This is a new series for serious Buddhists who have decided to give Buddhism a shot and want to practice Buddhism seriously.
I am not the originator of the topics in this series and I draw inspiration from Buddhist books that had accompanied me through the last 20 years of my practice. I will not promote any particular schools of Buddhism in this series and my objective is to share a reflective experience of Buddhism with everyone out there, both as a friend and as a fellow practitioner. And thus we begin this long journey together……
Buddhism is unlike other religions that believe in the worship of one or many God(s) or Goddess(es) for happiness.
THEREFORE, faith in Buddhism does not refer to a submissive, devotional faith towards a “master” being.
However, faith is still relevant in Buddhism and if we are serious practitioners, we need to be aware of our level of faith and manage it well. This is because faith is like a fuel that powers our practice. Since faith is produced by our own minds, we can manage it and should manage it well.
To explain it simply, maintaining faith in our practice is like a student studying a particular field of knowledge for his or her future career. There must be a purposeful believe that by doing so, he or she will have a brighter future ahead. That belief in a brighter future is FAITH.
Where should a Buddhist place his faith in?
Enlightenment is the opposite of suffering. In another word, it is a belief in ultimate happiness. And it is very important for us not to confuse ultimate happiness with short-lived sensory satisfaction that we experienced from time to time. Thus, eating fine food, wearing fine clothing, being rich beyond measures is not Ultimate happiness.
Ultimate happiness (Enlightenment) is a state of happiness that all of us can attain in this very life.
Thus, the 1st faith that we need to maintain is our Faith in the existence of Enlightenment. It is a very strong and powerful message of hope. We need to believe that suffering will end one day. (perhaps while we are having coffee in a cafe?)
To believe in Enlightenment, we need to believe in Shakyamuni Buddha.
This is because this state of Ultimate Happiness was experienced by Shakyamuni Buddha. No one else before Him had experienced it and managed to teach it. We need to believe that a man who lived more than 2,500 years ago managed to unravel the mystery of our existence (state of being) and experienced Ultimate Happiness from that Truth. Then spent His entire life teaching others how to attain Enlightenment.
Shakyamuni Buddha shared his experience of Enlightenment with others and in His 1st teaching, Buddha taught the 4 Noble Truths to 5 people who were most ready to understand the Ultimate Truth. Therefore, the 4 Noble Truths is the complete summary of Buddhism. All other Dharma are just elaborations of these 4 Noble Truths.
Buddha spent His entire life teaching others how to attain Ultimate Happiness. Therefore, Dharma is a method for attaining Enlightenment and it is also the Truth. That is why some people can gain enlightenment while listening to the Dharma, just like Buddha’s first audience of 5 men.
But not all people are as receptive as that 5 men. Some of us are currently madly in love, like Nanda (Buddha’s cousin) and some of us are preoccupied with earning money. When Buddha taught these people, he adopted a flexible approach to slowly make their minds ready for enlightenment. That is why we have so many schools of Buddhism today. But ultimately, all Dharma (method of practice) will boil down to the 4 noble truths.
While faith in Enlightenment is faith in the final goal, faith in Dharma is our faith in the path that leads to the goal.
Without that faith, we will not reach our desired Ultimate Happiness. If suffering in our mind is like an illness, then Dharma is like medicine that cures us. Without faith in the medicine, we will not take it regularly as prescribed.
Believing in Karma is believing that our every action or inaction will have its consequences. Faith in karma makes our life purposeful. We feel empowered that our future lies in our own hands.
In other words and to put it simply, believing karma is believing in ourselves.
We believe and have faith that the time we invested in our Daily Buddhist practice will not go to waste. It will ultimately result in our enlightenment.
Many people had attained enlightenment under Buddha’s guidance. They, in turn, taught others how to attain enlightenment. According to scriptural records, there were thousands of enlightened men and women during Buddha’s time.
To have faith in their enlightenment is important for us because only then, will we believe that enlightenment is not limited to Shakyamuni Buddha. Their enlightenment is a testament that the Buddha’s Dharma works!
In other words, we can also become enlightened if we follow their examples.
This is known as faith in the Sangha (Buddha’s community)
As we all know, thousands of years had passed since then and the teachings that we learn today were the results of their experiences and teachings. This is an unbroken lineage of teachers and students that connects us to them.
The 4 noble truths and the various Dharma that we know today are a result of all these teachers, teaching from one generation to the next.
Therefore, faith in the teachers is another important faith in Buddhism.
Once we have all the above faiths, we must have faith in ourselves. That means we must believe that we can do it, no matter how difficult it seems to us. If we say, “oh, I can never meditate or I can never practice”, then that’s the end of it. We can never be practicing Buddhists.
Once we have faith in our own capabilities, we can take responsibility for our practices.
One of the most important responsibilities in our practice is to maintain the faiths in our minds. (Notice how this loops back to the aforesaid and how they are interconnected?)
One of the easiest ways to do this is to keep reminding ourselves of the Triple Gems.
- Buddha and His enlightenment
- Buddha and His Dharma
- Buddha and His enlightened disciples
This can be done by reciting our refuge prayers DAILY. Thus, this is our 1st practice in Buddhism.
Daily Refuge in the Triple Gems.
May all be well and happy.