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what is ‘faith’?

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What does the word “faith” conjure up for you? Many associate it with religiosity. Yet according to etymology online the word didn’t enter religious discourse until the mid-1300s: rooted in Old French to mean “duty of fulfilling one’s trust,” it comes from the Latin fidere “to trust.” 

What got me excited about the faith word is reading a book by Sharon Salzberg, a senior meditation teacher in the Theravada (Vipassana) tradition, in which she “strips away negative conceptions that dismiss faith as being divisive or requiring blind adherence to a belief system” (from the liner notes). Her own spiritual practice continues to evolve and I’m reassured to see my ups and downs validated by someone so experienced.  

Early on the spiritual path, Salzberg writes, practitioners undergo bright faith, where “we feel exalted as we are lifted out of our normal sense of insignificance, thrilled as we no longer feel lost and alone. … we act on our potential to transform our suffering and live in a different way” (p. 29). Over the years I’ve had moments of thrill and relief and now witness similar excitement in our sitting group.

Somewhere along the way bright faith morphs into verifying faith. “For our faith to mature,” says Salzberg, “we need to weigh what others tell us against our own experience of the truth. We need to honor ourselves enough to rely on our own experience more than on the experiences of others” (p. 47). This rings true for me. After working in adult education for most of my adult life, I believe that (most) adults prefer self-directed and experiential learning.

Such a background is a mixed blessing for me. I thrive when held responsible for my thoughts and actions and believe that True Nature resides within each of us. At the same time, I’m still wrestling with dogma, ritual, and the don’t-ask-just-do style of instruction customary in Zen centres.

More on this as I work my way through this excellent book. Meanwhile a question for you: Does any of this resonate with you?

source: Salzberg, S. (2002). Faith: trusting your own deepest experience. New York: Riverhead Books. image:


2 responses »

  1. I cannot follow the “my way or the highway” method of instruction. I don’t know that others always have my best interests at heart and trust/faith in another person comes with experience; the kind of knowing that inspires faith takes time. I would make a horrible Zen Buddhist monk. I have always had a problem with believing in God or some higher power, much less having faith in it. It has taken me nearly 50 years to discover why: I was taught that God exists as a separate entity and the reality is there is nothing outside of ourselves. We are all manifestations of the higher power, the universal consciousness, God, or whatever we want to call the life force, spirit, source that creates existence. We are IN God; thus we are God, too. I don’t believe in the biblical God of my Catholic brainwashing nor do I think just because I am God, too, that I can perform miracles or judge another. I think those are manmade constructs developed to control people.

    Very thought-provoking ideas. Thanks.

  2. Faith is a gift
    Faith precedes understanding
    in the Life Death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ
    in poverty of spirit
    holding the question of yin and yang


    breathing in dying
    breathing out rising
    every breath
    all over again…


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