Bhavana on Faith
This morning in meditation I began thinking about faith, and decided to try to come to terms with it. This meant what I call bhavana – development as repeated meditation. It is a huge word, a word that I feel people need to come to terms with, but it is not a word I will ever use.
As usual I looked for Buddhadasa on faith to start the , and found nothing; I have now found something so see PS - what I have found does not negate the sense of this blog. There is however his discussion on the Kalama Sutta which is relevant. Let me get rid of the following meaning first, there is the use of the word faith that could be transposed as the word religion, Buddhist faith, Christian faith, Jewish faith etc. This is a vague word for a description of a body of knowledge and a group of practices – religion. This is not the meaning of a word that will help us learn.
Historically I have not used the word faith because I associate it with Catholicism and the catholic faith. Here is how I experienced that faith. I went to a catholic primary school, although my parents were both catholic the primary reason for attending the school was the devotion of my Nana – father’s mother. At one stage in this school I used to get up early and go to mass before school – I presume I was encouraged to do this by the teacher (that is how I recall it). Maybe it was my spirit that did this, I don’t know, but other than the going to the mass it had no meaning. My father later caused a huge ruckus with the school, and I have no problem with his doing that – except at the time. As a school student he had crossed the Mersey on the ferry every one of his secondary school days to attend a catholic school, by the time it came for me to choose a secondary school recollection of the tedium of those journeys had kicked in. When the teacher asked us where we planned for our secondary school the room fell silent when I said the local grammar (non-catholic). I used to have to travel 3 miles to the grammar, and that became totally tedious so the 7 plus miles to the various catholic schools would have been way more than tedious. So the primary school was not faith it was indoctrination, to be fair the system education it gave me was good. I can’t remember when this fits in with the timeline but around that time I stopped going to mass. My parents never went. They encouraged my brother and I to go. He stopped they didn’t argue, I kept up the pretence – maybe for my Nana. 20 minutes to church, and I would leave the house sometimes past the hour. But one lesson I got was the hypocrisy. I would be at the back of the church when the next mass was coming in, and I would see earlycomers arriving to sit at the back of the church and be seen. I was young and unaware, it was all conditioning as everything is at that age, but I gained no spirituality from my contact with the catholic faith. When spirituality did come these experiences just alienated me from Catholicism.
I have been alienated from the word “faith”, so I never used it. But there is more than that. Let’s start with the word “belief”, I will be drawing a distinction between the use of the word “faith” and “belief”. When I retired early it was for two reasons – being a teacher was then too far from my path and I wanted to study Buddhism, as discussed here I followed Theravada Buddhism. To begin with I believed Theravada (I don’t disbelieve it now). I would study the teachings until I would gain insight into the teachings for me. And that was the purpose – gaining insight. I later reached the better stage especially when studying Buddhadasa where I never tried to believe anything, it was only the gaining of insight that gave the teachings importance. Before that insight they were words “dogma”, useful as a starting point but not truth. Truth is the insight that is permanent, and I have had many insights that have been “temporary” (see below).
So there is belief that has no meaning unless there is insight. Now is that insight understanding? Yes it is, it is understanding that has been internalised through the clarity of insight. But is understanding insight? I would answer no, for the reason that the word “understanding” has a usage that could simply be external. For example, in schools students are taught to pass exams, reproduce facts or skills for those exams, and this is classified as understanding. I choose not to call this external reproduction “understanding” even though many do. Clarity produces internalised understanding – insight. This belief is discussed by Buddhadasa on the Kalama Sutta.
So is faith belief? I would argue that those who use the word faith mean it to be more than belief, so what is there that is more than belief? What about conviction? At the time of an insight I have absolute conviction of the truth of that insight, but that conviction only applies at that time. Over the years I have experienced insight whose truth gets developed over time, an insight is never untrue but when the context changes different insight is needed.
So there is conviction in insight. And there is spiritual conviction. I have described my path. Once I started on the path, I had an absolute conviction that it was right to follow the path. An absolute conviction. Throughout the two years immediately following my upheaval there was a feeling that I was on the path, but that was not an absolute conviction. There were times when that feeling became insight, and I knew what to do. So there was an absolute conviction in the spiritual path, and occasionally insight that I was following the path. There is an absolute conviction that I trust spirit – sunnata, but ego gets in the way of spirit so there are many times when my spirit is not “in charge”. When there is insight there is no ego and the spirit is “in charge”.
There are many words here with distinctions of meaning, spirit, conviction, absolute conviction, sunnata, insight, belief, ego; where does faith come into all of this? To begin with I wanted to suggest that faith meant the absolute conviction, I have faith (absolute conviction) in God, I have faith (absolute conviction) in the Creator. But that is not the way the word “faith” is used. For example, without their stating this the Catholic saying “I have faith in God” actually means I have absolute conviction in the existence of God and belief in the dogmas and doctrines of the catholic church such as the 10 Commandments. For me this umbrella usage has such limited meaning because using the word “faith” conveys such little detailed understanding.
Do I have faith in the teachings of the Buddha? No. For a lazy reason, I don’t know them. Do I have faith in the teachings of Buddhadasa? No for a much deeper reason. Do I believe in the teachings of the Buddha? No. For a lazy reason, I don’t know them. Do I believe in the teachings of Buddhadasa? No for a much deeper reason. Do I trust in the teachings of the Buddha? No. For a lazy reason, I don’t know them. Do I trust in the teachings of Buddhadasa? No for a much deeper reason. So here is a usage of the word “faith” that is synonymous with belief and trust – I have belaboured the point . So what is the deeper reason? Until I have experienced insight, I neither have faith, belief or trust 100%. In I will reference Buddhadasa’s writings, you might see this as an act of faith. I do trust that these writings will be true, but unless I specifically state an insight I do not have conviction – these writings are intended as advisory for greater understanding.
Lately I have been promoting indigenous wisdom, that First Nations in the Americas (America?) call Walking the Red Road. I am promoting this wisdom because throughout the attempted genocide this wisdom has maintained its connections with Gaia, and therefore these are the people whose wisdom should be guiding us through the global environment crisis, climate crisis, ecology crisis – whatever words. For myself my ancestry was dispossessed of Gaia centuries ago, if I have wisdom it is not connected to Gaia in the same way. When I read the posts of people “Walking the Red Road”, I see wisdom – insights where there is absolute conviction in the spirit – I think that is what they mean by the Red Road – the spiritual Road of Red people (indigenous wisdom). When I repost I am posting what I see as wisdom, their insights have the same source. This is not faith – with all its vagueness, this is not belief – as I don’t accept belief, this is conviction because they fit my insights. With the greatest of respect I do not have faith, belief or trust in the sayings of the Elders in the same way as I do not have faith, belief or trust in Buddhadasa, what matters is insight; I do however see wisdom in the Elders as I do Buddhadasa. When I read:-
Let your soul be your guide,
Your heart be your compass,
Your mind be your map,
And never be lost
it is insight that makes me repost.
Now that I have written about my bhavana on faith, faith is a word that I will go back to not using. But having insight into faith has been helpful, enquire for yourself!!
This, the Upansisa sutta, is what I have found. Here is how I interpret it
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