Buddhist Faith

This post is mainly for Christians to help them explore how others use the word “faith”.  Doing comparative studies between different religions –especially very different religions– allows an insight that cannot be had by only in-house, confessional studies.

Believe it or not, “faith” is present in Buddhism too.  But like all religions, there are many varieties of Buddhism and each with conflicting stances.  For that reason, there is no agreement on “faith” in Buddhism just as there is no agreement on “faith” in Christianity.   See this great Wiki article on “Faith in Buddhism” for a richer explanation..

So with that important caveat, below I share an example how “faith” is understood by some in a sect (denomination) of Buddhism called Vajrayāna Buddhism.  What I love about this view  is that it adds adjectives before the vague word “faith” to more closely describe different uses of “faith”.  See my post on the various meaning of “faith” in Christian circles.

So here are the Vajrayāna different categories of “faith”:

Bad Faith:

  • Blind Faith

Good Faith’s Evolution:

  1. Clear Faith (aspiration)
  2. Aspiring Faith
  3. Confident Faith (deep conviction)
  4. Unshakable Faith (irreversible faith)

Blind Faith:  The Buddha warned his disciples against blind faith. ‘Do not believe what I say simply out of respect for me. Discover from your own lives the truth of what I am teaching you’.

1. Clear Faith:  When the practitioner becomes aware of the qualities of the Buddha and his teachings, his mind becomes light and joyful. That is the first degree of faith: Clear Faith

2. Aspiring Faith: Then, when he realizes these qualities can enable him to achieve Enlightenment and help a large number of beings, he begins to want to acquire them. Clear faith has turned into aspiration.

3. Confident Faith: When the follower becomes sure, from his own experience, that those qualities can be developed and are as sublime as described in the writings, he acquires a deep conviction.

4. Unshakable Faith: Finally when, through spiritual accomplishment, his faith has becomes so much a part of his mind that he would not be able to renounce it, it is irreversible.


See other “Word!” posts, here.


Filed under Philosophy & Religion

17 responses to “Buddhist Faith

  1. Well said, Sabio! We Buddhists do talk about faith in just these terms.

  2. Love the teaching on blind faith, words are just so cheap these days.

  3. i like this evolution of faith, it is eye opening, but it has taken me a little while to figure out where i am in total. i think it depends on the Christian doctrine at hand or moral principle being discussed. i have unshakable faith on my belief that there is a God which is best described as a unifying spirit or energy panentheistically understood. yet i’m rather agnostic to how that spirit intervenes and have a “clear” sorta thing on it, where i’m going on my particular tradition’s understanding and a non-verifiable subjective experiential data set. so it goes. i’m still puzzled on these categories as i am not sure how to translate them from Buddhism to my own faith, yet i like the flow of them. very well done.

  4. @ Ghost
    Yeah, it would be tough translating to Christianity in that the type of Buddhist faith I am discussing here is faith in METHODS and not faith in TRUTHS. “Belief” is not key in many sorts of Buddhisms. That is a huge difference in these two religions. That is an oversimplification, of course, but it gets close to home.

  5. there’s a huge difference?! no no, all religions are the same Sabio! they are all worthless and can’t teach us anything! haven’t you heard 😉

  6. @ Ghost
    Your last three comment have been sarcasm — is it something you ate?
    But this is an important topic. “Universalism” as an approach has major problems:

    (1) Assuming all religions are the same in some essential way is implying that one know exactly what the essence of religion is or should be.

    (a) So if a believer things they understand what all religions are really pointing at, the are dismissing all the things those other religions disagree about. They are actually just starting a new religion.

    (b) If a non-believer just dismisses all religions as essentially just “wrong” they dismiss the complexity of what religion accomplishes irrespective of the foolishness of the propositional values of their dogmas.

    The faiths of both these religions can be accomplishing very different things. Just like all the various faiths in the different Christianities accomplish different things from each other. Admitting this, however, does take the holy notion out of faith that so many people want to still keep. It is more of a “sociology of religion” approach rather than a “confessional religion” approach.

  7. you misunderstand universalism drastically.

    1 & 2. is not universalism, that would be colonialism.

    3. largely the comment was directed at those types.

    and your last paragraph leans towards binary thinking, do you not think that those inside the religion do both sociology and confessional at the same time? those outside the faith oft misunderstand it because they miss the confessional part. those inside the faith who are zealots tend to miss the sociology. gotta have both IMO to fully understand a religion.

  8. “universalism” is used in many ways. ONE, is in terms of salvation. ONE, is in terms of grasp on truth. Often the two are linked. See this Wiki article. So maybe you can see that I don’t misunderstand the uses of the word — yet alone “drastically” misunderstand.

    Yes, I understand that your comment was directed at #3. I was trying to broaden the principal to show how your criticism has perhaps broader implications than you may wish to embrace.

