The Buddhist Teachings on Faith and Confidence

Overview:

The word ‘faith’ elic­its pow­er­ful respons­es in peo­ple, espe­cial­ly those who have grown up amongst a reli­gious tra­di­tion empha­siz­ing this spir­i­tu­al qual­i­ty. Some peo­ple will asso­ciate this word with pos­i­tive attrib­ut­es like devo­tion, love, ded­i­ca­tion, and self-sur­ren­der. Oth­ers, how­ev­er, will asso­ciate this word with neg­a­tive attrib­ut­es like coer­cion, intim­i­da­tion, dog­ma­tism, and gulli­bil­i­ty. Many peo­ple turn to Bud­dhism because of its car­di­nal teach­ing of ‘prov­ing the truth for oneself’—of not tak­ing any­thing entire­ly on faith (even the words of the Bud­dha), but rather to ques­tion, inves­ti­gate, and con­firm the truth through one’s own efforts. Some peo­ple may even draw the con­clu­sion that faith plays no role in Bud­dhism. This, how­ev­er, would be a mis­un­der­stand­ing. It’s fair to say that every­one (see the main text for the few excep­tions to this rule) who is drawn to the Bud­dhist teach­ings makes a leap of faith—suspends doubt and adopts cer­tain prin­ci­ples or teach­ings in which he or she has gained some con­fi­dence. Indeed, for many, trans­lat­ing the Pali word sad­dhā as ‘trust’ or ‘con­fi­dence’ is more accept­able. To give room to faith in the heart is to engage with mys­tery, to open up to new pos­si­bil­i­ties. One of my favourite quotes in this con­text is by Rabindranath Tagore:

Faith is the bird that sings when

The dawn is still dark.

In this book, Tahn Chao Khun Brah­ma­gun­ab­horn (Ven. P.A. Payut­to) describes the role of faith in Bud­dhism, both its advan­tages and its lim­i­ta­tions. He repeat­ed­ly returns to the qual­i­ty of wis­dom, which acts to bal­ance faith and bring it to ful­fil­ment.

A girl making offerings at Ajahn Chah's Memorial Celebration

Introduction

The Buddha’s Words on Faith

Appendix 1: Breaking the Cycle of Dependent Origination

Appendix 2: The Bridge between a Virtuous Friend and Right View