Faith and confidence

Dear Bhante Sujato and Ajahn Brahmali and everyone,

I hope this finds you all very well and happy. :smiley:

I’ve been listening with interest to the differing ways for translating ‘saddha’.

I would like to respectfully add my two cents.

Ajahn Brahmali, I think you’ve mentioned that some who come from theistic religions, do not like the word ‘faith’ because of its association with a lack of questioning and so on.

Well I’ld like to suggest, that the problem with such life experiences, is not the use of the word ‘faith’. Rather, it is with a lack of inquiry, a lack of questioning and little or no emphasis on investigation within some religious groups. I suggest that poor old ‘faith’, became the scape goat.

I would like to suggest that there is a place, and indeed a time, perhaps a better word would be, situation…there is a situation where a lack of questioning becomes something that must be cultivated and also perfected. I suggest that this is part of the process of letting go that is meditation.

I remember Ajahn Brahm talking about how Christian mystics of the middle ages who talked about mystical states where they experienced union with god, probably experienced first jhana. I remember him talking about how they would have to ‘surrender to god’…that’s how they were able to let go. Their deep trust in god allowed them to let go…they didn’t question anything at that point and I imagine their questioning lessened and lessened the closer they got to ‘god’…their sense of sureness and certainty would’ve been immense afterwards. They trusted so completely that the word ‘trust’ doesn’t really do it justice.

My conditioning around the word faith was listening to Ajahn Brahm give a talk on it many years ago at Bodhinyana. He talked about the ‘fatih mind’ and how it’s soft and devotional, basically how it’s conducive to letting go. The last time someone asked me about faith, I said it was a mental construct which was also a useful strategy to cultivate in this spiritual path. Now I feel that I could also have said that it’s an emotional state that is a very useful strategy in growing and developing the path. Faith is a feeling, emotion…it’s an adjective to describe a mind state, it’s also a noun when it’s something ‘out there’ and outside of us…but for me…it’s a verb…it’s very much a nice feely touchy love soaked strategy!!

So my initial conditioning around the word was hearing Ajahn Brahm speak. My initial conditioning around the experience of it was being 11 or 12 years old, having absolutely no understanding of Buddhism (beyond some basic chanting and rituals) and going to the temple with my grandmother, or doing a simple puja at the little shrine in our garden. I didn’t know what the heck was going on, or what the heck I was chanting…but I remember…very clearly…my heart was full of feeling. Now I look back, I label it faith. Just pure blind faith. A powerful emotion, easily misplaced. Luckily for me, mine was channeled in a fruitful direction and I became, for a while, a pain in the neck questioner, (for which opportunity, I’m hugely grateful). Which, naturally, reinforced my confidence…however, my faith was only reinforced, not by questioning, but by deep intuitive moments of personal experience…moments of utter feeling…whether it was because I was listening to another speak, or reflecting on a personal meditation.

With much respect and gratitude to all who prefer the word confidence…it just doesn’t point to the same emotion for me. As a child, I’m much happier having absolute faith that my mum is going to feed me soon. To say that I have confidence that she’s going to feed me soon, implies, to my mind anyway, a certain slight doubt that perhaps, due to some exceptional circumstances perhaps, she won’t. There’s also a slight sense of fear, a feeling of a small lack of safety…confidence doesn’t suggest that comfortable (often misplaced) perception of sureness or 100% certainty.

‘Confidence’ doesn’t, for me, suggest that deep emotional trust. The sort of thing where you’d allow yourself to fall, utterly sure, 100%, that all is well. There is something in faith, which suggests safety and love and comfort and even pleasure. (I think that’s why we can become so deeply wounded and mistrustful if we lose faith in something that we once had deep faith in. I think there’s a link between faith and loving attachment…so falling in and out of faith…falling in and out of love…the extremes of pleasure and pain.)

I agree that along this path, ‘reasoned faith’ is essential. However, I think there are special situations where, a sort of ‘informed blind faith’ is essential for letting go and also for motivation to practice. It’s got the qualities of surrender and trust and devotion that blind faith has…but it’s also based on one’s own practice, one’s own understanding and also one’s experience of the Dhamma…it comes from within.

To split a few more hairs: I suggest that ‘reasoned faith’ is the sort that comes from say, listening to Ajahn Brahm talk about meditation…it’s an event that may be hugely inspiring of ‘confidence’, but it’s based on something external. ‘Informed blind faith’ is the sort that comes from using this kind of talk to practice, not just in one sitting, but over many years according to such teachings, to ask relevant questions, to test different things out, to see if it’s true for oneself…thus one comes to trust oneself, to develop a love of the Dhamma and even a fondness and strong respect for those who’ve helped one practice it and grow a little bit within it…the faith quality deepens in love and trust…things change internally…practice changes, life changes…the informed nature of ‘informed blind faith’ grows stronger and stronger…thus one lets go more…letting go more…the blind quality of ‘informed blind faith’ grows and grows. I’ve often heard it said, that meditation is not the place for thinking, for questioning…you do that before and after…you culitvate stillness during the meditation…to disable the importance we place on thoughts during the meditation itself we have to suspend our love affair with wanting to know everything right now, to question, to possess knowledge, to be in control in these ways. ‘Confidence’ is not going to give up such “I affirming” occupations as ‘wanting to know’. Whereas, ‘faith’, the type that, yes, does have a certain lovestruck blindness to it, may just allow these ways of controlling to be suspended temporarily within the parameters of a meditation that has already been heavily informed by other aspects of Dhamma practice.

In closing, I’d like to ask forgiveness if this post causes offense to anyone; especially if the word ‘faith’ has come to be associated with disappointment or hurt in other circles/traditions. I’m humbly suggesting that faith was the baby in the dirty bath water…to paraphrase that old saying then…perhaps we don’t need to throw the baby out with the bath water.

With much metta to all.

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Thanks, that was a beautiful post. I have been thinking about this issue, and I may have to change my mind back from confidence to faith once more!

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Thanks for your reflections on this faculty and power. My feeling is that faith comes from the heart and runs deep. It is intuitive. Confidence is gained after careful consideration. It is intelligent. I like them both.

With Metta, Vimokkha

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