Faith that Works

Do not believe in anything simply because you have heard it. Do not believe in anything simply because it is spoken and rumored by many. Do not believe in anything simply because it is found written in your religious books. Do not believe in anything merely on the authority of your teachers and elders. Do not believe in traditions because they have been handed down for many generations. But after observation and analysis, when you find that anything agrees with reason and is conducive to the good and benefit of one and all, then accept it and live up to it.

The Buddha

As a Christian growing up in the Bible Belt, I often heard the expression “blind faith,” which I always took to mean “belief without evidence.” In retrospect, I believe that the speakers meant that they had “absolute faith” or “absolute trust” that God would assist or provide in times of need or trouble.

Imagine my shock when, as an adult, the teacher at the New York Insight Meditation Center stated that the Buddha told us not to accept anything on faith. Rather, that we should, “See for ourselves.”

For a long time, I didn’t really understand what that meant. In fact, I felt like it was the antithesis of faith: doubt.

Now, after practicing for many years, I have a deep and abiding Buddhist faith that is based on experience. I have put Buddhism to the test and found that it helps me to make skillful decisions more frequently, to be more mindful and, most importantly, to be more compassionate — to all beings, including myself.

The intro quote above is the version most circulated on the internet. Some scholars criticize it because they believe it gives the reader carte blanche. While I’m no scholar, I disagree. The caveat in the final sentence, “But after observation and analysis, when you find that anything agrees with reason and is conducive to the good and benefit of one and all, then accept it and live up to it,” ensures that a well intentioned practitioner will follow the spirit of this teaching rather than their own whims and desires.

While the translation below by a very well respected Theravadin monk, is considered to be more accurate, I believe that the meaning is the same: “Question everything. See for yourself.” If your beliefs meet the criteria — be they Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, Wiccan, New Age, Eclectic Spirituality or something else — then it’s a faith that works.

… don’t go by reports, by legends, by traditions, by scripture, by logical conjecture, by inference, by analogies, by agreement through pondering views, by probability, or by the thought, ‘This contemplative is our teacher.’ When you know for yourselves that, ‘These qualities are unskillful; these qualities are blameworthy; these qualities are criticized by the wise; these qualities, when adopted and carried out, lead to harm and to suffering’ — then you should abandon them.

Kalama Sutta: To the Kalamas
translated from the Pali by Thanissaro Bhikkhu
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