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Śrāddha (Buddhadharma)

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Śrāddha (Buddhadharma)

Faith (Pāli: saddhā, Sanskrit: śraddhā) is an important constituent element of the teachings of the Buddha for all traditions of Buddhism, though the kind and nature of faith changes in the different schools. According to received Pali-Buddhist tradition, some of the first words voiced by the Buddha after resolving to teach Dharma were, "Wide opened is the door of the Deathless to all who have ears to hear; let them send forth faith [saddha] to meet it."[1]

The treasure, faculty and power of faith

The Pāli suttas (scriptures) list faith as one of seven treasures (dhanas),[2] one of five spiritual faculties (indriyas), one of four "streams of merit", and one of the spiritual powers (balas).

Gyatrul (b. 1924),[3] in a commentary on the work of Chagmé (Wylie: Kar-ma Chags-med, fl. 17th century), rendered into English by Wallace states:[4]

By the power of faith, we are able to eliminate the two types of obscurations.[5] Through the power of faith both ontological and phenomenological knowledge arises. It is also by the power of faith that both the common and uncommon siddhis arise.

Kalama Sutta

In the Kalama Sutta, Shakyamuni Buddha remonstrates against basing oneself upon authority, tradition or specious reasoning.

When a person decides to give up domestic life and live as a monk or nun, it is said to be out of faith "through faith in the Lord".[6] First comes the "hearing" [7] of Dharma and then the aspirant follows the Dharma teachings and instructions on faith, reflecting upon the value of its application.[8]

Faith is primarily faith in the Buddha himself as the Teacher of supreme spiritual realization and accomplishment. The Buddha extols such faith as befitting a "noble" Buddhist disciple:[9]

The ariyan [noble] disciple is of faith; he has faith in the Awakening of the Tathagata [Buddha], and thinks: He is indeed Lord, perfected one, fully Self-Awakened One, endowed with right knowledge and conduct, well-farer, knower of the world(s), matchless charioteer of men to be tamed, teacher of devas [gods] and men, the Awakened One, the Lord.

In the Kasibharadvaja Sutta of the Saṃyutta Nikāya, we have the relationship of faith, practice and wisdom:

Faith is the seed, practice the rain,
And wisdom is my yoke and plough.
Modesty's the pole, mind the strap,
Mindfulness my ploughshare and goad.¿
¿ = The "goad" (Sanskrit: ankus) is a divine attribute of tantric
and Vajrayāna iṣṭha-devatā as well as the iconography
of other Dharmic traditions. In the Buddhadharma
as the other Traditions, the Ankus is an iṣṭha-devatā
in and of itself. In the Buddhadharma, it holds the teaching of
mindfulness (Sanskrit: smṛti) and stewardship of the mindstream,
essential to conviction (Sanskrit: śraddhā).

Such faith, it is said, can lead towards liberation. Indeed, a person who is "released by faith" can well, in consequence, be "on the path to arahantship" (spiritual adeptship).[10] It is for such reasons that faith is stated by the Buddha to be appropriate as "a person's partner"[11] and to be "a man's best treasure".[12] The Buddha even quotes with evident approval the god Sakka's Dharma-charged words:[13]

... faith in the Tathagata
unshakable and well established ...
... the person of intelligence,
remembering the Buddha's Teaching,
should be devoted to faith and virtue,
to confidence and vision of the Dhamma [Dharma].

Factor in Stream-Entry Unwavering faith in the Awakened One, in the Dhamma, and in the Sangha are Three out of the Four factors that lead towards stream-entry.

"There is the case where the disciple of the noble ones is endowed with unwavering faith in the Awakened One: 'Indeed, the Blessed One is worthy & rightly self-awakened, consummate in knowledge & conduct, well-gone, an expert with regard to the world, unexcelled as a trainer for those people fit to be tamed, the Teacher of divine & human beings, awakened, blessed.' (AN 10.92)

Lack of Faith as Wrong A lack of faith is listed from DN.33 or the Sangiti Sutta [8] as one of the wrong practices for a monk:

Seven wrong practices: here a monk a. Lacks Faith b. Lacks Moral Shame c. Lacks Moral Dread d. Has little Learning e. Is slack f. Is unmindful g. Lacks wisdom (DN.33)

Ānanda and Vakkali

Two disciples of Buddha in the Theravāda canon exemplify faith in Buddha – Ānanda and Vakkali.

