Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Faith and Emptiness

It seems that for many people the word `Faith' is problematic. For
many people, the reason why is become of the negative connotations
that they have with that term. For some, that is based on bad
experiences they had with previous religious affiliations, or contact
with those of other religions. For some, it is because they wish this
religion of theirs to be as different as possible from other
religions. For some, it's because they wish this religion to be as
`rational', and `empirical' as possible. Often, related areas such as
ritual, prayer, devotion etc, etc are also problematic.

So the notion of Faith is often dealt with in such a way as to allow
such people to `accommodate' this aspect of Dharma and the teachings.
We may set up things up to make it more palatable for us, and thereby
allow us to `take onboard' something of this part of the teachings.

I say all this not by way of criticism, but rather to point out
something that I seem to see happening at times, and with the
intention of trying to point out that we are not necessarily neutral
in our approach to the Dharma, or in opening to the teachings, but may
have a lot of `baggage' which influences how we receive those
teachings. Indeed, this is Karma and Dependent Origination.

One may find that over the years our views change, and that things are
not quite as black and white, or dualistic as we once thought, and the
neat differences between religions and approaches are not quite as
hard and fast as they initially appeared (or we might not!).

One example might suffice – the neat distinction between so called
`blind belief' and `faith' (in the Dharmic sense). It is said that
faith is very different from such blind belief. Yet how much blind
belief is their in our minds and actions every day? Do we assume that
the sun will rise tomorrow, or that we will wake up from sleep
tomorrow. Or that we won't die today, or that our next breath isn't
our last?

On what basis? Perhaps, on the basis that the sun came up yesterday,
for example? How do I know that? My memory? How do I know that is
accurate? How do I know that what appears to memory accurately
`records' that which actually happened? By what objective criteria
could I possibly judge?

What is a `memory', what is `what is actually happening right now'?

As we look deeply into things, we may find that they are not as solid
and certain as we once thought (again, we might not!). We might find
that things (things?) are utterly groundless ... utterly without any
centre, solidity or certainty. On what would we base ourselves then,
in certainty? Do the Three Jewels have solid and definite existence as
real, concrete objects that we can grasp? If so, they would be `selfs'
or non-empty, would they not?

Do they not appear a certain way, though ultimately are without solid
existence. Do we not find that though they are not ultimately solid,
we can depend on them, on the way they appear to us? Is it not because
of their emptiness, their utter groundlessness that we can depend on them?

If so, faith is based on something that is not solid. If so, our every
act is based on appearances that arise, but ultimately are found to be
without solidity at all. If so, and this is my point, our response in
terms of faith/belief is something which isn't a solid thing relying
on a solid thing, but more of the nature of a skilful means which
takes something as it is, as something empty yet appearing, and which
therefore doesn't yearn for the solidity of certainty which is the
solidity of selfhood.

The act of faith is not solid, and neither is that on which the act of
faith is based. The experience in which faith is grounded, which gives
us confidence, is not solid, and cannot be found when searched for.
And yet neither is it non-existent. Faith isn't therefore a certainty
based on something solid and real, and neither is it a blind belief
based on something which doesn't exist for us. But instead, it is
something which shimmers somehow between the two seemingly dualistic
poles (faith as confidence vs. blind belief) ... something which is a
resonance and response to what is, something which is drawn out of us
in many different ways … But always on the basis of what is 'deepest'
or `truest' in us resonating which what is 'deepest' or 'truest' in
the nature of things. When the bell tolls, the heart responds. And
that response is 'faith'; however you describe it, or translate the term.

(a recent post to a Dharma study group)


tamingthemind said...

Often, I find myself living in the "nots" of my life. One of them being that I am not a person of faith or belief. But, that is another limit that I have placed upon myself.

Chodpa said...

Hi there :-)

would you like to share what it means to 'live in the "nots" of your life' ... I can't really imagine what that means ....

take care of yourself,

Al said...

Nice post.
I have, only over the past few months, started to really internalize the idea of faith (when properly applied)being, nothing more or nothing less than
skilful means. Faith as technique - or more accurately, faith as craft, which contains technique.
Sprinkle a little faith on doubt, and see things from a different angle....:)