Monday, 16 February 2015

Faith in the 21st Century – is ‘faith’ a useful word

The theme of the Muslim Council of Wales’ dinner (see previous post) was ‘The need of Faith in the 21st Century’. The word ‘faith’ appears to have been adopted in many circles as a neutral term to refer to religions. So we have the ‘Faith Communities Form’ with the Welsh Assembly Government, The Inter-faith Council of Wales, and representatives are referred to as ‘faith leaders’. I am apparently regarded as a faith leader, as the chair of the Buddhist Council of Wales, and hence I am invited to all sorts of events, such as the Muslim Council of Wales’ dinner.

For a Buddhist, the use of the word ‘faith’ to refer to our religion is not ideal. Buddhism is a religion of method rather than a religion of belief. It exists in contrast to the other major religions in this way. Faith is not demanded of a Buddhist. I do not have to believe in a creator god. I do not have to believe that practice will lead to enlightenment. I simply have to do the practices and see what happens. Silent sitting requires no faith. Discovering the nature of mind requires application, but faith is not needed.

Buddhist practitioners discover inspiration and aspiration through contact with teachers, teachings and the community of practitioners. In Buddhism the sense of confidence and belonging that arises from such contact is called ‘refuge’. It is the ‘refuge of no refuge’. This refuge is not a cosy place of safety, but rather a commitment to discovering complete and total wakefulness.

My capacity to remain a disciplined, committed and diligent practitioner is based in the confidence that has developed through the relationship with my teachers, the teachings, my fellow practitioners, and my practice. It may sometimes be necessary to make a leap into areas of practice that defy the logic of conceptual mind, but the ability to leap is based in the confidence that has developed. It could be argued that this is a type of faith, but it is well-rooted in experience and not a faith in a ‘something’ or ‘someone’ that is external, beyond my capacity to become, and all-knowing.

I do not have a useful alternative word, and I am quite happy to live with the word ‘faith’. It is good enough, if not perfect. The people of other ‘faiths’ that I meet through my work for the Buddhist Council of Wales are inspiring and wholesome people. I greatly value my contact with them all.

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