Faith is the fuel, the energy which propels us on the spiritual path. For many Western people this quality is actually not very strong when we come to Buddhism because we often come to Buddhism with the approach of having rejected religions of faith, religions which demand belief. We’ve come from a rational, intellectual, and logical appreciation of Dhamma. So we find it difficult to develop those faith practices like recollection of the Buddha, recollection of his teachings, or recollection of the Ariya-Sangha. That can be one of our weaknesses – that our strong intellectual side is out of balance – so our practice can be very dry and formal. It lacks the zest, the zeal, the earnestness, the uplifting joy associated with sheer faith. If this is the case, it may be one of the factors that one may need to focus on if one’s meditation is getting stuck or not developing.
One must look for ways to bring up faith. How does one arouse faith? By turning towards the life of the Buddha, reading about his life, his own sacrifice. The arising of a Tathagata in the world is like bringing light to the world. The world, without the realization of the four noble truths by a Samma-Sambuddha, is in absolute darkness. With the arising of a Buddha in the world there is light, and there is the opportunity for beings to get beyond birth, old age, sickness, and death.
We can develop this faith around the Dhamma teachings, by reading the words of the Buddha or the words of the noble disciples, reading about their lives and how they too, both at the time of the Buddha and in recent history, put forth great effort in their practice, endured and overcome difficulties just like us. They began as unenlightened human beings and, by fulfilling the path laid down by the Buddha, were able to transform themselves and abandon the view of self. So it is the development of the contemplation of the Dhamma which brings faith and inspiration.
Also the recollection of the Sangha, the ariya-sangha: we are very fortunate in our lives to have come across the teachings that are still vibrant and alive. It is wonderful and marvellous to have gone-forth in a tradition which is still practising well, practising rightly, still keeping this noble tradition of virtue, samadhi and wisdom; to have the opportunity to practise in the footsteps of the ariyas, to walk in the same direction, along the same path that the Buddha and all the ariyas of the past have walked. In that way we can arouse the faith and confidence that if we apply effort, if we strive, if we practise this path, then we are practising correctly.
Apart from the foundation of faith in the Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha, we must have the trust in the training (sikkha), for it is this training we are undertaking that leads to liberation. We have to trust in our ability to realise the Dhamma.
Saddha (faith) is the origin of viriya (effort). So if there isn’t enough energy in the practice, often the reason is that faith is lacking. Saddha can be increased by having contact with the teachings; by reading the Suttas; reading the life of the Buddha; having contact with good monks, having contact with the ariya-sangha; listening to Dhamma and reciting those teachings, bringing them to mind frequently. Also looking at one’s own practice in a very caring and positive way, considering that we have the potential – despite the difficulties and problems – to reach victory over all the hindrances and defilements, that dukkha can be brought to an end.
This reflection by Ajahn Nyanadhammo is from the talk, The Power of Faith.