We met for coffee this morning and the conversation became heated over the topic of “faith.” Initial reactions varied because we didn’t define the term. In common parlance, we tacitly agreed, it means “strongly believing in something, such as a god and certain doctrines.” Only when we refined our working definition to say “acceptance of a concept that cannot be proved beyond all doubt by human reason” did calm return.
One of my Zen teachers, I explained, often concludes his formal talks with the wish that we may “have faith, have deep faith.” Each time I’ve heard him say these words, I noticed tears in his eyes — as if he considered this bit of utmost importance to our well-being. Three years ago, while hiking in Switzerland, I sent an email asking what it was he wanted me to have faith in. His reply was deliberately obscure: “just have faith.” By which he meant, I now think, that I develop an attitude of confidence in the teachings of the Buddha and, more specifically, in my Buddha Nature.
Seen this way, faith is a prerequisite for a life grounded in the precepts — tempered by critical reflection and testing against direct experience. Blind faith is not part of Zen teachings. In fact, during one of his last sermons before he died, the historical Buddha is said to have told the assembled to “be a lamp unto yourself.” In short: Figure it out for yourself! Don’t rely on external voices, gurus, books. Each of you is capable (and entitled!) to cultivate insight and understanding of what is true.