Because we have faith, therefore we do no harm. All merit and all virtue arise from and are maintained by faith.
— Mahayana Sutralamkara Sastra
The Importance of Faith
Faith is the opposite of doubt. Faith causes us to learn the Dharma quickly and penetrate its meaning deeply because when we have faith we are not hindered at every turn by doubt and suspicion.
The Avadanas say, “Faith is that which wants to know the complete truth, that which takes delight in hearing the Dharma and that which leads to the abandonment of all selfishness.”
The Brahmajala Sutra says, “All practice stems from faith and all virtue is rooted in it.”
The awakening of faith generally establishes the beginning of one’s practice of Buddhism. The Fifty-Two Stages of the Bodhi Way described in the Avatamsaka Sutra begin with faith. The Five Spiritual Roots and the Five Spiritual Powers of the Thirty-Seven Conditions Leading to Buddhahood also begin with faith. In addition to this, faith is an important theme in almost every Buddhist sutra.
When conditions and karma are right, the ability to hear the Dharma appears. And then the practitioner comes under the protection of the compassionate vows of all the Buddhas and bodhisattvas. And with this, his ability to turn from suffering is established. In faith there is Nirvana.
— Treatise on the Awakening of Faith in Mahayana
The Abhidharmakosa says that Buddhist practice must be based on a firm belief in the Four Noble Truths, the Triple Gem and the law of karma.
The Vijnaptimatratasiddhi Sastra says:
What is faith? The essence of faith lies in belief in the reality of the Buddha’s existence, in belief in the virtue of the Buddha, and in belief in the power of the Buddha. It also lies in the deep appreciation of the practitioner, in the joy of the practitioner, in the desire for enlightenment of the practitioner, and in the purity of mind of the practitioner.
Faith cures doubt. Faith inspires one to find delight in goodness.
Doubt is one of the eight defilements in the Yogacara School of Buddhism. These eight defilements are unsteadiness, drowsiness, doubt, laziness, shallowness of purpose, poor concentration, a scattered mind and wrong views. The cure for doubt, as well as all other defilements, is listening to the Dharma, contemplating the Dharma and practicing the Dharma.
The Dharma is a great ocean that we enter by faith and cross by the power of wisdom.
— Mahaprajnaparamita Sastra
The Mahayana Samparigraha Sastra says that faith is based on three things:
The belief that one’s inner nature truly is the Buddha nature.
The belief that one can attain complete fulfillment within the Buddha nature.
The belief that the Buddha nature holds illimitable virtue and merit.
The karmic rewards of faith are the ten wholesome deeds and revulsion with the sufferings of birth and death and desire for supreme enlightenment and the attainment of Buddhahood.
— Treatise on the Awakening of Faith in Mahayana
The Function of Faith
Practice without a foundation of faith is difficult and slow at best. Faith helps us to desire goodness as it helps us to raise our level of awareness. Faith is like a light that dispels the darkness of beginningless ignorance and doubt.
The Avatamsaka Sutra says:
Faith is the source of the way and the mother of all virtue and merit. It increases all virtue and eradicates all doubt. It is the beginning of the supreme way.
Faith disentangles the mind from the stubbornness of defilement and destroys the very sources of pride and arrogance.
Faith is the greatest of all treasures. All other practices depend on the purity of one’s faith. Faith can free the practitioner from all defilement and attachment. Faith will inspire the practitioner to realize the marvelous wonders of the deepest truths of the Dharma. Faith can overcome anything as it establishes all goodness. Through faith one ultimately becomes one with the Tathagata.
If the power of one’s faith is strong and incorruptible, then one will achieve purity, clarity and incisiveness. Faith permanently destroys evil and leads to realization of the untaught truths that lie within us already.
Faith removes obstruction from all Dharma practices. It disentangles the mind from the eight difficulties and leads to ease of practice. Faith overcomes all demonic forces and leads one to the supreme path of liberation. Faith is the incorruptible seed of all virtue. It nurtures the growth of the Bodhi tree. It opens the door of the highest wisdom and reveals all the Buddhas. For this reason, faith should be emphasized every step of the way.
