Faith In Awakening

I have heard some say that there is no faith in Buddhism, that Buddhism is a completely rational philosophy.  I think many times when we hear this we need to take a step back.  Buddhism does not ask for the blind faith of many religions, at the same time faith is an integral part of practice. In the Pure Land tradition this is embraced.  Here is a good meditation on the role of faith and practice. Enjoy.

from Tricycle Magazine –  Thanissaro Bhikkhu

THE BUDDHA NEVER PLACED unconditional demands on anyone’s faith. For people from a culture where the dominant religions do make such demands, this is one of Buddhism’s most attractive features. It’s especially appealing to those who—in reaction to the demands of organized religion—embrace the view of scientific empiricism that nothing deserves our trust unless it can be measured against physical data. In this light, the Buddha’s famous instructions to the Kalamas are often read as an invitation to believe, or not, whatever we like.

Don’t go by reports, by legends, by traditions, by scripture, by logical conjecture, by inference, by analogies, by agreement through pondering views, by probability, or by the thought, “This contemplative is our teacher.” When you know for yourselves that “these mental qualities are skillful; these mental qualities are blameless; these mental qualities are praised by the wise; these mental qualities, when adopted and carried out, lead to welfare and to happiness”—then you should enter and remain in them. (Anguttara Nikaya 3.65)

Pointing to this passage, many modern writers have gone so far as to say that faith has no place in the Buddhist tradition, that the proper Buddhist attitude is one of skepticism. But even though the Buddha recommends tolerance and a healthy skepticism toward matters of faith, he also notes a conditional imperative: if you sincerely want to put an end to suffering (that’s the condition) you should take certain things on faith, as working hypotheses, and then test them by following his path of practice. The advice to the Kalamas, in fact, contains the crucial caveat that you must take into account what wise people value.

This caveat gives balance to the Buddha’s advice: just as you shouldn’t give unreserved trust to outside authority, you can’t give unreserved trust to your own logic and feelings if they go against experience and the genuine wisdom of others. As other early discourses make clear, wise people can be recognized by their words and behavior as measured against standards set by the Buddha and his awakened disciples. The proper attitude toward those who meet these standards is faith:

For a disciple who has conviction in the Teacher’s message and lives to penetrate it, what accords with the Dhamma is this: “The Blessed One is the Teacher, I am a disciple. He is the one who knows, not I.” (Majjhima Nikaya 70)

Repeatedly the Buddha stated that faith in a teacher is what leads you to learn from that teacher. Faith in the Buddha’s own awakening is a requisite strength for anyone else who wants to attain awakening. As it fosters persistence, mindfulness, concentration, and discernment, this faith can take you all the way to the deathless.

So there’s a tension in the Buddha’s recommendations about faith and empiricism. Few Asian Buddhists I know find the tension uncomfortable, but Western Buddhists—raised in a culture where religion and faith have long been at war with science and empiricism—find it very disconcerting. In my discussions with them, they often try to resolve it in the same ways in which, historically, the tension between Christian faith and scientific empiricism has been resolved in our own culture. Three general positions stand out because they are both common and clearly Western. Consciously or not, they attempt to understand the Buddha’s position on faith and empiricism in a way that can be easily mapped onto the modern Western battle lines between religion and science.

The first interpretation has its roots in the side of Western culture that totally rejects the legitimacy of faith. In this view, the Buddha embodies the Victorian ideal of the heroic agnostic, one who eschewed the childish consolations of faith in favor of a purely scientific method for strengthening one’s own mind. Because his method focused entirely on the present moment, questions of past and future were totally irrelevant to his message. Thus any references to faith in such issues as past karma, future rebirth, or an unconditioned happiness separate from the the senses are later interpolations in the texts, which Buddhist agnostics, following the Buddha’s example, should do their best to reject. The second interpretation has roots in the side of Western culture that has rejected either the specifics of Christian faith or the authority of any organized religion, but has appreciated faith as an essential requirement for mental health. This view presents the Buddha as a hero from the Romantic era, appreciating the subjective value of faith in establishing a sense of wholeness within and interconnectedness without, regardless of what the object of that faith might be. In other words, it doesn’t matter where faith is directed, as long as it’s deeply felt and personally nourishing. Faith in the Buddha’s awakening, in this view, means simply believing that he found what worked for himself, which carries no implications for what will work for you. If you find the teaching on karma and rebirth comforting, fine: believe it. If not, don’t. What’s important is that you relate to your faith in a way that’s emotionally healing, nourishing, and empowering.

