’s all out of control! Accept that. It’s the truth. We make tiny inputs, but really its all just happening - inter-dependently co-arising with everything else. Faith is letting go of control. No fear. No control. No worry. The Buddha leads us toward Joy. And joy comes when we have deep faith in the wisdom and compassion of the universe. Not when we have control, when we have faith. This Faith leads to acceptance, openness, compassion, gratitude. It leads to Wisdom. No fear. no control. no worry.
Faith is really good stuff - its useful and valuable and maybe essential to a happy life. So how do I get some of that? In the reading Matt shared with us we heard about faith in the story of Shinran and his teacher Honen - this person here.
Just to re-cap the story - There was a running argument between Shinran and the other students of Honen. Shinran would claim, "my faith in Amida Buddha and Honen's faith in Amida Buddha are identical". The other students would strongly counter saying, "How can you claim that our master's faith and your faith are identical! You have only been studying with Honen for a few years". To this Shinran replied, "Our master's wisdom and knowledge are truly profound and to say that our understanding of Amida are identical is preposterous. But as far as faith in Amida Buddha, leading to birth in the Pure Land is concerned, no difference exists at all. Both are the same." They we quite enraged by this statement. They challenged him, "How can that be possible?"
They finally decided to settle the argument once and for all by asking their teacher Honen. When Honen listened to the two views, he said, "The deep faith of Honen is a gift granted by the Buddha, and the deep faith of Shinran is also a gift from the Buddha. They are the same. “
What Shinran saw and Honen supported was that faith is not ours. It is part of the wisdom and compassion of the universe. When it comes to us it is the karma of the Buddha bearing fruit, not our own.
Faith is not countable or dividable. Just like life - is the life in me the same as the life in you? What do you think. Is the livingness in me different from the livingness in you. I can’t see a way they are different.
Or the candle flame here - from one candle to another from one source. The same flame in different places. The faith in my heart and the faith in your heart? The same from one source - Amida- the infinite compassion and infinite wisdom of the universe.
In Conclusion - The Buddha saw that we are not happy. He saw that we are not happy because we want and want and want. He saw that we can stop the wanting and joy flows in. He taught a way to let go of wanting. Of abiding in gratitude. This abiding peace that the Buddha offers is so close to us. We start by having faith in the teaching. Ultimately faith in the goodness of the universe - Amida Buddha.
The old word for this faith is Shinjin - true entrusting - knowing there is something profound and meaningful here - an inspiration that gives you energy. The energy propels you forward on your spiritual path of greater understating. The process continues, more faith more energy, deepening and affirming. That is why we continue to study and experience the Dharma. We deepen faith through our own experiences in life. Our faith in karma, rebirth, and non-self develops. Interdependent co-arising starts to make sense to us and faith deepens.
Taking refuge requires faith -- If its raining, and I take refuge under an awning, if it leaks I move on. If it provides true shelter and I experience that, I truly take refuge. Initial faith, ultimately deep faith.
Practically in our everyday life - Faith protects us from fear. Fear is the thing that stops us from living life. Something eventually goes wrong - a failure - then what we fear comes - blame, criticism, loss. That always happens. It’s Ok if something goes wrong - its a wonderful mess. Everyday of your life is a big wonderful spontaneous mess! Embrace the wonder of that - the miracle of that. We look at the future with hope - this creates a reality. The Buddha specifically taught that our mindset creates reality. Look to the future with Faith and you let go of wanting, to let go of controlling. Let go of fear and embrace joy.
Faith doesn't come from us. We don't make it. It is part of the universe like. My faith, your faith, Shinran’s faith - its all the same thing.
Please share my faith in the Bodhisattva’s deep wish to all of you. Please say it too - just repeat after me...
You will be happy;
you will be free from harm:
you will receive boundless compassion;
And peace and harmony will fill your heart
- Namu Amida Butsu Namu Amida Butsu Namu Amida Butsu -
Reading for 7 feb 16
From the Epilogue to the TANNISHO
By Yui-en-Bo student of Shinran Shonin
According to our late master Shinran, it was the same at the time of his teacher, Honen. Among his disciples, there were only a few people who truly entrusted themselves to Amida. There was once a debate between Shinran and fellow disciples. Shinran claimed, "my entrusting and Honen's entrusting are identical," Seikan, Nenbutsu, and others strongly refuted this, saying, "How can you claim that our master's faith and your faith are identical!" To this Shinran replied, "Our master's wisdom and knowledge are truly profound and to say that our understanding of Amida are identical is preposterous. But as far as true entrusting, leading to birth in the Pure Land is concerned, no difference exists at all. Both are the same." Still they continued to press Shinran, challenging him by saying, "How can that be possible?"
They finally decided to settle the argument once and for all by going to Honen, relating the details. When Honen listened to their differning views, he said, "The true entrusting of Honen is a gift granted by the Buddha, and the true entrusting of Shinran is also a gift from the Buddha. Thus, they are the same. People whose entrusting is different will probably not go to the same Pure Land as I"
[Yui-en-bo contunues] ...Since my life, like a dew drop, still hangs onto this body which may be likened to withered grass, I am able to hear the doubts of my fellow practicers and tell them what I have learned from my teacher. But I fear and lament that after my eyes close and life comes to an end, there may arise confusion because of different interpretations. When you are confused by different views, such as the above, you should carefully read the scriptures recommended and used by our late master...
The master constantly said, "When I consider the compassionate Vow of Amida, established through five kalpas of profound thought, it was for myself, Shinran, alone. Because I am a being burdened so heavily with evil karma, I feel even more deeply grateful to the Primal Vow which is made to decisively save me"...
In reality, all of us, including myself, talk about what is good and evil without thinking of the Buddha’s compassion. Our master once said, "I do not know what the two, good and evil, really mean. I could say that I know what good is, if I knew good as thoroughly and completely as a Buddha. And I could say I know what evil is, if I knew evil as thoroughly and completely as a Buddha. But in this impermanent world, like a burning house, all things are empty and vain, therefore, untrue. Only trusting in Amida Buddha is true, real, and sincere….
In tears I have dipped my brush in ink and have written this in the hope that conflicting views of true entrusting will not prevail among fellow practicers of nembutsu gathered together in a single room. [signed] Yui-en Bo 10th year of Kōan era, 9th month