How to Increase Faith
Faith begins like a sprout in a field. If it receives proper amounts of sun and water, it will grow strong and healthy. If it does not receive the nourishment it needs, then it will wither and die. Just like a sprout in a field, faith is vulnerable and easily harmed. If we associate with the wrong kinds of people or if we constantly subject our awakening minds to the corrosions of doubt, our faith may soon be destroyed. Virtue is sensitive and faith is wise. As we begin to feel the inklings of wisdom and faith we must be careful not to allow ourselves to be overwhelmed by a corresponding increase in sensitivity toward the world around us. There is an old saying that expresses this point well: “When moral nature rises one foot, the defilements which surround it rise ten feet.” Faith, as with all virtue, must be protected and nourished.
Faith can be increased in the following ways:
Through the supernatural. Visions of the Buddha or the bodhisattvas, supernatural occurrences, and mystical intimations of higher levels of reality are common in Buddhist history. Practitioners should not seek these sorts of experiences, but if one should occur, it should be taken as a stimulant and encouragement to greater faith and greater dedication.
Through virtue. Virtue is the finest thing in all of life. Once we begin to understand that all goodness springs from virtue, then our faith will be increased. Our understanding will improve once we know that true growth can only be attained through study of the Dharma.
Through compassion. To understand compassion, we must behave compassionately. Once we have witnessed the effects of compassion and once we have seen the joy it produces, we will understand very deeply that enlightenment is compassion. This understanding gives rise to immense faith in the Dharma.
Through wisdom. Wisdom is not the same as intelligence and it has nothing to do with the vanity and cleverness that typify samsaric thinking. In its early stages wisdom manifests as faith; we call it faith because it knows with a power that transcends any reason the mind can give that the Dharma is true and that only it can give rise to complete joy.
Through experience. The longer we uphold the precepts of Buddhism, the easier it will be for us to see that the Buddha did not lie. Faith in his teachings can only grow through experience.
Through seeing the nature of things. The true nature of all sentient beings is Buddha nature. One glimpse of this truth produces a faith that can never again be shaken.
Faith is especially important when we first begin to practice Buddhism, but the importance of faith does not decrease very much after that. Even though we may be sure of the validity of the Dharma, it is still important for us to rely on faith, for we cannot rise to the next level of realization unless we are sure that that level is there.
Faith to a practitioner is like sun and water to a plant; in the beginning these factors are extremely important and they remain necessary throughout the life of the organism. Faith is that factor which constantly allows us to reach beyond ourselves. Faith shows us again and again that the only path in Buddhism is the path of constant growth.
How to Increase the Faith of Others
The highest form of giving is to give the Dharma. The core of any gift of the Dharma is to give faith in the Dharma to others. Once there is faith, all else will follow. The best way to increase the faith of others is to exhibit it in our own lives. When others see us change for the better due to our practice of Buddhism, their faith in the Dharma will be increased.
When we knowingly attempt to impart the joys of faith to others, we are employing upaya, or expedient methods. Since faith is based on a non-verbal tremor within the being, it cannot be transmitted through mundane techniques of persuasion and it cannot be transmitted through rational explanations. Rational explanations may serve as powerful aids in the transmission of faith from one person to another, but in the end, it will be our humility, our compassion and the firm example of our own faith that will have the greatest influence on other people.
While faith can only take root in a person through that person’s receptivity, still it must be remembered that the Dharma exists today only because it has been transmitted from one person to another across national borders through centuries of time. We must respect others and allow them to hold their own beliefs, but still we should also remember that we ourselves have been blessed with the Dharma only through the labor and compassionate sharing of others.
There is a saying, “Wisdom alone will not lead us to understanding if no one teaches us the Dharma.”
In the Mahaparinirvana Sutra, the Buddha says:
If one hundred thousand lamps are lighted in a single room, each one will be brilliant and none will interfere with the others. The interplay between the self and others and between me and others is just like this.