The power of visionary faith over skepticism is exemplified in An 3.8, a passage which more closely resembles in tone and quality many of the later Mahāyāna sutras. Buddha extols Ānanda over the skeptic Udayi when Ānanda is awed and overwhelmed by the power of the Buddha. Ānanda had asked the Blessed One how far his voice would reach in the universe. The Lord had answered that the Enlightened Ones were immeasurable and could reach further than a thousandfold world system (with a thousand suns, a thousand heavens, and a thousand brahma worlds), even further than a three-thousandfold world system. They could penetrate all those worlds with their shining splendor and reach all beings living there with their voice.

Ānanda was delighted with this description, so all-encompassing and transcending all horizons, and he exclaimed: "How fortunate I am, that I have such an almighty, powerful master!" Udayi objected: "What good does it do to you brother Ānanda, that your master is almighty and powerful?" The Buddha immediately took sides with Ānanda with the following words:

Not so, Udayi, not so, Udayi! Should Ananda die without being fully liberated; he would be king of the gods seven times because of the purity of his heart, or be king of the Indian subcontinent seven times. But Udayi, Ananda will experience final liberation in this very life.[14]

Vakkali Thera was considered one of the chief arahants who had obtained arahanthood through faith and love (saddhādhimuttānam) for Buddha. After seeing the Buddha, he could never tire of looking at him and became a monk just to be near him. Apart from eating and bathing, he spent all his time meditating on the Buddha's appearance, to which Buddha admonished Vakkali with his famous utterence on the transcendental nature of Buddha's true body (dharmakāya): "The sight of my foul body is useless; he who sees the Dhamma, he it is that seeth me".[15] Buddha had to command Vakkali to leave. With a heavy heart he went up to Gijjhakuta mountains. In the Apadāna Buddha is said to have spoken to him from the foot of the rock, saying "Come, monk." Filled with joy Vakkali jumped down the mountain to greet Buddha, dropping a depth of many cubits, but remained unhurt and realized arahantship. Here, Buddha declared him to be amongst the foremost of those of great faith.

Faith is not blind

In the Buddhadharma, faith is not "blind" for it "sees" with the heart of devotion.[16] It betokens faith in the reliability of the Buddha as a truly awakened spiritual friend and faith, conviction and confidence in the three jewels (triratna).

In the Kalama Sutta the Buddha himself argues against simply following authority, tradition or specious reasoning. Even though one's own experience is emphasized in accepting Buddha and Buddhism, however, one should always depend upon the counsel of the wise, implicitly meaning a Buddha or a Buddhist master well versed in Dhamma. Hence there remains a requirement for a degree of trusting confidence in Buddhism, essentially in the authority of Buddha, based on his spiritual attainment and saving knowledge.

Faith in Buddhism is expressed in the act of taking refuge. In this, it centres on the authority of Buddha as a supremely awakened being, by assenting to his unsurpassed role as teacher of both humans and gods. It also honors the truth of his spiritual Doctrine (Dharma), and accepts the community of spiritually developed followers (saṅgha). Faith in Buddhism can be said to function as a form of motor, which propels the Buddhist practitioner towards the goal of awakening (bodhi) and nirvana.

In Buddhism, faith is only one part of five characteristics that a Noble disciple must possess. In other words, in Buddhism faith is qualified. Blind faith is especially not treated well. In Sutta 44 (iv, 220), Buddha questions Sariputta to which Sariputta answers, "Herein, O Lord, I do not follow the Exalted One out of faith. Those by whom this is unknown, unseen, uncognized, unrealized and unexperienced by wisdom, they will herein follow others out of faith." In other words, in blind faith there is no knowledge or conviction, and one can have blind faith in anyone and such blind faith never leads to wisdom and true conviction. Only the actual experience of regular practice can lead to true faith and conviction born out of realization. "But those by whom this is known, seen, cognized, realized and experienced by wisdom, they have no uncertainty, no doubt about it that these five faculties, if cultivated and regularly practiced, lead to the Deathless, are bound for the Deathless, end in the Deathless."

