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.
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