There is a very nice post at Ditch the Raft about Great Faith. Reading this made me aware of some of the different qualities of faith. The faith written about is clearly recognisable to me, but it is interesting to see it expressed in opposite terms to those I would use.
Andi Young, the author of Ditch the Raft, expresses faith as follows: "I actually had zero faith, because at the most basic level I believed I was incapable of awakening on any level", and "I struggle to have the faith to not just not fail, but to believe that I can stand on my conviction and build a foundation" and says, "I used to think faith was about believing in something out there." Eloquent. It says how, under the influence of her teachers, she has struggled to move her understanding of faith toward a position that has a greater element of self-confidence, self-belief and self-efficacy in it. In my case, I have struggled in exactly the opposite direction. I now have faith precisely because I know that I will fail, know about my incapacity, know I do need something out there, know that I do not have a foundation that is my own. That is now my understanding of what anatma (non-self) is all about. It is because I half recognise my state as a foolish being of wayward passions that I know that I have to have faith and cannot do this Buddhism business all by myself. Now although this is exactly the opposite of what Andi says, the actual quality that we are describing is very similar. We are both talking about "Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway" to borrow Susan Jeffers title. Andi conceptualises this as meaning that if it happens it will be because she does it and she therefore does not need anything from outside herself. I conceptualise it as knowing that "I" cannot do it, just proceed in faith. Amida may see me through, but, whatever happens, it will be OK. Perhaps these are two languages for the same thing, perhaps not. Sometimes yes, sometimes no. If we think we are in a state of delusion, then we implicitly recognise something beyond that delusion, don't we? Let's, for the moment, use the Buddhist term "the Unborn" to refer to that something. We may think that we can attain and ourselves become the Unborn and that we can do this by means of certain practices. That is one approach to Buddhism, one colour of faith. Or we may think, it is inconceivable that I could become the Unborn, certainly in this lifetime, given what I know about myself, but I can relate to and rely upon the Unborn - even a deluded being such as I can do that. These are both faith, but they are faiths of different colours. Perhaps Andi's is Great Faith and mine is little faith. There may be consequences of having a particular colour of faith. The first approach may lead a person to make super-human effort and engage in arduous practice in far away lands, at risk to their health, heroically. My own Zen teacher ruined her health in this way. In the process she learnt some marvellous things, but took many years off her life. When I practised with her, my own health suffered seriously. Now, I find it more natural to find faith in a way that involves acceptance of my nature as a fallible and frail being and to attempt compassion not from the position of being (or even hoping to become) a great bodhisattva but from the position of being in the same boat - an ordinary person. This has been a liberation for me. For me now, the "something out there" is the Unborn - Amida. It is not me. It is very important that it is not me. Spiritual maturity now seems to me to reside in recognising that "me" is not the be-all-and-end-all and that salvation does indeed come from beyond - from the measureless, undefineable something out there. I am aware that in many respects, Andi and I are simply using different language to say similar things. The tone is, however, different and this may well lead to different behaviour. I have been through the rigours of Zen and had all that it had to offer. What I discovered at the end of it is that I am still as foolish as the next person. Now, I feel like a fish that was let off the hook. I probably have this all wrong, but I imagine that Siddhartha Gotama probably felt something very similar when he gave up asceticism. I no longer pray for enlightenment or to be a great monk. The enlightenment that I have - namely the knowledge that I am not cut out for sainthood and that kindness is more important than attainment - is quite liberating enough. Andi is aware of her doubts and weakness - to me that is what is salvational, not the overcoming of them per se. We are weak. We may pray that our moral failing diminish - may long for them to do so, but whether they do so or not is not just a function of effort - it has a great deal more to do with such factors as whether we love and feel loved. Compassion lies in recognising that we are in passion together, not in extinguishing it. What I love about your writing Andi is precisely the fact that your passion and frailty shows through. To recognise one's deluded nature is to recognise that there is something beyond it - something out there - and seeing something like that, I'm going to bow to it. We need something to bow to. Thank you, Andi. I hope we can meet across this conceptual gulf and I just hope you go on being frail like me and don't become too good a nun. Some things we learn the hard way - much of my spiritual life has been like that. I wish it were not so. I prefer learning the easy way and I certainly wish that those I love could do so, but to learn the easy way one has to put one's faith in something out there. If Buddha nature means becoming a super-saint, it's well outside my ken - wonderful for some no doubt, but off my planet. If it means realising that asceticism and spiritual self-reliance are just as ignoble as greed and self-indulgence, I can go with that. Are we saying the same thing..... or not?