What is faith? What is belief? Is there a significant difference in meaning between these terms? In contemporary Christianity, the two have become interchangeable, even synonymous. Many Christian denominations proclaim that to "have faith" is to believe exclusively in a particular set of doctrines and scriptural interpretations against the mounting contradictory evidence presented by science, the testimony of non-Christian religions, or even one's own perceptions and experience. The rise of Christian Fundamentalism in the Twentieth Century is a clear indicator of the level of fear with which many modern day Christians have responded to such cultural challenges.
But is that faith? Is a defensive insistence on a single narrow interpretation of reality the only way to be certain of one's relationship to spiritual truth? Is there an alternative approach to spirituality, one that is inclusive and open, that might aid the seeker, Christian or otherwise, in his quest for certainty and meaning? One that might free him from blind adherence to dogmatic theological tenets?
In this paper, I will explore Buddhist teachings regarding faith, belief, and the difference between these terms. I'll also examine the individual's relationship to doctrine on the Buddhist path. It is my hope that this exploration might lead seekers on all spiritual paths to discover the unique possibilities embodied in this Buddhist approach to the Divine, and the great advantage adopting such a view can lend to any spiritual quest, regardless of the Tradition in which it is centered.
While it is true that the Buddha imparted to his disciples a specific religious teaching based on his own realization, it was not his intention that others should accept his teachings based solely on his authority as a teacher or enlightened individual. The Buddha exhorted his followers to test, through diligent practice, the truth or falsehood of all teachings, including his own: