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Saturday, October 10, 2009

Faith in Buddhism.

Perhaps because of our Judeo-Christian background, we have a tendency to regard doubt as something shameful, almost as an enemy. We feel that if we have doubts, it means that we are denying the teachings and that we should really have unquestioning faith. Now in certain religions, unquestioning faith is considered a desirable quality. But in the Buddha-dharma, this is not necessarily so. Referring to the dharma, the Buddha said, “ehi passiko,” which means “come and see,” or “come and investigate,” not “come and believe.”

An open, questioning mind is not regarded as a drawback to followers of the Buddha-dharma. However, a mind that says, “This is not part of my mental framework, therefore I don't believe it,” is a closed mind, and such an attitude is a great disadvantage for those who aspire to follow any spiritual path. But an open mind, which questions and doesn't accept things simply because they are said, is no problem at all.

–Ani Tenzin Palmo, from “Necessary Doubt,” Tricycle, Summer 2002. Special thanks to Philip Ryan at Tricycle for this quote.

James: This reminds me of the quote, "Minds are like parachutes. They only work when they're open." One of the reasons that I began to sour on Christianity was because of the insistence upon "blind faith." I never understood how using my mind to question the claims being made by adult leaders in my former church was giving into "Satan" when "God" was the one who gave me that brain, which is able to question in the first place!! I like the translation of "come and see" because it is an invitation to spirituality but coupled with an invitation to see for yourself. I was very impressed with that approach when I first began investigating Buddhism. It is a very science based approach to spirituality, which appealed greatly to me as one who was raised on the scientific method.

Seeing is believing as we say in the west and in many ways Buddha was an ancient scientist of the mind and perhaps the first psychiatrist. The teaching of cause and effect is very much a foundation of scientific inquiry. He was certainly compared to a doctor prescribing countless variations of the Dharma (medications) to each person based on their individual karmic needs. That said, let's get back to the psychiatrist analogy in specific. A psychiatrist knows that trust is vital to enabling the patient in believing that the specific treatment plan prescribed will be helpful to the patient. That means allowing the patient to ask questions about the process. That's because a psychiatrist/psychologist knows that if a person feels like they are doing something out of guilt, fear or blind faith it doesn't matter how helpful the therapy might be, the patient is simply not going to buy into the program.

Buddhism is a lot like psychological therapy program put forth by Buddha. He knew that being able to question his teachings was the only way people would fully consider what he taught without feeling forced into it and force is completely antithetical to the Dharma he revealed. Buddha was a great questioner as he dared question the great Brahmin priest class of his day, which was very rebellious. He took the power of religion out of the hands of the privileged few and gave it back to the masses. He was a Robin-hood of spirituality in a way. That great tradition of questioning phenomenon and experiences for oneself is to me what makes Buddhism such a respected tradition. It treats people like adults rather than children to be told what to think, believe and how to act.

He was not very interested in speculation and open-ended faith but rather faith, which is merely a step in-between ignorance and knowing for oneself. It is a pit-stop of sorts along the journey of experiential wisdom. The Great Awakened one said in the Kasibharadvaja Sutta of the Samyutta Nikaya that "Faith is the seed and practice is the rain" which is nothing near blind faith. He goes on further saying, "And wisdom is my yoke and my plough." Thus, without the wisdom (the plough) to prepare the fertile field (the mind) with experience the seed of faith will wither, dry up, die and be of no use. Faith in Buddhism is in large part more of a conviction to accomplish ones goals for oneself, rather than being a submission and obedience to others as is often the case with the monotheistic religions.

~Peace to all beings~

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DQ's Windmill said...

and of unmistakeable value, is the faith one has in her teacher, and all the old masters, that they have pointed the way truly.

They call him James Ure said...

Yes, DQ. I personally would add that it's important that it's not blind faith but faith balanced with direct experience.

Was Once said...

Well put James, you are serving as a teacher!

Star said...

It's amazingly steadying to find a teaching that asks us to use our sense, maybe in part because it says that we should have faith in ourselves, that if we study and apply our own natural wisdom, we have what it takes to see clearly.

Chandrakeerthi said...

Good post James.
But, I would like to add more.

Yes, The Buddha said "come and see". But, how to see is not known by anybody today. What they do is just "learning" everything available today as Buddhism. Everybody believes what is found in Buddhist text books is correct. Nobody argues the content and its explanations. Remember The Buddha never wrote his teaching and never made a statue of his.

The way to "see" was called practical Noble Eightfold Path (NEP). It was lost over 2,000 years ago. It was the unique discovery of The Buddha. He put everybody into practice it and let them see everything he saw! He was the only teacher who said "the followers must also see what I see". Therefore, it was not a religion, belief or a philosophy.

Today, because of the lack of the practical NEP Buddhism is another poor belief contraray to what The Buddha said!

They believe the Buddha statue is that of The Buddha's despite it being not bold headed like his follower monks today. They believe the Buddha relics worshiped in Asian countries are that of The Buddha despite they can be put to a scientific DNA test since they say Buddhism is the only religion that can face the challanges of modern science! They blindly believe what is found in books as teachings of The Buddha though The Buddha has mentioned The Dhamma cannot be written! Further they believe the explanations given by various teachers of Buddha's teaching as correct without questioning! The explanation of "ehi passiko" in your post is one such example.

The practical NEP is the only path to "see"(realise)the mind. Seeing the mind is called attaining Nirvana or realisation of the Four Noble Truths(FNT). Therefore, ultimate goal of NEP is realisation of FNT. In deed FNT is the cross section of the mind!

As you have mentioned it is very correct to say The Buddha was the first psychiatrist. What people call as mind today is not the mind! It is called Vinna in Buddhism. It is the mind's store of knowledge and expeiriences or memory! Truely, today's psychology should be called Vinnanalogy! Any mad person has the mind intact but, what is wrong with him/her is the mind accessing something In Vinnana(memory) too much!

The practical NEP was discovered again by Ven. Lankapura Sariputhra in Sri Lanka recently. With practice of practical NEP people can attain Nirvana again after 2,000 od years, without use of books at all. The books serve to show us that after 2,000 odd years the followers are back on track!

With the practice of NEP one can see the mind separately from brain and nervous system! At a certain stage of practice the mind comes to the tip of the tongue and "pulsates" showing that mind can be separated from body and it can live without a body if the separation can be made permanent by going futher. This is the "life" in Nirvana or supreme eternal bliss!

NEP is the method to separate mind from body and practicing it is the practice of seeing, hearing, feeling etc. directly by the mind without using the eyes, ears etc. The direct use of mind instead of the five senses is called Prajna and is erroneousely explained as Wisdom. Wisdom is from Vinnana.

The original teaching of the Buddha or unstained Buddhism is back. It is unarguable and the Buddhism in all other forms are arguable and can be challenged!

When one practice the NEP it can be seen it is found in hidden form in all his teachings!

They call him James Ure said...

Was Once:

Thanks. I'm glad that my writings are helpful.


Faith in ourselves is perhaps the most useful form of faith in Buddhism. At least that's what I've found in my experience.


Yes, the Eight Fold Path is vital for Buddhism to be helpful in our lives.

Shinzen Nelson said... must be in my head...I too went through the 'blind faith' issues and would often rant, 'god gave me brains to use and to question...that is my gift'.

What drew me to Buddha's teachings was the acceptance of doubt and the encouragement of investigation.

I also like your post cause my Dharma name of Shinzen means 'Faith Zen'. My teacher knew me pretty well to give me a name I at first resented, but now love and am growing into.

Keep up the great teachings.

In Gassho...

André said...

@James: Excellent post, and I must say that blind faith was a reason why I never got into Christianity. Doubt is healthy, as long as we're open minded.
Anyway, I've been following your blog for a few weeks now, and I'm reading my way through the 2006 archives at the moment. A great blog. Keep it up!

@chandrakeerthi: "The practical NEP was discovered again by Ven. Lankapura Sariputhra in Sri Lanka recently. With practice of practical NEP people can attain Nirvana again after 2,000 od years, without use of books at all. "

Could you please tell me a bit more about this? Google gives me nothing relevant :(

Freddie said...

Thanks for the great post.
I have a question about Buddhism--not quite related to your post, but I've had this question for a long time.
Also, I am still at a very early stage of studying Buddhism, so if I have any misunderstanding, please correct me...
About the reincarnation, who gets to determine who you become for next life? It seems difficult for me to believe that there is an intangible power that can determine it...
Sigh, I haven't read about Buddhism in a long time.

Chandrakeerthi said...


The NEP is explained simply and carelessly as a way of life in all Buddhist literature. You never find it described as a practical way of meditation(though it is wrong to use the word meditation here) in any text book.

It was (the method of medtation) discovered by the Buddha to attain Nirvana! All his great teachings are the result of that and all his teachings are about it!

In almost all types of meditation people try to concentrate their minds on a certain object. This was exactly what The Buddha found as wrong. By concentrating on one you are attached to it! So, to find total detachment you must give up all.

When one practice NEP he/she has to realise everything encountered. Buddha means realisation and not a person! The NEP has 08 separate steps and presently they are in a wrong order. The NEP is the eternal Buddha. Time to time when the teaching is lost one person will realise NEP as the eternal Buddha and become an Arahath as did Ven. Lankapura Sariputhra.

The NEP as it is known today is only a list. But, it is also called Dharma Chakra meaning cycle of Dharma (even this also erroneousely called wheel of Dharma). No body knows how NEP becomes a cycle!

When NEP is practiced the follower's mind transforms to the first two at the end thus making it a cyclic pocess. Then NEP becomes tenfold. The NEP is the Bodhi and the ten units are the ten Bodhisathwas found in Mahayana. To stop the cycle of rebirth called Samsara Chakra one has to apply Dharma Chakara.

When NEP is practised one can easily realise it can join Mahayana and Therawada(Hinayana) easily proving that the original, unstained Buddhism is back!

In fact one can realise Mahayana meant Dharma Chakra and Hinayana meant Samsara Chakara!

I have encountered only one instance in literature where NEP is discribed as a form of meditation. In Mahayana Surangama Suthra Ven. Ananada tells the Buddha he has seen The Buddha practicing NEP with his other followers!

The NEP is very easy to know and follow. First you must practice it and then realise this is exactly the NEP! For rapid results one must practice it at least two separate 01 hour sessions a day.

To know how to practice it in detail please write to me on

Thank you for the interest. This was what the Buddha called as Arya Paryeshana - The noble research.

The unstained Buddhism has no belief,worship, praying, chanting, rituals etc. etc. and is open for any rigorous test!

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Marco said...

But what is really faith in the real sense of the word? Is it believing even though you are really in despair of believing something?

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