A few years ago I picked up a little book called Faith by Sharon Salzberg, a Buddhist meditation teacher and now best-selling author. I don’t remember exactly why this book caught my attention. Perhaps I was intrigued by the first page where it said that faith was not synonymous with religion, yet I’d always thought it was. I remember enjoying this book tremendously the first time I’d read it, but I couldn’t remember why. I felt it was time to read it again and here’s what I discovered.
This is not a book whose surface you can skim across, get to the end, and exclaim, “Oh, that was good.” If you truly read its words, you will find yourself challenged. You will find yourself examining your own beliefs, and if you embrace the journey, you will surface from its depths with a smile upon your face and a warmth in your heart.
As a young woman looking for answers, Salzberg finds herself drawn to the study of Buddhism. Her discovery of the deeper meaning of faith is revealed through her own personal experiences as she travels the world and studies with many Buddhist teachers.
As Salzberg begins her journey, she is first struck by what she calls “bright faith.” This stage of faith is a beginning usually inspired by something outside of ourselves, a teacher or teachings that capture our attention and fill us with joy, comfort, peace, and hope. Salzberg emphasizes that this must be the beginning of our journey because if we see it as the end, bright faith becomes blind faith. We must, therefore, allow our faith to grow and to do this bright faith must by verified.
Salzberg stresses that having faith is not a static state, but a dynamic, ever-changing one. To move forward from bright faith, one must be free to question. While this time of questioning is crucial, it may also be a time of fear as one moves forward. After all when we begin to investigate our beliefs, flaws may be revealed, creating confusion and more questions. This is the journey that is necessary, however, because true faith must reside within us and not simply come from outside of us. Over time this process of questioning, along with supportive personal experiences, will help us to arrive at abiding faith. It’s a slippery but rewarding journey, and one must continue to question in order to grow in their faith.
Importance of Faith
Early in the book, Salzberg wrote often of the importance of faith and how having faith gives us the courage to move forward when life is difficult. A lack of faith limits our potential. I was drawn into this idea and craved a clear understanding of this thing called “faith,” yet at the same time, I began to feel lost. Each time I read about having faith, I found myself asking, “Faith in what?” I began to think that I must have missed something along the way…an important something. I was sad and discouraged at this point, but I made myself read on and the confusion lifted and I got it!
I’ve always wanted to understand more about Buddhism. I can agree with the idea that life is impermanent and change is its natural state. I continually work to accept both the times of sorrow and the times of joy and everything in between. This, I know, is the natural flow of life, but in the end what caught my attention was Salzberg’s writings about the Buddha nature, about sitting in love and awareness.
Saltzberg’s strength grew when she could have faith in this Buddha nature and the understanding that we all have the Buddha nature within us. We all have the potential for enlightenment. We are, each of us, of value; and in that deepest part of us, we are all connected. We must stay connected to this core within us especially when times are dark. As we learn to traverse life being able to find this place within ourselves, this then gives us faith to move forward. The more that we do this, the more we know it can be done. Our faith is verified by this personal experience.
As I was reading the last chapter of Faith, I began drawing an image on my notepad, one dark dot in the center of ever-widening circles, like the ripples in a pond. I knew the dot represented me, the circles my expanding awareness. This then became me in that core place of awareness and connection. Within this part of me, I was at peace. I wrote, “Keep coming back to yourself, the best and brightest of yourself.”
Each of us will take away something different from this book, and each time you read it, you will find new hidden treasures. Wherever your faith lies, shine a light upon it and allow it to grow.
“Faith includes noticing the mess, the emptiness and discomfort, and letting it be there until some light returns.” Anne Lamott