Faith/Conviction/Confidence in the EBTs and its linkages and differences to LBTs

I am working on an essay on the subject and wanted to solicit your knowledge. Specifically on the EBTs of course, but if you have thoughts on how these have historically carried through in the LBTs (Theravada LBT as well as Mahayana LBT), I am all ears.

In the Tibetan tradition specifically I can think of two strands of teachings on the subject. The first is the three types of faith that we find in the Stages of the Path type teachings like the Lam Rim or Words of My Perfect Teacher (which can be traced back to Atisha), and the second stem from the epistemological works of Dharmakirti and Dignaga.

The Three types of faith:

  1. Clear/Lucid/Vivid
  2. Aspiring/Eager
  3. Convictional/Confident

The first type of faith is about seeing the qualities we admire in, for example the three jewels or meditation, and gaining an appreciation for it. The second, is wanting to emulate what we have seen in the expression of the three jewels or meditation, or whatnot. The third has two parts or stages, first, the less stable stage, we hear about teachings that make us feel inspired, such as teachings on selflessness or the brahmaviharas, etc. and we feel confidence from them. The second stage, we deepen our understandings of the subject and gain a firmer appreciation of the truth of these subjects.

The Epistemological Tradition:
And then there are the epistemological developments found in Dharmakirti where we talk about inferential and direct perception. What John Dunne calls the instruments of awareness but is usually translations as valid cognition. The question we’re trying to resolve in this framework is specifically, how do we know something that we haven’t experienced for ourselves (like enlightenment, Anatta, etc.) to be true?

The three types of faith do seem to play a role in answering Dharmakirti’s questions, but I have never seen them presented together and I am not going to try to do that work atm. So for now, let me just dive a just a little into the issues on these two means of acquiring knowledge (of the truth of the teachings). There is a lovely text by H.H. the Dalai Lama in The Foundation of Buddhist Practice, in Chapter 2 “Gaining Nondeceptive Knowledge” that breaks this down in simple terms. And because this is an extremely extensive subject containing volumes of untranslated material and secondary academic literature in both Tibetan, Japanese, English and many other languages, I will stick to the simple stuff here.

The Dalai Lama describes three types of phonemena:

  1. “Evident Phenomena:”
  2. “Slightly Obscure Phenomena”
  3. “Very Obscure Phenomena”

The first one are things we can understand with our senses and feelings (pain and pleasure) which we can know directly. The second, we have to do a little deduction or inference, like we don’t normally experience impermanence in a very visceral way in the immediate moment, but we do notice the sun is in the east every morning and in the west every moment and therefore can see that it moves and is changing positions in the sky. Or to know selflessness, we can go and breakdown through analysis that we are made up of parts, karmic chains, etc. The very obscure stuff, we know through authoritative testimony, like we know our time of birth because our mothers or birth certificates say so. Or for a lot of us, we know certain things about particle physics because scientists told us so. For enlightened beings of course, they know these things directly, through their work in meditation and so forth, but for those of us that aren’t enlightened, these are ways for us to maintain faith in the teachings while we are trying to get there.

Now none of this stuff is showing up in the Wikipedia article on faith in Buddhism (Faith in Buddhism - Wikipedia), and that is unfortunate. Someone with better and deeper understandings of this from the LBTs should definitely edit these in. As for the EBT breakdown, I don’t know how good the the wiki article is, but it is definitely more extensive than the EBT stuff found in here.

So how much of this is found in the EBTs? Wikipedia supplies the terms Śraddhā and Prasāda, but how are these similar or different from the above descriptions found in LBTs?

And of course there is the Kalāma Sutta, which if I understand correctly may be a later development (though of course, it could have been shuffled around in different collections and just not made it into the Chinese translations). So if this Sutta is unique to Theravada may not have played any roles in the development of these later developments I describe above. But parallels in teachings would be interesting to think about.

Anyway, I have been struggling with faith for several years now and so this feels like a good place for me to dive into and think about. So any understanding of how the EBTs frame these and/or how they relate to the later developments I talk about would be really nice.


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This is the Theravada view on faith:
saddhā: faith, confidence. A Buddhist is said to have faith if “he believes in the Perfect One’s (the Buddha’s) Enlightenment” (M 53; A.V, 2), or in the Three Jewels (s. ti-ratana ), by taking his refuge in them (s. ti-saraṇa ). His faith, however, should be “reasoned and rooted in understanding” ( ākāravatī saddhā dassanamūlikā ; M. 47), and he is asked to investigate and test the object of his faith (M. 47, 95). A Buddhist’s faith is not in conflict with the spirit of inquiry, and “doubt about dubitable things” (A. II, 65; S. XLII, 13) is admitted and inquiry into them is encouraged. The ‘faculty of faith’ ( saddhindriya ) should be balanced with that of wisdom ( paññindriya ; s. indriya-samatta ). It is said: “A monk who has understanding, establishes his faith in accordance with that understanding” (S. XLVIII, 45). Through wisdom and understanding, faith becomes an inner certainty and firm conviction based on one’s own experience. "—Buddhist Dictionary, Nyanatiloka


Right. So here clearly there are parallels in spirit (if not terminology). The importance of reason and understanding are emphasized in both breakdowns of what faith is. As are the importance in the three Jewels. I am curious how much of these terms found in the Tibetan LBTs have direct correlation with the Pali and in the suttas. But it is clear they are essentially talking about the same thing.

My faith has been strengthened by investigation and study. The fact that the Buddha himself recommends such investigation actually strengthens that faith. Indeed the faith is simply that exhaustive investigation by anybody would arrive at the conclusions and methods outlined in the EBT. It is faith based on scientific method.

