NOW LET US TAKE a comparative look at some of the qualities related to Buddhism, science and other religions, beginning with faith.
Most religions use emotion as the energy for attaining their respective goals. Emotion is the inspiration which arouses belief and obedience to the teachings, and emotions, particularly those which produce faith, are a necessary part of most religions. Emotions are also that which preserves faith, for which reason it is quite important to ensure that these emotional states are sustained. To put it another way, because faith is so crucial to these religions, emotion is encouraged.
While faith is the most important force in most religions, Buddhism stresses wisdom, giving faith a place of importance only in the initial stages. Even then, faith is only used very carefully, as wisdom is considered to be the prime factor in attaining to the goal of Buddhism.
Even so, faith does have a place in the Buddhist teachings, but in a different role, with a different emphasis. There are also elements of faith in scientific research, where it has had a decisive role in science's advances in research and enquiry.
In order to clearly understand faith, it will be helpful to analyse it into different kinds. Generally speaking, faith can be divided into two main kinds:
The first kind of faith is that which obstructs wisdom. It relies On inciting, or even enforcing, belief, and such belief must be complete and unquestioning. To doubt the teaching is forbidden. Only unquestioning obedience is allowed. This first kind of faith does not allow any room for wisdom to develop.
Faith in most religions is of this variety. There must be belief and there must be obedience. Whatever the religion says must go, no questions asked. This feature of religion is known as dogma, the doctrine that is unquestionable, characterized by adherence in the face of reason. Buddhism, however, is a religion free of dogma.
The second kind of faith is a channel for wisdom. This kind of faith stimulates curiosity; it is the incentive to begin learning. In this world there are so many things to learn about. Without faith we have no starting point or direction to set our learning, but when faith arises in a certain person, subject or teaching, it gives us a starting point. Faith awakens our interest and encourages us to approach the object of that interest. Faith in a person. In particular, leads to approaching and questioning that person. Having faith in the order of monks, for example, encourages us to approach them and learn from them, to gain a clearer understanding of the teachings.
An example of this kind of faith can be seen in the life story of Srputta. He became interested in the teaching of the Buddha through seeing the monk Assaji walking on alms round. He was impressed by the monk's bearing, which suggested some special quality, some special knowledge or spiritual attainment. Wanting to find out what this special quality was, he approached Assaji and asked for a teaching. This is a good example of this second kind of faith.
So this kind of faith or inspiration is a positive influence, an incentive for learning. It also gives a point of focus for our learning. Whatever direction faith leans to, our energies are motivated accordingly. A scientist, for example, having the faith that a particular hypothesis might be true, will direct his enquiry specifically in that direction, not being distracted by irrelevant data.
These two kinds of faith must be clearly distinguished. The faith that functions in Buddhism is the faith which leads to wisdom, and as such is secondary to wisdom. Such faith is found in both Buddhism and science. This kind of faith has three important functions in relation to wisdom. They are: 1. It gives rise to an interest and incentive to begin the process of learning. 2. It provides the energy needed in the pursuit of that learning. 3. It gives direction or focus for that energy.
Apart from these functions, well-directed faith has a number of further characteristics, which is shown in the following consideration of the Buddhist system of practice:
What is the goal of Buddhism? The goal of Buddhism is liberation, transcendence, or, to put it in contemporary terms, freedom. Buddhism wants human beings to be free, to transcend defilements and suffering.
How is this freedom attained? It must be attained through wisdom, understanding of the truth, or the law of nature. This truth is as equally attainable by the disciples as it was by the Teacher, and their knowledge is independent of him. The Buddha once asked Srputta, Do you believe what I have been explaining to you?'' Srputta answered, Yes, I see that that is so. The Buddha asked him, Are you saying this just out of faith in me?'' Srputta answered, No, I answered in agreement not because of faith in the Blessed One, but because I clearly see for myself that this is the case.
This is another of Buddhism's principles. The Buddha did not want people to simply believe him or attach to him. He pointed out the fault of faith even in another person, because he wanted people to be free. This liberation, or freedom, the goal of Buddhism, is attained through wisdom, through knowledge of reality.
But how is that wisdom to arise? For those people who Know how to think, who have what we call yoniso-manasikra, it isn't necessary to rely on faith, but most people must use faith as a stepping stone or starting point.
These conditions are connected like links in a chain. In order to attain liberation, it is necessary to develop wisdom. Wisdom, as the condition for realizing the goal, is in turn dependent on faith. This gives us three stages:
Faith > Wisdom > Liberation
Faith is the initiator of the path to truth. It in turn leads to wisdom, which in turn leads to liberation. This model of conditions is the defining constraint on faith in Buddhism. Because faith is related to both wisdom and liberation, it has two characteristics:
1. It leads to wisdom
2. It is coupled with, and leads to, liberation.
Faith in Buddhism does not forbid questions or doubts, nor demand belief or unquestioning committal in any way. Both Buddhism and science possess this kind of faith; they both use faith as s stepping stone on the path to realizing the truth. Now the question arises, what kind of faith is it which leads to wisdom?
In the context of today's discussion, we could say that the faith that leads to wisdom is the belief that this universe, or the world of nature, functions according to constant and invariable laws. This is faith in the Law of Nature, or the belief that nature has laws that are accessible to man's understanding.
This faith is the impetus which leads to the search for truth, but because faith in itself is incapable of leading directly to the truth, it must be used to further develop wisdom. At this stage the faith of Buddhism and the faith of science look very similar. Both have a belief in the laws of nature, and both strive to know the truth of these laws through wisdom. However, the similarity ends right here. From this point on, the faith of Buddhism and the faith of science part their ways.
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