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Hmm… faith? Is that the right word? The Sanskrit term that is often translated as ‘faith’ is ‘sraddha‘, which doesn’t really mean faith as we’d understand it in a western context. I mean, when Christians (for example) talk about faith, they’re basically saying ‘I know that it’s all a fairly story but I’ll choose to believe in it anyway’. Sraddha is not that – not blind faith – but has more to do with engaging the emotions into our practice.

Anyway, I’ve been having some personal difficulties over the last few months, and as a consequence, found myself becoming more distant from my meditation practice. I wasn’t conciously aware of a thought that said ‘oh, don’t sit down, because being by yourself with your head might be unpleasant today’ but I guess that’s what was going on. Also, practice stopped feeling good. Now, that’s not the point. A wise man once said;

The purpose of meditation is not to have good meditations. The purpose of meditation is to transform your life.

Or something like that. When I look at my experience of meditation practice, I know that’s true. Many are the times when I’ve sat down and been thoroughly uninvolved in a practice, or massively distracted, or sleepy, or whatever. Basically lots of my meditation feels… well, not bad, but something other than a ‘good’ meditation. But, despite that, progress is being made, especially in my response to difficult situations outside and negative emotions inside. My buttons are getting harder to push.

Of course, all this change happens so slowly that it’s easy to lose sight of it, and my recent troubles have made me take my eye off the ball somewhat.  I can see that now, but a few weeks ago it was much more difficult. What struck me in the midst of all of this, though, was how dry my practice was feeling – unconnected, perhaps. There seemed to be no emotion involved, and that’s what got me thinking about faith in this way.

So my purpose was to develop ‘more’ faith. To more fully engage my emotional life, and thus my whole being, with my practice. Luckily, 2,500 years of tradition in Buddhism has come up with an excellent way of addressing just this very problem, in the form of devotional practices. I have the good fortune to live very close to a Buddhist centre that seems to be aware of this problem too, and therefore I have the ability to take part in some kind of devotional practice on a regular basis. That’s in addition to doing it at home – everything from a few minutes of chanting before meditation, to performing a full-blown Puja.

Reflecting now on what’s happened, it seems obvious now why this sequence of events came about. As a relatively new practitioner, i’ve been immersing myself in the dharma, learning about various practices, doing a lot of reading… in short, gathering wisdom. In the formulation of the Buddhist path known as the five spiritual faculties, faith is there to counterbalance wisdom. All wisdom and no faith makes Jack a dull and uninvolved boy, to paraphrase the saying. So this was waiting to happen, and I would do well not to ignore the emotional side of my practice again.

And, like most of Buddhism, it does what it’s advertised to do. I can feel myself coming back. I do feel more emotionally engaged (and positive). So this idea of developing faith in Buddhism is a useful one. If we are to have faith in something (in the Judaeo-Christian sense) then it ought to be in something that we can identify in our experience as working. Once again, Buddhist practice has proved itself to me.


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