Often times when the word faith is mentioned, it is assumed that its context is religious. Particularly in monotheistic religions, faith is referred to as something one has in a god; so for instance, many people have faith in the power and providence of God to help them in life.

So how is faith experienced in Zen Buddhism, a teaching and practice that is essentially non-theistic?

Firstly, we have faith in the three jewels of Buddhism: Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha.

  • Having faith in Buddha means following the living example of the historical Buddha, and committing oneself to achieving enlightenment. It is important to note that Buddha is not a god and never claimed to be, but an enlightened being.
  • Dharma can have several meanings, however in this context it is the teaching and practices of the Buddha as outlined through scriptures and records of his life.
  • Sangha is, broadly speaking, those with whom we share our spiritual lives – teachers, other practitioners – as a form of support for our practice because ultimately, this practice is a way and approach to life.

Beyond the three jewels, faith is like a muscle that is strengthened through the practice of zazen, and mostly, through the experience of life as practice.

Blind belief in the three jewels will not produce strong faith; it is merely a guiding point from which to start. Cultivating unshakable faith is anchored in consistent practice, both on the cushion and off the cushion.

When one sits and gets still enough in the mind, there emerges an inner knowing that cuts through all of our preconceived ideas, concepts, norms, desires, and fears.

Trusting in this inner knowing in life is what cultivates faith. It is a confidence in life. It allows one to live with clarity and conviction; it is unwavering and fierce. Life opens up to this inner knowing, and the way forward is obvious and unquestionable.

A good way to think of faith is unshakeable trust or confidence — in practice and in life.