Faith as Aspiration
In the past few parts of A Buddhist Creed, I’ve talked about faith as being confidence in the teachings. Now, we move on to the next piece of Buddhist faith: Faith as aspiration.
So this is where faith in Buddhism departs from what we might call faith in a conventional sense. The great sage Vasubandhu defines faith as an aspiration for spiritual attainment. So this is the next step, having gained confidence in the teachings, the basic healing message of the Dharma, we proceed to have some more trust. Buddhism does not demand our faith, instead, it seeks to earn our faith by way of our own quest to seek the truth of the teaching we receive. So, as we begin to have a taste of the teachings of Buddhism, and having had some success (if we can call it that) in our practice, we begin to develop a sense of trust, and a sense of aspiration – “I can do it”.
This sense of aspiration is not so much an aggressive one, or one where we seek to be come the “top dog”. It is more of a gentle sense of aspiration that arises out of a mind that has to an extent experienced and integrated the healing message of the Dharma. The foundational vehicle (Skt. Hinayana) of Buddhism has a function of healing. Lama Yeshe, a celebrated Gelugpa teacher wrote: “What is our main problem? It’s that we think, ‘I am the worst person in the world. I am full of hatred, desire and ignorance.'” This main problem is at first soothed through the basic practice and teachings of the Foundational vehicle, specifically calm-abiding or mindfulness meditation and the teachings of Karma, the Four Noble Truths and the Three Jewels (these teachings are discussed in previous posts in the A Buddhist Creed series).
By inviting us to relate to our mind in a gentle, friendly, and non-judgmental way, we begin to realize that we are not so horrible. We aren’t the worst person and that we are alright. When we begin to gain some traction in the practice of meditation, we begin to see the inherent openness and beauty of the mind we have. The teachings of Karma and the Four Noble truths in turn point us to the fact that things are not as solid as they seem. They remind us of the impermanence of things and that what we can and do have control over is our own mind and our own reaction (or lack thereof). We begin to be more compassionate to ourselves, as we meet our own mind and get to know it as a friend, and not as an enemy to be vanquished, re-trained and re-formatted. Then we get to the teaching of the Three Jewels, where we find that in taking refuge, we are ultimately freed. Through that one choiceless act, we gain immense trust, and immense faith in our ability to attain enlightenment just out of loving ourselves.
The aspiration to enlightenment is ultimately a peaceful one. It is one that arises out of our friendliness and compassion towards ourselves. It is the realization that essentially, we are divine and pure, and as such beings, we are endowed with the capacity to attain enlightenment, perhaps even in this very life. The Wohlgefühl – the feeling of “being well” that underpins our aspiration to enlightenment is powerful, and one that can carry us through the difficult parts of our lives. We may still be upset, but maybe at least we won’t fall into the cyclical trap of “what did I do to deserve this?”.
So, one aspect of the faith of aspiration, is perhaps that Wohlgefühl, that sense of inner trust that arises out of compassion for one’s self. Simply love and compassion … once we know that it’s alright to love ourselves and to be compassionate towards ourselves, we can then turn that love and compassion towards others. In Tibetan Buddhism, one of the ways this is portrayed is through the Buddha Avalokiteshvara (the Buddha of Compassion). In one manifestation, he is portrayed with eleven faces, and a thousand arms, reaching out in love and compassion to relieve the suffering of all sentient beings. Maybe, if we learned to aspire, that is first to relate to ourselves in an open, authentic, friendly, non-judgmental way, second to take this openness and transform it into a desire and a knowledge that we can achieve enlightenment, maybe, just maybe, we might all achieve enlightenment, and on the way, relieve the suffering our countless beings.
Sarva Mangalam! May all beings benefit!