A Foundation of Trust

Saddhā is not to be confused with a blind belief in propositions. It is an enabling virtue that both sets the Buddhist path in motion and carries us through to its end.

A Foundation of Trust

In this first unit, we will begin to reflect on this spiritual power (indriya) of saddhā. At times this is translated as confidence, faith, or strength. I prefer not to use the translation of "faith" simply because some people hearing that translation immediately begin to switch off, having had difficult experiences with the word or how the word faith has been used as a belief system to subscribe to, or as a way of being controlled.

Thinking about confidence and trust

Let's think about confidence. Let's think about trust. It's my understanding that the entire path of awakening rests upon this foundation of saddhā: of confidence, of trust. It is the basis of an ethical life. It provides a sense of direction. And saddhā gives us a sense of possibility: what's possible for us as a human being in this path. It inspires us. It gives us a sense of aspiration.

The development of liberating understanding really rests upon, I think, this very essential quality of confidence in ourselves, in the path, and in the direction that the path is showing us. Saddhā is really concerned with how our lives are being shaped and what it is that we wish our lives to be shaped by.

Confidence rests upon an understanding of what really is skillful to cultivate and what it is skillful to let go of. There's a quote, a saying in the Tibetan tradition of Buddhism that says...

A person without confidence is like a person in a boat who has everything they need except the oars.

I find this a quite helpful teaching. 

The questions asked by confidence and trust

Saddhā raises, I believe, quite important questions for us as practitioners.

Questions raised by saddhā
What is it that we aspire to in our lives, in our practice, in our path?
What is it that we we value most deeply?
What do we sense we are capable of in our own minds and hearts?

What we have confidence in we give attention to, we commit to, and we value. Without confidence, we so easily flounder, we so easily drift without any sense of direction. 

The confidence to pursue the path to its end

The Buddha sought for graduates, not for perpetual students. When he taught the path of liberation and the path of awakening, he had confidence that those who listened deeply would come to the same liberating insights that he had come to. He had confidence that those who listened deeply would come to know the end of struggle and distress. He had confidence that those who listened to the teaching deeply would also come to know the cooling of the fires of greed and hatred and delusion. 

In the cooling of those fires, in the ending of distress, a vacuum is not left behind. This is the ground of boundless kindness, compassion, joyfulness, equanimity, and a life of wakefulness. In truth, this is the landscape of liberation, the landscape of Nibbāna.

The hindrance of doubt

What is the opposite of confidence? It is doubt. It's uncertainty, a lack of direction, and often a sense of anxiety: the anxiety of not knowing what is possible for us, the anxiety of feeling uncertain about what it is valuable to commit to. We can find ourselves so easily diverted and forgetful without an anchor or ground.

None of us begins our path with unshakable confidence. It might be true to say that doubt is the classroom in which the seeds of confidence and trust are sown and nurtured and developed. Another saying I came across recently that says that...

For a boat that has no clear sense of direction, there are no favorable winds. 

What are we invited to trust?

What is it that we were invited to have confidence in? The Buddha—not necessarily the historical figure but what the Buddha represents: one who is awake—this figure of the Buddha offers a vision of human potentiality, human possibility: one who embodies understanding; one who cares deeply for their world and the footprint they leave on the world. The Buddha as a figure embodies a possibility, a very profound ethics, and a compassionate way of being. This is the third ennobling truth: Nibbāna, the end of distress, the end of struggle, the end of confusion

Saddhā, confidence, is a central characteristic of one who enters the stream of the dharma filled with confidence in such a way that there is no turning back, who enters the stream of the dharma that has only one direction, which is awakening.

Nibbāna, as we see it in the Buddhist teaching, really is the heart of the teaching: this liberation of the heart, the liberation of the mind. I personally think it's very important not to see Nibbāna only with the capital "N" but as something that we practice

Insight is not just something we have; insight is something that we live

There are so many moments in our days when we can choose to practice the cooling of the fires of greed and hatred and delusion. There are so many moments in our days when we can practice Nibbāna: cooling the compulsions, the impulses, the reactivity that can so easily drive our lives. And every moment we practice in this way, we have just the smallest taste of freedom. We have the smallest taste of liberation, but this becomes a ground in which our confidence really begins to deepen and grow.

Confidence in our capacities

The question of saddhā, I think, is a question of what we have confidence in, inwardly. Do we have confidence in our own capacity to be awake, to come to the same depths of liberating understanding that the Buddha came to? Do we have confidence in our own capacities for very profound compassion and kindness and care and engagement in this world, in a wholehearted and meaningful way?

When we sit on our cushion or when we go out into the world, what is our sense of direction? What is guiding our thoughts, our speech, our choices, our actions? Do we see liberation as a genuine possibility for ourselves? Do we have confidence in the teaching? The Buddha painted a landscape of understanding that frees and deepens and supports our ability to live as a flourishing, creative human being, engaged with this world in meaningful ways.

We are never encouraged to have blind faith in the teaching. As Jake referred to in our introduction, we're first invited to listen to the teaching, to listen deeply, to have a conceptual understanding. Do we have an agreement with it? Does this make sense to us? Then we explore this teaching in the midst of our own experience—in the classroom of our bodies; in the classroom of our minds, our hearts; in the classroom of our lives. We begin to cultivate and to explore this teaching and what difference does it make? Are we happier? Are we more at ease in the world? Do we find we have more trusting relationships with others? Do we find that we can care more deeply, respond more wholeheartedly. When we see these changes happening, we have an ever-deepening confidence in the teaching and in the path.

The Four Ennobling Truths

What did the Buddha teach that we're invited to have confidence in? He taught the Four Noble Truths.

The Four Noble Truths
1. There is dukkha (suffering, discontent) There is dukkha (suffering, dissatisfaction). We recognize this. We know there is discontent. We know there is restlessness. We know at times there is struggle in our lives. We know that dukkhā—this discontent—is not a life sentence, or we begin to have confidence that this is so: that struggle is not a life sentence, and that just because something has a very long history does not mean that it has an equally long future.
2. The cause of dukkha is craving So we begin to look at distress. We begin to look at struggle and discontent more clearly. Where does this arise from? What is its origins? We often see that so much distress in our life is demanding, insisting that this life, this moment needs to be different than it is. This is not a prescription, by the way, for passivity, or for not engaging in very necessary constructive changes in our world. But it's more looking at our inner arguments that the craving for things to be different, the ill will of pushing life, pushing the moment away, the sense of being lost in this insatiable appetite that says "I don't have what I need, I am not enough."
3. There can be a cessation of dukkha The Buddha says that there is an origin to discontent and this can end. We are also asked to have confidence in community, sangha: in benefiting from the support of others. None of us awaken alone, and it is actually so crucial to have people in our lives that we can also have confidence in and who have confidence in us.
4. There is a path leading to the cessation of dukkha There is a path to the end of distress. The Eightfold Path that the Buddha taught is a way of navigating our way through this life which can at times be so challenging. We learn to live with carefulness, with mindfulness, with compassion, with understanding, and our confidence deepens.

There are so many aspects to the Buddhist teaching, and as we explore them in our own experience, we are always asking the question...

What does this mean for me? What are the implications of this teaching in how I live my life? What am I being guided to perhaps unbind from? What am I being guided to cultivate? 

Confidence grows through experience. Confidence grows with patience. Confidence grows through investigation. This is what we learn to cultivate.

Complete and Continue