In conclusion, faith in the Theravāda tradition is generally confidence based on first-hand understanding of a concept - especially in the primary texts as faith in the reality of the enlightenment of the Lord Buddha [tathāgatabodhisaddhā][17] or in the Pāli commentaries[18] as:

  • faith in the working of the law of karma [kammasaddhā]
  • faith in the consequences of actions [vipākasaddhā]
  • faith in the individual ownership of actions [kammassakatāsaddhā], and;
  • faith in the reality of the enlightenment of the Lord Buddha [tathāgatabodhisaddhā].

Faith in Mahāyāna Buddhism

In general, the role of faith in Mahāyāna Buddhism is as strong as that of the Theravādin. Moreover, the depth and range of faith may be[according to whom?] perceived as being intensified, particularly in the Buddha nature (tathāgatagarbha) sutras and the Pure Land literature.

In the Mahāyāna Mahāparinirvāṇa Sūtra, Buddha is portrayed giving a foundational position to faith. He states:

We say that unsurpassed awakening [bodhi] has faith as its cause. The causes of awakening are innumerable, but if stated as faith, this covers everything.

Faith as understood in this sutra is belief in the teachings of the Buddha and in the Buddha's own eternality. More specifically, it is belief in such doctrines as the law of karma, in the reality and eternity of the Three Jewels (i.e. the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Saṅgha), and in the efficacy of the Buddhist path. The Buddha comments:[19]

All that is said in these Mahayana sutras is the truths of the Way [marga] ... As I have already stated, if one believes in the Way, such a Way of faith is the root of faith. This assists the Way of Awakening ... The Way begins with the root of faith....

The Buddha further notes that a person possessed of faith is superior to one lacking in it:

There are two kinds of men: one who has faith, and the other who has not. O Bodhisattva! Know that he with faith is one who is good, and that he who has no faith is one who is not good.[20]

Faith in the Buddha is seen as a positive virtue as it leads to more attentive absorption in Dharma, which in turn strengthens faith still further. The Buddha remarks:[21]

Faith arises out of listening to Dharma, and this listening is [itself] grounded in faith.

Through such faith, along with other spiritual practices, the Buddhist aspirant is enabled to attain nirvana, according to this text. Faith is the first step for the bodhisattva to tread along that path to nirvana. It is viewed as a basic requirement, and crucially entails the understanding that the "real" Buddha is not a being of flesh and blood who can bleed and who dies, or whose Truth (Dharma) perishes with his physical body. The true Buddha and his Dharma are utterly deathless and eternal, so the Mahāparinirvāṇa Sūtra insists. This the bodhisattva is urged to believe:

First, he [i.e. the Bodhisattva] is perfect in faith. How is faith perfect? This is believing deeply that the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha are Eternal, that all Buddhas of the ten directions [= everywhere] make use of expedients [effectively to convey Dharma to the different types of being], and that beings and icchantikas [= the most spiritually depraved of persons] all possess the Buddha-dhatu [Buddha-Principle, Buddha-nature ]. It is not believing that the Tathagata is subject to birth, old age, illness, and death, that he has undergone austerities, and that Devadatta [= Buddha's cousin] really caused blood to flow from the Buddha's body, that the Tathagata ultimately enters Nirvana [= finally dies], and that authentic Dharma dies out. This is where we speak of the Bodhisattva's being perfect in faith.[22]

Yet faith in the Buddha should not be blind. The Mahāyāna not infrequently links faith with discernment and spiritual insight (prajñā) - spiritual penetration. The following words of the Buddha's[23] indicate the need for a balance:

If a person does not possess faith and insight [prajñā], such a person increases his ignorance. If a person possesses insight, but not faith, such a person will increase [his or her] distorted views. ... A person who has no faith will say, out of an angry mind: "There cannot be any Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha!"

