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 (AND NOT FAITH), 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. 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.
In order to illustrate the differences between faith and belief, let us compare their characteristics, functions, manifestations, proximate causes, and other attributes (see table below).
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.
•To purify the mind
•The object of faith has to be pure and wholesome
•There has to be experiential understanding of the object of faith
•Faith is a wholesome mental element having its own intrinsic nature. Therefore, it does not lead to unwholesome states
•Faith is pragmatic and spiritual
•Faith leads to the eradication of the ego, the state of mental perfection
•Faith leads to wisdom and understanding
•To overlook clarification
•To hide and suppress illumination
•To abandon purification of thought
•Blind devotion, which has no clarity
•The object of belief is not necessarily pure and wholesome. In most cases, it is unwholesome
•There is no experiential understanding of the object of belief
•Belief is an unwholesome mental formation structured by superstition, suspicion, greed, delusion, and hatred. Therefore, it may lead to unwholesome states, such as fanaticism, extremism, religiousness, and intolerance
•Belief is more religious than spiritual (even when not applied to the institution of a religion). Beliefs are mostly non-pragmatic. Therefore, they actually create a hindrance to spiritual growth
•Beliefs lead to the expansion of the ego, due to increased attachment to a personal religion, God, scriptures, or views. Attachments are always rooted in greed, hatred, and delusion
•If awareness is created and beliefs are investigated, contemplated, and meditated upon, they can be transformed into faith