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Pure Land Notes. Journal of the Pure Land Buddhist Fellowship. Web version. namandabuPLN web header.gif
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The Tannisho Today
Rev Tairyu Furukawa March 1996
On Meditation
Vaughan Evans May 1995
From Blood to Rocks
Geoff Carpenter March 1996
Tokudo
Rev John Paraskevopoulos March 1996
The Meaning of Kikyoshiki
Hongwangi International CentreSeptember 1996
The Shin Buddhist Way
Rev Jack Austin September 1996
A Sutra of Healing and Protection
Tricycle Publications March 1996
Rules for Being Human
Unknown September 1996
Reliance
September 1996 Sallea Ungar
The Importance of Self Effort
Joren MacDonald September 1997
Self Power and Other Power Play Together
David Brazier
September 1997
Faith in What?
Sep 1997 Ajahn Sumedho (summerised by Max Flisher) Sep 1997
The Myokonin
Friedrich Fenzl September 1997
Seiza
Toshio Murakami September 1997
 
 

 

FAITH IN WHAT?
Ajahn Sumedho


This is a summary of a talk given at Amaravati Monastery on 27 July 1997 by the Spiritual Director, Ajahn Sumedho. The talk has been summarised by Max Flisher, who attended the talk.

Apart from marking the first of these talks for 1997, today is my birthday and the Sunday after the start of Vassa. In Asian countries, Vassa is the rainy season beginning with the full moon in July and ending with the full moon in October - a time to refrain from travelling, a time to stay at home and reflect. What is known as Buddhism, now has international connections, and they are increasing, and so Vassa has lost its monsoon relatedness in many areas of the world, but the tradition, and the spiritual implications of observing it, remain.

The first Noble Truth enunciated by the Buddha for our examination and reflection is that common experience of humanity we call suffering and our reactions to it. In this sense, suffering covers many conditions from unsatisfactoriness to all those negative perceptions we are caught up in, often leading to obsessiveness, depression, anguish and fear. Even the happiest of conditions sooner or later lead on to something else.

We think we know our own language but the possibilities of misunderstanding in its usage are enormous, and much of it we are unaware of Some words, for example 'faith', are subject to a wide variety of interpretation. What is faith and faith is what? Faith has often been seen as opposed to wisdom and intellectual acumen. For instance, I used to consider myself a wisdom type but nowadays I'm all for faith, but are they really opposed. In Buddhist practice, they are mutually supportive.

Faith, in this Buddhist sense, is not concerned with belief or views and opinions, but with experiencing and doing. When we misunderstand it, we are trapped in views as were the Kalamas of Kesaputta who came to the Buddha to ask him to adjudicate those views. They received this reply: 'Now, Kalamas, do not go by hearsay, nor by what is handed down by others, nor by what people say, nor by what is stated on the authority of your traditional teachings. Do not go by reasoning, nor by inferring, nor by argument as to method, nor from reflection on and approval of an opinion, nor out of respect, thinking a recluse must be deferred to. But. Kalamas, when you know yourselves "These teachings are not good; they are blameworthy, they are condemned by the wise; these teachings, when followed out and put into practice, conduce to loss and suffering"- then reject them'. In the Buddha's case, this was obviously not a recipe for nihilism or cynicism. If we reject faith altogether, we demonstrate our unwillingness to trust or to have any refuge.

Like many feeling states, faith is impervious to logic. It is not a partial thing to be argued about. It involves the truth, the whole truth. The Buddha called that all inclusive truth, 'the Dhamma'. A Buddhist takes refuge in the Buddha, the Dhamma and the Sangha. Having faith in the Dhamma is having faith in, taking refuge in everything, including the Deathless. This faith, Saddha (a Pali word which includes 'devotion') is an intuitive realisation of the present, a reliance or actuality in a state of mental relaxation that is not caught up in emotional or mental concerns. Nor is it the avoidance of suffering. We cannot understand the real nature of suffering, and thereby be free of the whole of it, by avoiding it. When we merely try to avoid suffering, we are mainly succumbing to our own reactions towards it - being in fear of it, being threatened, limited and restrained by it.

What is the attitude of our mind towards what we have to do? Saddha arises from looking at this. It means that a part of us is willing to trust and learn from what is going on inside our heart and head. It is not that we reject the help of reason and logic - we engage them as useful tools and not to reach a position. Everything becomes open to examination. Dismissive-ness, too, is examined, as are those things written off as unimportant. The lure of the future is examined and what we hope or fear it holds. If we misjudge the nature of Enlightenment (as a position, for instance) the lure of the future is often the impulse towards it. But everything real is now.

By having faith and trust in everything, we discover that we tend to be stuck with the same, repeating impulses. By trying to get rid of them, however, memories and thoughts are strengthened and often they increase. What is needed is to understand them, but what do we understand by understanding? Is it done by standing apart from something or by standing under it, in the midst of it, being aware of the experience of it? So doing, what are the implications of suffering (called Dukkha in Buddhism)? The answers are not to be embodied in long essays, but by looking at these things steadily in a non-interfering way. If we try to move away from them, restlessness ensues. So, get with it! It's not a matter of getting rid of the suffering or resisting it, but of total acceptance. With a 'Here it is again', we stand under it (we understand it), whereupon it disappears. This procedure is what the Buddha called 'The Middle Way', which is the transcending of it - a mutual, non-interfering, going beyond. Feel it: understand it! So doing is an act of faith, trusting in our ability to embrace life in the present. It means the accepting of the whole of being as it is here-and-now in its fullness, non-discriminatingly. In this way arises an intuitive awareness, a timeless receptivity, not favouring or judging. Let it be what it is right now. Trust your ability to do this.

It is all right (never a matter of then it will be all right). The Middle Way stops worry, it stops anxiety about the future. Spiritual development does not work like worldly progress which always has a sense of incompleteness about it, and whose basic programme entails 'me' and 'my'. We don't have to assume or cultivate a down-and-out, Skid Row mentality, but there's no need to be anybody at all. There's nothing to be proved, there's no example for us to become or to present. Faith is to relax amid everything, identifying with nothing. It's non-attachment, awareness, intelligence, joy.

This article first appeared, with the Author's permission, in PLN 10, September 1997. Republished here in agreement with the compiler/editor of the inaugurate hard copy Journal. The Author, any person or any organisation credited, quoted or connected with this article are cordially invited to contact me with any comments, amendments, fresh contributions or complaints. email me

 

 

 
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