Linji Yixuan said that if a person were to adopt perfect self-confidence (faith in themselves) they would attain enlightenment in an instant.[24]

Faith in Buddha nature literature

The Nirvāṇa Sūtra is not alone in according a foundational position to faith. The Buddha nature sutra, Exposition of Non-Decrease, Non-Increase (Anunatva-Apurnatva-Nirdesa) tells of how the essence of ultimate truth, the Buddha nature (tathāgatagarbha), can be perceived by means of faith. This matter of the Buddha nature lies beyond the reach of the foolish, of the ordinary person, unless that person possess faith, which will gain him or her entry into the realm of the Buddha nature:

No sravakas [the elementary students of the Buddha] or pratyekabuddhas ["private" Buddhas, who usually avoid people and generally do not teach] are able to know, see or investigate this matter with their insight. How much less able to do so are foolish ordinary people, except when they directly realise it by faith!

Faith is thus presented as a powerful means for Buddhist practitioners to penetrate through to, and realize deep spiritual truths for themselves.

It is not only in the Buddha nature literature that faith is lauded. In the perfection of wisdom (prajñāpāramitā) scriptures, too, faith is extolled. Here it is usually in connection with trust and belief in the sutra which is at that moment being expounded. Thus in the Prajñāpāramitā Sutra on How Benevolent Kings May Protect Their Countries, the Buddha declares that even if living beings were to give away the most precious substances known to humanity in a huge act of generosity, still "their merit would not be such as that of the production of one single thought of serene faith in this Sutra".[25] This and other prajñāpāramitā sutras explain that such persons who naturally engender faith in these texts are those who have worshipped and revered countless Buddhas in past incarnations. Faith comes naturally to them. Moreover, faith in, and reverence towards, such sutras is tantamount to faith and reverence directed towards all Buddhas. The Buddha asserts in the 18,000-Line Prajñāpāramitā Sutra:[26]

If anyone, when this deep perfection of wisdom is being preached, feels respect, affection, and serene faith for it, then he feels respect, affection and serene faith also for the Buddhas and Lords of the past, future, and present.

Takasaki[27] in his translation and study of the Sanskrit Ratnagotravibhāga (with protracted consideration of the Tibetan and Chinese traditions) renders an embedded extract of a sutra of Shakyamuni unidentified in the text that conveys the importance of faith in relation to what is known in the tradition as the "revolution of the basis" (Sanskrit: āśrayaparivṛtti)[28] of "buddha-dhatu" (buddha-nature) to the Dharmakāya (a Buddhadharma nomenclature of the ultimate truth):

O Śāriputra, the ultimate truth is really approachable only by faith [in the Tathāgata]. O Śāriputra, the ultimate Truth is a synonym of the mass of living beings (sattva-dhātu). The mass of living beings is, O Śāriputra, nothing but a synonym of the Matrix of the Tathāgata (tathāgatagarbha). The Matrix of the Tathāgata is, Śāriputra, nothing but a synonym of the Absolute Body (dharmakāya).[29]

Faith in Pure Land literature

It is perhaps in the "Pure Land" sutras that faith and devotion reach a pinnacle of soteriological importance.[according to whom?] Here it is one's faith in the salvific compassion of the Buddha Amitabha, coupled with one's development of "roots of goodness" and the earnest wish to enter the Buddha's happy land, that is said to bring deliverance into Buddha Amitabha's Western Paradise, the "land of bliss", preparatory to entry into awakening and nirvana. In the Contemplation of Amitayus Sutra, the Buddha tells of the types of being who gain birth in this pure land – and they are all characterised by faith:

Those born in the Western Land are of nine grades. Those who attain birth on the highest level of the highest grade are sentient beings who resolve to be born in that land, awaken the three kinds of faith and so are born there. What are the three? They are, first, the sincere faith, second, the deep faith; and third, the faith that seeks birth there by transferring one's merit. Those who have these three kinds of faith will certainly be born there.