read the complete article at

Meditation Can Hold Feelings, But Only Other People Heal Our Pain

a Repost from  T he dharma teacher at DharmapunxNYC since 2005; visiting teacher at Zen Care & Against the Stream. Josh’s talks:

“Dear Josh. I have been struggling with a great deal of loneliness and fear of late, and feel the need for some new meditation techniques to get through it. Would love to schedule a meeting with you to gain your insights.”

As a Buddhist teacher, mentor and, yes, podcaster (for the last 10 years at Dharma Punx NYC, and a visiting teacher at other spiritual communities) I’ve received countless emails in a similar vein to the above. The answer, each time is, “Sorry, but that’s not possible.” The issue isn’t my availability or willingness, but rather recognizing the limitations of meditation in and of itself.

Human beings are social beings; its how we’re hardwired. Our innate drive to companionship has allowed us to survive, indeed prosper over the ages. Note, for example, that neanderthals were not only bigger than us, they were stronger, faster and even had larger brains. But their gray matter was largely claimed by the regions that process eyesight and body movements; our brutish cousins were far more likely to scrounge for resources alone rather than in cooperative groups.

Our gray matter, conversely, balances toward large frontal hemispheres, which provided the capacities for language and socializing emotions, both of which are necessary for lasting, secure interpersonal connections. Almost all of our friends at one point started out as complete strangers — indeed, potential adversaries for resources. Somehow we managed to put aside our ingrained suspicions, and engaged our empathetic skills; we managed to slowly drop our defenses and coordinate our plans, developed a willingness to disclose our secrets and empathize with each other’s emotions; we relieved our burdens and shared our abundance. So we exercised our great survival advantage, an attribute that has been honed over millions of years. To the degree that human evolution was set in motion with a plan, the underlying goal achieved its fruition when we fire up our empathetic synapses and disclose our sadness, frustrations, joys and fears to each other.

Indeed, while we may like to believe that we are creatures of reason, what we long for is connection. Emotional connection, based on eye contact, reassuring expressions, safe, reassuring embraces, are as essential to psychological health as food and exercise is to the body. Baseline happiness studies, from the esteemed research of Sonja Lyubomirsky, Jonathan Haidt and Roxane Silver, to the World Happiness Report, have demonstrated what is referred to as the “hedonic treadmill”: we adapt to changes in financial security far more quickly than we suspect. For example, people who win the lottery, after roughly six months, return to the same level of happiness they sustained before picking the right numbers. But the loss of relationships leave lasting residues in the psyche; this is why those who retire often experience anxiety and depression — not the loss of income, but the loss of interpersonal connections found at a workplace. Indeed, happiness research shows that the connection with close friends is the single greatest determinant to peace of mind — and while connection to friends is largely under our control, genetics, alas, is not.

Given the importance of connecting with and caring for others, we might well wonder how can we secure our relationships? Decades of research into relationships by the renowned psychologist John Gottman shows that human links are cemented by the way we respond to each other’s bids for attention. Do we put aside texting on our smart phones, look away from Facebook or the television screen and turn our attention to each other and empathize? If so, Gottman’s studies show we’ll stick together, and be the happier for it. Alas, if we shrug off bids for connection as unimportant, or avoid working through interpersonal conflicts, choosing avoidance rather than communication, then we placing our psychological health in jeopardy, no matter how much money we make or what accomplishments we achieve.

