In Buddhism, do we need faith?

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I’ve always rejected dogma – is “awakening to the reality of interdependent origination” dogma? Do we just have to have faith in it, like in Christianity?

If we don’t practice and awaken to the reality of interdependent origination by ourselves, as our own experience, that is dogma. If you memorize everything Dogen wrote or what Uchiyama Roshi or I have said, that is dogma. But by practicing it, it becomes reality. I don’t know about Christianity, but in the case of Buddhism I think we can each have the same experience of awakening.

Usually in our tradition, our process of studying and practicing is to hear or read some teaching, think about what we heard, and if we think that it is reasonable or doable, we put the teaching into practice. Through the practice we find the teaching is really true.

From hearing or studying the teaching to putting that teaching into practice there is a jump we need. This jump means to have a kind of determination, because when we hear and think, our thinking is not reality yet. It may sound okay but we are not sure. So we start to practice and it is at this point we need faith; even in Buddhism we need faith. Faith or trust is really important in this jumping.

In my case, I didn’t know about Buddhist teaching or theory when I started to practice. I read Uchiyama Roshi’s book, I didn’t understand it at all, but it sounded okay and was attractive to me. I trusted how Uchiyama Roshi lived, and I wanted to live like him. I didn’t start practicing because I believed Buddhist theory or Dogen’s teaching. Actually, I didn’t understand Dogen at all, one hundred percent. I trusted Uchiyama Roshi’s way of life; he had the same question when he was a teenager as I had. He spent his entire life finding the answer and after he found it, he continued to practice and share the teaching with younger people. So, my belief or faith was not really in Buddhist philosophy or in Dogen’s writing but in this person’s way of life. Without that trust I could not jump into this very strange practice that is good for nothing. We say it publicly – it is good for nothing. So I think we need some faith or trust, whether it is toward Buddhist teaching or philosophy, or toward someone’s writing, or toward some kind of living example. To me, the living example was most important.

So you don’t need to believe what I’m saying. If you just memorize and believe this is true then it becomes dogma, even what Dogen wrote or what Buddha said. If it becomes dogma then it has nothing to do with our own life, I think. So don’t believe what I’m saying.

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Commentary by Shōhaku Okumura Roshi

The Dōgen Institute hopes to offer an occasional series of questions from students with responses from Okumura Roshi  about practice and study. These questions and responses are from Okumura Roshi’s recorded lectures, and are lightly edited.

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For further study:

  • See Shohaku Okumura Roshi’s commentary on his teacher’s modern classic Opening The Hand of Thought, in which he discusses self-power (jiriki) and other-power (tariki). Pure Land Buddhists sometimes say there are two gates in Buddhism: the gate of sacred path, practice with self-power; and the gate of easy practice, based on other-power.

> Other Questions and responses

Copyright 2018 Sanshin Zen Community

3 thoughts on “In Buddhism, do we need faith?

  1. Henry Coffey

    Thank you for expanding the dialogue with this posting
    …We all jumped down the “Buddhist Rabbit Whole” at one point or another. Just last week I was sitting and thought,,why am I doing this? Faith in what everyone I trust have told me about practice including the refrain, “…sitting is good for nothing.”

  2. Guy Laurendeau

    Good evening Okumura Roshi,

    I am a 73 years old French Canadian living in a country road in north of Montreal. Until 18 years old, I live, like my family, in the dogmas of catholicism. In 1980, I received the book of Suzuki Roshi Zen Mind Beginner’s mind”. Like you, at the beginnings, I know nothing about Buddhist teaching or theory. But, when I started to read this book, I realize that I have a instinctive feeling that I finally find my way.

    At the beginning, I try to find a shanga (Trungpa place in Vermont and Montreal Zen center) but I decide to do Zazen alone. Now, I practice zazen everyday for the last 15 years, and like you live and said “practice zazen for nothing alone is very difficult”. I do what I can and try to take live as it is.

    This morning, I smile a little, when I read your post. Few months ago, I realize that I need faith, but in what? More, I realize that I take my reading, on zen, for dogma like I did when I was younger. I will have to crawl again on those waves.

    I read all your posts but “In Buddhism, do we need faith?” is a very important one to me.

    Gassho to you Okumura Roshi

  3. Bill Nielsen

    My faith in Buddhism developed as I followed the instructions and prompts of the teacher and experienced what he assured me would occur. As in any spiritual pursuit, talk is cheap; action is the key.


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