  9. “Universalism in the religious context claims that religion or religious man (sic) is a universal quality.”

    yup, but don’t conflate this with Unitarianism. it’s a different concept. while it’s true that religion is universal and shares many of the same attributes, it is not held in the Universalist mindset that all are doing the same thing. while “The living truth is seen as more far-reaching than national, cultural, or religious boundaries.” each religion has a different understanding and different approach to the truth which must be honored and recognized. Unitarianism tends to conflate them and add the claim that thus all are religions are pointing to the same thing, and this step i feel is a massive mistake and you’re right in stating it thus creates a new religion… a colonial one most times. gotta get the nuance, and i embrace that.

  10. @ Ghost,
    So, terms aside, do we agree on the following:
    a) The move to see all religions as addressing the same deep Truth, is a mistake
    b) The move to see all religions as totally mistaken in all aspects, is a mistake
    c) The move to see all people as fumbling with knowledge, is correct

    (things were getting too fuzzy for me, so I thought I nail down either agreements or disagreements).

    I totally disagree with the statement that “each religion has a different understanding and different approach to the truth which must be honored and recognized” — well actually, since both “honored” and “recognized” are vague to me, I can’t be sure that I “totally” disagree. But I am not a relativist and will dishonor and try to squash many ideas in many religions and in many secular-philosophies too. “Honoring” is only given when deserved, in my book. “Recognizing” in one sense means to say, “you have the right to exist” — which I do not agree with for many views — especially violent, divisive views — we should work hard to weed them out. Freedom is easily lost, it must be cultured and nurtured.

    But then, that statement may simply have been you saying what someone else believes — I am not sure.

  11. a.)i don’t know about that. i think there are some basic truths that are universal like nonviolence and community (which involves justice and charity etc) that are true but approached with drastically different motivations and means to achieve the goals. so i guess, in that sense, i’m a relativist and a univeralist without being a Unitarian. the difference being that there may be a Truth but we can only get to it through truth, if that makes any sense. i’ll think on that some more and post about it.

    b.) yes, exactly.
    c.) yes, exactly.

    honored in the sense of “i see this is what you believe and why” even when you disagree, and in disagreeing you aren’t killing them because of that fact. this goes hand in hand with recognizing. i agree with the violent and divisive views and my two cent phrase is “intolerance will not be tolerated.” so i was meaning to recognize the differences (many don’t both inside and outside the faiths) and to honor them as you put it that they “have the right to exist.” that was my meaning.

  12. OK, so we narrowed it down.
    I think that the desire to make all religions as looking at the same truth is an inaccurate idealism. People form religions for all sorts of reasons. Religions are often far more than just seeking what you call “truth”. So if you want atheists to not label all religions as mistaken idiocy, I think that to be consistent, you should not want someone to label all religions as “just different attempts at truth”. That is equally as naive, IMHO.

  13. so in your view there is no Truth with a capital T, no objective truth? no universal ethic or standard?

    i won’t deny i’m idealistic. seeking to understand. thanks.

  14. Oh dear, the “Truth” issue. I feel for somethings there are more accurate descriptions than others. Running to ONE THING (truth, god, freedom or whatever) always seems like a slant of mind. Improving our description of things to see if our predictions can match reality is a very good thing — I can call that “truth” but the philosophy big T stuff really leaves me cold — it is the favorite domain of theologians because you can’t nail it down so they can just keep writing books.

    So, before we get lost in that pointless, dead-end conversation, I go back to previous posts where I say:

    Religions are composed of many different functions — they don’t have ONE purpose, they don’t have ONE goal, they are used by their followers for a multitude of purposes which get amalgamated in religion. So trying to make a religion to be ESSENTIALLY about “Seeking Truth” (whatever the heck that means), I am totally skeptical about the “essential” element of that sentence — that is my point, not the “Truth” element.

  15. “Running to ONE THING (truth, god, freedom or whatever) always seems like a slant of mind.”

    and thus it can be argued the other way that “running to nothing (atheism, nihilism, reason (whatever that means) whatever) always seems like a slant of mind.” sounds like a postmodern argument. or a realistic idealism argument that doesn’t sound like you.

    i agree, dead end conversation as it is a slant of mind issue.

    and i agree on the last paragraph. i guess where my universalism comes in is to note the overlaps and similarities yet resist conflating these ideas and saying “these are the same… but different.” as that’s a weasel phrase.

  16. Good, if you agree with my last paragraph, we agree on a lot. We may not do better than that.

    I would challenge you that if you keep seeing me as a science-blind, nihilistic atheist you will harm our dialogue.

  17. yeah, we prolly won’t. as for the last paragraph here, i don’t see you as that, i was more provide counters to what you first offered in a binary sense.

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