Monday, April 5, 2010

Faith and Belief

There are two very different ways to meet what arises in experience.

One is to interpret what arises according to our conditioning. This is a self-reinforcing dynamic and results in a closed system in which everything is explained, the mystery of life is banished, and no new ideas, perspectives, or approaches to life can enter. This I call belief.

The other  is to open to whatever arises, to allow the reactions and stories of our conditioning to arise but not be swallowed by them, to open to the possibility of not knowing, and thus making a place in our experience not only for the mystery of life, but for new ideas and approaches. The willingness to meet experience this way I call faith.

In ordinary English usage, the words "faith" and "belief" are often used interchangeably and the difference between these two ways of meeting experience is confused or lost. One of the results is the pseudo-tension between science and religion, where science is presented as the willingness to open to new information in the form of experimental evidence (i.e., faith) and religion is portrayed as relying on fixed tenets that are held no matter what evidence is offered to the contrary (i.e., belief).

Belief kills both science and religion while faith is necessary for both.

If you try to practice meditation by holding to beliefs, you will inevitably come into conflict with your experience. Beliefs are conditioned ways of interpreting experience. As your capacity in attention deepens, you will see beyond your conditioning, and the beliefs you hold will lead you to dismiss what you experience then, or lead you to shut it down.

Start dev4seasons treeeloping a capacity for faith by being willing to experience whatever arises in your meditation practice. Rather than try to control your mind (i.e., your experience), open to what arises without being swallowed by it. This is a practice. You will fail at it ten thousand times. No matter. Just keep going. Use your breath as an anchor. Gradually, you will forge a different relationship with experience, where you can rest in what arises and be clear and at peace at the same time.


Xamuel said...

Even scientists fall into belief when they get older, and then the younger scientists have to wait for them to die off. Beliefs are like lenses through which we view the world, they clarify some information but hide other information. Better to keep changing the lenses so you can see it all, rather than use the same lens and have a perpetual blindspot.

Sarah H. said...

Thank you for articulating the difference! Due to my upbringing in a rigid belief oriented religion, I knew these two words to be misused and much abused when I finally let the beliefs go and stepped with faith into the inner world of meditation. Since that time, I have used these words with the definition you laid out. Faith is one of my favorite words when used properly.