However, even in these faith-oriented sutras of "Pure Land" Dharma, faith is often linked with understanding. It is not totally blind faith. The Buddha of the Smaller Pure Land Sutra speaks of faith allied with understanding as a prerequisite for the attainment of supreme awakening (bodhi), when hearing this text. Thus:

Furthermore ... if there is a good son or good daughter, whether having already heard this, or shall hear it, or who is now hearing it – once hearing this Sutra, profoundly is there born an understanding faith. Once there is born an understanding faith, a certainty about the accumulations of merit residing in the ten directions with the Buddha World-Honoured Ones, whose number is like the sands of ten River Ganges, and they practice as instructed, all will be firmly in the supremely unexcelled Bodhi.

This teaching of faith, originally advocated in conjunction with discernment and Dharmic practice, received a new interpretation in the teachings of the Japanese Buddhist saint, Shinran Shonin (1173–1262 CE), who taught that just one recitation of the mantra, "Homage to Amida Buddha", with deep faith, would be enough to secure the faithful person entrance into the Western Paradise. Subsequent utterances of that formula would be expressions of gratitude to Buddha Amida (Amitabha). Deep understanding of the Buddha's teachings and Buddhic practice were not necessary, Shinran claimed. This interpretation of the "Pure Land" sutras represents perhaps[according to whom?] the zenith of faith-oriented Buddhism and remains controversial, although Shinran's school of Jodo Shinshu is today perhaps the largest Buddhist sect in Japan.[according to whom?]

Following on from Shinran, Rennyo Shonin, a disciple of Shinran's, gave utterance to the view that practicing the Way of Dharma and being embraced by Amita Buddha and embracing Amita in faith are one-and-the same. Buddha-Mind and one's own individual mind are ultimately inseparable. He says:[30]

When wood is kindled by fire, fire does not leave it. The wood is likened to the mind of one who practices the Way; the fire is likened to the Light of Embracement of Amita. Shone upon and protected by the spiritual light, there can be no Buddha-Mind other than one's own and no mind of one's own other than the Buddha-Mind. This is called "Namuamidabutsu" ["Homage to Amita Buddha"].

One of the most famous of Mahāyāna sutras, the Lotus Sutra, also embraces the ideal of faith, but links it to discernment. The Buddha tells his audience in the Lotus Sutra:

If any living beings who seek after the Buddha-way either see or hear this Law-Flower Sutra [i.e. the Lotus Sutra], and after hearing it believe and discern, receive and keep it, you may know that they are near perfect enlightenment.

The same sutra asserts that the Dharma as a whole is difficult to grasp with mere words, and that ultimately only those bodhisattvas who believe with firm faith can penetrate its nature. The Buddha says:

This Law [Dharma] is inexpressible,
It is beyond the realm of terms;
Among all the other living beings
None can apprehend it
Except the bodhisattvas
Who are firm in the power of faith.

Thus faith is a major element within Buddhism. While it is rarely (if ever) taught by the Buddha in any "blind" form and is often linked to discernment and understanding, it is nevertheless viewed as a powerful force which can start the Buddhist practitioner on his or her spiritual journey and convey him or her towards awakening themselves. Perhaps[according to whom?] the most enthusiastic paean to faith can be found in the massive Avataṃsaka Sutra, where, to the delight of all the Buddhas, the bodhisattva Samantabhadra proclaims the following verses in a great eulogy of bodhisattvas' faith:

Deep faith, belief, and resolution always pure,
They [bodhisattvas] honour and respect all Buddhas ...

Deeply believing in the Buddha and the Buddha's teaching,
They also believe in the Way traversed by buddhas-to-be,
And believe in unexcelled great enlightenment:
Thereby do enlightening beings [bodhisattvas] first rouse their will.

Faith is the basis of the Path, the mother of virtues,
Nourishing and growing all good ways,
Cutting away the net of doubt, freeing from the torrent of passion,
Revealing the unsurpassed road of ultimate peace.

When faith is undefiled, the mind is pure;
Obliterating pride, it is the root of reverence,
And the foremost wealth in the treasury of religion ...