Would you say more about “struggling”? This seems strange. The Buddha recommends investigation, not struggling.


Theravada and Mahayana have opposite goals in terms of duality (Theravada) and unity (Mahayana), and there are major differences in the use of faith. Mahayana has a more devotional direction and faith would be a more used factor. In Theravada faith is only the beginning, and the emphasis is on investigation to discover the dynamics of the path, such as kamma, the interaction of the threefold division of the noble eightfold path , that is morality’s effect in producing concentration, and the necessity of samadhi as a basis for insight. This difference culminates in the ideals of the arahant (T) and the bodhisattva (M).
“Arahants, Bodhisattvas and Buddhas”, Bikkhu Bodhi:


Hii Paul,

Clearly there are differences. The various Mahayana schools, like the Theravada, are the result of centuries of evolution and development.

Yet the EBTs do appear to have the objective of breaking down the self-other dichotomy. The more “internally” focused not-self approach is often emphasised over the self/other dichotomy, but the latter is prominent in the suttas/agamas.

See, for example Ven Ñāṇananda’s Nibbāna –The Mind Stilled, Sermon 28. Books Archive - seeing through the net

[Satipatthana Sutta] “in this way he abides contemplating the body as a body internally, or he abides contemplating the body as a body externally, or he abides contemplating the body as a body both internally and externally.”

Here, too, the aim is to break down the dichotomy between one’s own
and another’s. This contemplation is of a purpose to the extent that by it
one realizes the fact that, whether internal or external, it is just the four
elements. This norm is succinctly expressed as yathā idam tathā etam, ya-
thā etam tathā idam, 27 “just as this, so is that; just as that, so is this”.

Our minds are obsessed by the perception of diversity, nānattasaññā.
According to colour and form, we distinguish objects in the outside world
and give them names. It is a burden or a strain to the mind. The reflection
by way of elements as given in the Satipatthāna Sutta could even be
appreciated as a step towards the perception of unity, ekattasaññā, from
this grosser perception of diversity. It tends to relaxation and unification
of the mind.

So the purpose of this reflection by way of the elements, peculiar to the
discourses, is to look upon the elements as void, in accordance with the
Buddha’s advice, dhātuyo suññato passa, “look upon the elements as
void”. 28


“What, friends, is the earth element? The earth element may be either internal or external. What is the internal earth element? Whatever internally, belonging to oneself, is solid, solidified, and clung-to; that is, head-hairs, body-hairs, nails, teeth, skin, flesh, sinews, bones, bone-marrow, kidneys, heart, liver, diaphragm, spleen, lungs, intestines, mesentery, contents of the stomach, feces, or whatever else internally, belonging to oneself, is solid, solidified, and clung-to: this is called the internal earth element. Now both the internal earth element and the external earth element are simply earth element. And that should be seen as it actually is with proper wisdom thus: ‘This is not mine, this I am not, this is not my self.’ When one sees it thus as it actually is with proper wisdom, one becomes disenchanted with the earth element and makes the mind dispassionate toward the earth element.

“Now there comes a time when the water element is disturbed and then the external earth element vanishes. When even this external earth element, great as it is, is seen to be impermanent, subject to destruction, disappearance, and changeˌ what of this body, which is clung to by craving and lasts but a while? There can be no considering that as ‘I’ or ‘mine’ or ‘I am.’



I was talking about the definitions of faith being similar not all the other stuff. I know there are major differences in the explanations of enlightenment, emptiness versus anatta and so forth. Just talking about the word faith and what it means.

My scope is just the specific Mahayana teachings I wrote in the OP: how do we know to trust and believe in something we haven’t experienced?

I wrote the Mahayana explanation because I was curious if the foundations were found in the EBTs for that specific question. I know what they both have faith in ultimately are different. But the process of trusting in the three jewels and developing understanding and experience seem to stretch back. I was curious about the specifics of the mechanisms of faith and not what we have faith in.

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None of the categories mentioned in the OP are in Theravada. There, material on faith is best approached through the hindrance of doubt, for which it is a partial antidote, combined with investigation which forms the major part.

“It reveals that in early Buddhism doubt is not to be overcome through faith or belief alone. Rather, to overcome and counter doubt requires a process of investigation, and due to the clarity and understanding that arises through such investigation, doubt is dispelled.”— Chapter 6 Doubt, " From Craving to Liberation – Excursions into the Thought-world of the Pāli Discourses”, Analayo

Faith has a cyclic development, through which confidence also develops:

" Based on the total removal of doubt through the experience
of stream-entry, a noble disciple is endowed with unwavering
confidence or faith, aveccappasāda (SN V 357). Coming back
to a point already made above, faith and confidence, instead of
being required to overcome doubt, are rather the result of the
successful removal of doubt through investigation. "—ibid

The other place where recollection of the Buddha figures is in supplementary themes related to the Anapanasati and Satipatthana suttas, where the second tetrad of the Anapanasati instructs:

"[9] He trains himself, ‘I will breathe in sensitive to the mind.’ He trains himself, ‘I will breathe out sensitive to the mind.’ [10] He trains himself, ‘I will breathe in satisfying the mind.’ He trains himself, ‘I will breathe out satisfying the mind.’ [11] He trains himself, ‘I will breathe in steadying the mind.’ He trains himself, ‘I will breathe out steadying the mind.’ [12] He trains himself, ‘I will breathe in releasing the mind.’ He trains himself, ‘I will breathe out releasing the mind.’—MN 118

Manipulating the state of a distracted mind through ‘satisfying’ or ‘steadying’, involves themes such as recollection of the Buddha. So it can be seen how ‘faith’ in Theravada has a more practical application.