Of course, given how painful experiences of abuse, rejection, abandonment and shaming can feel, how long the wounds can last, its understandable that many of us seek virtually any solution to numb our emotional pain rather than risking new connections. We’ll seek pharmaceutical solutions, binge on Netflix, work ourselves into grave before taking on the peril of disclosing our authentic emotions to a friend, therapist, spiritual guide. Yet it is precisely through disclosure that our distress is finally mitigated; this is the nature of the human experience, like it or not.

So when we think of deep spiritual practice, we might visualize a christian renunciate, buddhist monk or hindu yogi sitting in unaccompanied silent reflection, these cultural tropes reveal a widespread misapprehension. Meditative practices performed in isolation can help us recognize and process our emotional states, but true healing lies in those most vulnerable moments, when someone looks us in the eye, sees our pain and provides us with the mirror we so deeply seek.



‘Even Dewdrops Fall’ – An Interview with Taitetsu Unno’, in:Tricycle, Summer 1995

Tricycle: Can you talk a little bit about how you understand surrender in Buddhist practice?

Taitetsu Unno: In the first place, surrender is a Western religious category. In Buddhism, surrender is at the core of giving up the ego-self; but we don’t use a special term for it, because the whole thrust of Buddhist life revolves around surrender, giving up the ego.

Here there is a cultural difference—I can use the example of the martial arts. In this country, martial arts are described as “self-defense.” In the martial arts in East Asia, the aim is to train oneself to such an extent that there is no “self” to defend. That’s very hard for people to understand. I find the same problem in American Buddhism. For example, recently I read an article in which an American Zen Buddhist described visiting Japan, and I realized that American Buddhism is “psychotherapeutic” Buddhism, whereas in Japan, Buddhism is “faith” Buddhism. The core of faith is surrender, the giving up of the small-minded ego-self.

Tricycle: But how can we learn to surrender the ego-self voluntarily?

Taitetsu Unno: In the Shin Buddhist tradition, as we listen to the teaching we are made to realize that we can never surrender ourselves. Resistance comes from the deepest center of our karmic selves. That’s why the Buddha Amida’s compassion says, “Tai, you don’t have to surrender.” When I hear that, when I understand that I can’t do it because it’s not my nature—that it’s like saying, “Fly to the sky”—then I realize that I don’t have to surrender, yet, naturally and spontaneously, the surrender takes place by virtue of true compassion. This is “other-power” working through “self-power.” But this requires a tremendous struggle. As long as I think I can do it myself, it’s not going to work.

Tricycle: But how can we learn to let go like that more often? I know I can get there in unusual circumstances, but not ordinarily.

Taitetsu Unno: In Shin, the Pure Land tradition, it comes down to listening to the teaching. There is no meditative practice as such. Listening is becoming awakened. I have my own views of things, and Buddhism presents its views. Gradually, my views are displaced by the views that enlightened Buddhist teachers have cultivated for 2,500 years.

Tricycle: Do you think that American Buddhists overemphasize meditation?

Taitetsu Unno: Yes and no. The temple of modern life requires moments of silent meditation, but that’s not the goal of Buddhism. We were in Japan for six months recently, and while there I was reading articles and essays written by Buddhist laypeople and monks. The very distinguished abbot of a huge Zen monastery wrote this little article that said, “In Zen, there are only three things. First, cleaning. Second, chanting. And third, devotion. That’s all.” Many Americans go to Zen hoping to get enlightened, but they don’t want to do the cleaning. It’s very demanding and rigorous. You get up at 3:00 A.M.—and you not only sweep the floor, but you have to mop it. On your knees, you know? And then you have to chant, for an hour in the morning and an hour at night. You can understand why a bright young American boy would say, “What am I wasting my time for? I want to get enlightened.” But enlightenment can be manifested only in the daily chores of cleaning and sweeping and polishing—and chanting and devotion.

Tricycle: And the teaching.

Taitetsu Unno: Oh yes. Some people like to meditate and physically they’re able to, but some people can’t because of health reasons or life situations such as family obligations, economic problems, and so on. That doesn’t make them less of a person or less of a Buddhist, you know?