Faith is generous ...
Faith can joyfully enter the Buddha's teaching;
Faith can increase knowledge and virtue;
Faith can ensure arrival at enlightenment ...
Faith can go beyond the pathways of demons,
And reveal the unsurpassed road of liberation.

Faith is the unspoiled seed of virtue,
Faith can grow the seed of enlightenment.
Faith can increase supreme knowledge,
Faith can reveal all Buddhas ...
Faith is most powerful, very difficult to have;
It's like in all worlds having
the wondrous wish-fulfilling pearl.[31]

Faith in Tantrayāna

The Vajra Garland Explanatory Tantra (Wylie: bShad-rgyud rdo-re phreng-ba) evokes the metaphor of the snowlioness and her salvific milk of Dharma, hailed as a panacea in Traditional Tibetan medicine, rendered into English by Wallace:[32]

Just as the milk of a lioness
Is not to be placed in an earthen container,
So is the Mahāyogatantra
Not to be given to those who are not suitable vessels.

Gyatrul (b. 1924),[33] in a commentary to this verse cited by Chagmé (Wylie: Kar-ma chags-med, fl. 17th century), conveys the importance of faith as a qualification of disciples who "listen"[34] to the Dharma, rendered into English by Wallace:[35]

This injunction pertains to teaching Mahāyāna, Vajrayāna, and to Atiyoga in particular. Those without faith who are completely involved in the eight mundane concerns[36] are not suitable vessels, and they should not be taught these kinds of Dharma.

Faith in Chod

Faith has been cultivated on a pilgrimage to The Red Citadel on the Copper Mountain (Sangri Khamar), the cave of Machig Lapdron, redactor of a specific form of Chöd practice. Tsultrim Allione and pilgrims had to traverse the "Great Purifier" (Tsangpo River):[37]

As we sat next to the river, many members of the group used their own methods to see whether we would go or not... This was a very interesting moment in the pilgrimage, because the practice of Chod is all about attachment and the demons of hope and fear. Here we were on the bank of this river, close to Machig's place and thus full of hope, yet the rushing water told us death was a real possibility if we tried to cross.

I decided to relax completely and to allow Machig to help us, and if that meant staying at camp, that was okay. I saw that faith is a form of relaxation, and this turned out to be one of the most powerful realizations of the pilgrimage for me. Faith is taking things one step at a time, relaxing, trusting. It is moment-to-moment opening to the wisdom beings.

Lack of faith

Main article: Āśraddhya

In the Mahayana tradition, lack of faith (āśraddhya) is defined as a mental factor that is characterized by a lack of trust, and lack of interest in, or desire for, wholesome things. Āśraddhya is identified as one of the twenty secondary unwholesome factors within the Mahayana Abhidharma teachings.[38]

See also



  • The Mahayana Mahaparinirvana Sutra (Nirvana Publications, London 1999-2000), Kosho Yamamoto (trans.), Tony Page (ed.) PDF
  • The Large Sutra on Perfect Wisdom, University of California Press, Berkeley 1975, tr. by Edward Conze
  • Perfect Wisdom: The Short Prajnaparamita Texts, Luzac, London 1973, tr. by Edward Conze
  • Müller, F. Max (trans) "Buddhist Mahâyâna texts" Vol.2: Oxford, Clarendon Press 1894 (The larger The Vagrakkedikâ, the larger Pragñâ-pâramitâ-hridaya-sûtra, the smaller Pragñâ-pâramitâ-hridaya-sûtra)
  • The Threefold Lotus Sutra (Kosei, Tokyo 1975), tr. by Bunno Kato, Yoshiro Tamura, Kojiro Miyasaka, revised by W. E. Soothill, Wilhelm Schiffer and Pier P. Del Campana PDF
  • The Flower Ornament Scripture: A Translation of the Avatamsaka Sutra, Shambhala, Boston and London 1993
  • The Smaller Pure Land Sutra, tr. by Charles Patton (Internet)
  • Hisao Inagaki, Harold Stewart (transl.): The Three Pure Land Sutras, Berkeley: Numata Center for Buddhist Translation and Research 2003. PDF

External links

  • Shraadh at the Banglapedia
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