Thursday, May 27, 2010

Faith

Faith is a concept usually associated with Christianity and not buddhism. But ironically, faith is often misunderstood in Christianity and faith is absolutely essential in Buddhism. The important thing to realize is that faith does not mean belief in dogma or bronze age scribblings (as  Richard Dawkins
believes, although to be fair most religious people wrongly believe this). Faith refers to faith in your own experience, it refers to the glimpses of God and Nirvana that we all have (although some people have more than others). In Christianity, the idea that faith means belief is relatively recent according to historians. The original meaning of faith is more akin to the idea of faithfulness in a marriage. The idea is that you love God and you trust God. In Buddhism faith is not often discussed, at least in westernized Buddhism. However, faith is critical for Buddhism. In Buddhism faith is is divided into two things. The first is the experience or glimpse or clue that nirvana is real. This is developed through direct experience in meditation. In Shambala Buddhism, faith in this is called doubtlessness. You do not doubt your experience. The second part is called fearlessness in Shambala. This is where you no longer suffer from fear. Fear is the primary reason we do not experience compassion and nirvana. Therefore, in buddhism, faith can be understood as a fearlessness based on doubtlessness arising from direct experience. However, it is possible to have direct experiences without developing doubtlessness, so you get people who are very good meditators but continue to act with fear in their lives because they are not taking it to the next level. In my opinion western Buddhism suffers because the faith aspect is downplayed. This may be because faith is misunderstood in the west as a belief in dogma. Faith in your experience and the Buddhist teachings is essential, but not blind faith. Buddhism is an invitation to try out the teachings and see if they are true, but at a certain point you have to develop faith, an embodied certainty that the path is true, in order to continue. So both Buddhists and Christians suffer from this misunderstanding. For Christianiy it is important to keep on mind that faith in Jesus does not mean believing a bunch of stuff about Jesus, it means a direct experience.

The God DelusionShambhala: The Sacred Path of the Warrior

Jesus and the brain

Jesus means using a part of your brain devoted to relationships withother people, including representing others in hour mind. As the Buddha correctly pointed out there are no selves so all of these represntations are false, there are no "others" but these fictions can be useful because we use them to predict cause and effect, which is what we normally call peoples behavior. However, as buddhists know, these convenient fictions also lead to beliefs that are false about others and our relationships with them. Buddhism has no self and avoids personification (so Nirvana rather than God). Christianity does the opposite going beyond personifying God to having a relationship with Jesus, who is a human. As noted there is a big danger that thinking this way can lead to serious confusion. But there is also a potential advantage in that it brings the considerable cognitive resources we have for understanding human relationships into the experience. This can help a lot in meditation and for some people ( me included) bring about states that were too hard to achieve otherwise. The trick is to use it but not be confused about it. There is no Jesus just as there is no me and no you. Buddhist belief about the existence of selves makes the metaphysical problem of the existence of Jesus much less problematic. Jesus is as real as you or me.


The Spiritual Brain: A Neuroscientist's Case for the Existence of the SoulBuddha's Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love, and Wisdom