Friday, January 3, 2014

Faith in Buddhas

Photo credit: effeebee from

Subhuti said to the Buddha, "World Honored One, in the future will there be living beings, who, when they hear such phrases spoken will truly believe?"

The Buddha told Subhuti, "Do not speak in such a way! After the Tathagata's extinction, in the last five hundred years, there will be those who hold the precepts and cultivate blessings who will believe such phrases and accept them as true.

"You should know that such people will have planted good roots with not just one Buddha, two Buddhas, three, four or five Buddhas, but will have planted good roots with measureless millions of Buddhas. All who hear such phrases and produce even one thought of pure faith are completely known and completely seen by the Tathagata. Such living beings thus obtain measureless blessings and virtue.

From Chapter 6 of the Diamond Sutra

What stands out for me here is the emphasis on having faith.

I think it's difficult, in this high paced, violent, highly materialistic world of ours to keep the faith. All that talk we do about everything having Buddha-nature and how everything is dynamically functioning together sounds great, but often feels like just nice talk when you spend any time reflecting on the relative world of our everyday lives.

The selection above from the Diamond Sutra above points to, among other things, a quality of time beyond the regular notions of time we have. In others words, it's calling for us to develop a radical patience along with that radical trust, while at the same time doing the work to "plant good roots."

Faith and effort tangle together, but for many of us, they remain separate in our minds. Some lean too far in one direction, thinking that all you need is faith. Others think that only hard work and concrete reason will lead to awakening. Neither of those seems accurate to me.

Both, however, feel like natural reactions to living in societies built upon separation.

Perhaps Buddha's speaking of an "end times" of sorts, and elevating experiences of faith in the teachings, is pointing to a place like now. Where things are so dysfunctional and fragmented that "having true faith" is something of a peak experience.

I don't know. There have been predictions of being in the end times of Buddhism for centuries, so maybe what sounds like the end times is really just a description of how life is.

Letting go of what you think is happening - to you, in the world - is also an act of faith. One needed, even for those of us who spend our lives in service and activism.

Maybe especially for us.


rectalcancermyass said...

Could the end of times mean a paradigm shift? I found this quote that seems similar to what you are writing.... First of all, Buddhism is neither pessimistic nor optimistic. If anything at all, it is realistic, for it takes a realistic view of life and the world. It looks at things objectively (yathābhūtam). It does not falsely lull you into living in a fool's paradise, nor does it frighten and agonize you with all kinds of imaginary fears and sins. It tells you exactly and objectively what you are and what the world around you is, and shows you the way to perfect freedom, peace, tranquility and happiness.”
― Walpola Rahula, What the Buddha Taught with Texts from Suttas & Dhammapada

Nathan said...

Yes. Good quote. Paradigm shift could be individual or collective as well. Very interesting ...

n. yeti said...

Buddha repeatedly referred to the relative importance of faith in a practice which is guided by the principle that appearances are deceptive and reality difficult to discern due to the total ignorance of samsara. He ranked it above effort in his later teachings (tathagatagarba).

We all have faith or belief in something, whether we choose to recognize it or not. Even rational materialists, secular humanists, etc, who deny altogether what must be taken on faith alone. Yes, faith to one degree or another is an attribute of mind.

I am reminded of the Tibetan teachings which speak of uniting with original nature the way an infant recognizes the breast, with no barrier of concept, belief, or ideological separateness. This kind of whole being approach is (to my view at least) an expression of faith in practice.

Likewise we may look at what drives faith away: suffering, loss, bitterness, fear, and residues of longing, frustration, and imperfect fulfillment, "hard, cold reality", and yet all emerge from memory, conditions, the dead past or imagined present or future, not ultimately buddha.

Nathan said...

"Even rational materialists, secular humanists, etc, who deny altogether what must be taken on faith alone."

The lengths to which some of these folks go to push the perceived primacy of human reason, scientific conclusions, and intellectual outcomes is almost astounding. It takes a hell of a lot of effort to maintain a view of the world without faith, without some level of unknown and mysterious.

Thank you for the reminder about the Buddha's later teachings. I see a similar view in Dogen's later teachings as well. Effort drove him to China, and back to Japan to spread a different approach to practice. And yet, he frequently appeals to faith. That effort and faith are actually dynamically working together, even if we don't see it as so.

n. yeti said...

A good example of the limit of science is what occurs in a scientist's mind when an important theory is proven wrong, or when tragedy strikes, and the limits of the known are made real. Even the most rational, logical mind can be unseated by the universe and its unfathomably complex array of causes, effects, and interdependent circumstances. In fact science itself cannot disprove that all reality emerges from the mind. Faith is an important component even of science, that the very pursuit of rational inquiry may indeed bear fruit. Though it sound absurd to the rational mind, when things cease to make sense is when their meaning is fully revealed. Just look around at this shit. Does it make sense? Must it?

Nathan said...

"Faith is an important component even of science, that the very pursuit of rational inquiry may indeed bear fruit. Though it sound absurd to the rational mind, when things cease to make sense is when their meaning is fully revealed." Seems to me that those in science who actually push rational inquiry to the limits know this. Because they've experienced it firsthand. It's all the rest of the folks who haven't really pushed and tested anything all that hard who smugly declare reason as top dog, and that everything can be known and proven through it.

n. yeti said...

I think you're absolutely right there, Nathan. It is not that reason is useless or pointless (nihilism), but in a relative way, a conditioned way. To impose rationality on the universe, even if it is _aware_ as I think empirical consciousness shows, we run the risk of delimiting the unknown via methods known, i.e rational pioneerism, again depending on faith in one degree or another, to get through bewilderment, even via trial and error. When the contents of reason are larger than the box, the box takes a new shape, the new shape being that of its contents. But that beyond reason is not contained, might even be uncontained altogether if you want to look at it this way. Thus which is the greater container? Reason or awareness of the unknowable?