Faith (mental element 33, Fa)
Faith is the phenomenon of trusting in something. Faith is that which clarifies the mind, illuminating it to such an extent that the object of trust becomes crystal clear, like a cloudless sky after a thunderstorm. Faith purifies the mind and generates unshakable confidence in the object of trust.
For the arising of faith, the object of trust (a religion, God, views, spiritual tradition, spiritual teachings, and so on) has to be wholesome and pure, and there has to be an experiential understanding of it. Otherwise, faith cannot occur. If the object of trust is not pure, if it is unwholesome, and if there is no experiential understanding, what arises is belief, which is always rooted to some degree in greed, hatred, and delusion. This is the most important aspect of faith to understand.
People who say that it is their faith that if they kill in God’s name they will earn a place in heaven are not faithful. The object of trust is not wholesome because it involves killing. Also there is no way to experience heaven, divinity or a godly feeling while killing. It is impossible, because we cannot kill without hatred, and the feeling of hatred is not divine or godly. Killing for religion cannot incorporate the element of faith. It can only demonstrate a belief because it is rooted in greed for going to heaven, hatred for others, and delusion about how the mind works.
People who say that according to their faith God will pardon their sins if they surrender to God are mistaking belief for faith. Some say that if they simply chant God’s name they will earn favors, fortunes, and a heavenly abode. Some say that if they perform certain rituals they will please God, who will shower them with health and prosperity. All are mistaking belief for faith.1 They are ignorant of the laws of ethical/volitional accountability (karma), especially of the effect of their attachment to their views and their subtle hatred for other views. Wrong views are simply beliefs, because they arise out of an object that is rooted in greed, hatred, and delusion.
Faith only arises out of a pure and wholesome object. For example, when an enlightened master says, “If you observe impermanence and selflessness in all phenomena, you will become wise, happy, and free,” one can have faith in this because one can actually experience impermanence and selflessness in all phenomena. Whenever one has that experience, one feels happy and one feels one knows something so deep that it brings a sense of freedom to one’s mind.
Faith clarifies and illuminates its own cause. For example, when one develops faith in the enlightened master’s statement because one experiences its principles, that faith, in turn, makes it easy for one to understand the statement at deeper levels. It helps one develop confidence in it. It allows one to trust it to such an extent that the trust becomes unshakable.
In the practice of soul meditation, faith generally arises in those who develop insight of the impermanent nature of the phenomenon of matter-mind-consciousness. When this insight matures, it culminates in the arising of freedom from materialism, religiousness, wrong views, beliefs, doubts, superstition, and so on. This may not make sense immediately. However, if you start meditating and develop this understanding from the experiential level, faith will become crystal clear to you. When such a stage emerges, faith becomes a mental faculty. Just as the eye serves as a faculty in the process of seeing, faith serves as a faculty in the process of perfecting the intelligence.
Faith acts like a spiritual hand that assists us in grabbing and establishing wholesome mental states whenever they arise. Faith is also a spiritual wealth. Just as material wealth takes away economic worries of survival and allows us to pursue our core interests, faith removes suspicion and allows us to focus on the core spiritual practices of meditation and contemplation. Faith serves as a decisive support condition when we undertake mental development. In this way, faith is like wholesome resolution. Supported by faith, if spiritual practice or mental development continues, a stage comes when the insight of the “non-self” emerges. At this stage, faith becomes a spiritual power. It is a power in the sense that it can no longer be overcome by anything in the world. It succeeds in producing success (or merit) out of spiritual or mental exertion.
Faith is a spiritual treasure in that it not only enables us to embark upon the most elite journey of our life: the soul journey, but also leads us directly to the final destination: the attainment of perfect intelligence and the freedom from all suffering. How? In the presence of faith, there is no suspicion, doubt, and apprehension, turning back, or stopping. The journey becomes like the one-way flow of a river towards the ocean.