What is the point of faith?

Do you remember the Chilean miners? They were stuck underground for several months but then were miraculously saved. After they were rescued, they traveled the world like heroes, being feted wherever they went, having a grand old time.

Imagine being stuck down a mine. Imagine you have been down there so long that you don’t even register the possibility of a bright shiny world outside the mine, or, if you do occasionally wonder about such a thing, the thought quickly fades.

Then imagine that one day something amazing happens. A crack appears above you in the solid darkness, and light rays stream through.

When I was at high school, before I discovered Buddhism, these David Bowie lyrics from his song Starman inspired me for some half-remembered reason:

“There’s a starman waiting in the sky. He’d like to come and meet us but he thinks he’d blow our minds.
There’s a starman waiting in the sky. He’s told us not to blow it ‘cause he knows it’s all worthwhile.”

I had always had an intermittent sense that there was something more to life than these painted appearances, all this superficial stuff, and that I was supposed to be striving for something deeper and more cosmic than just getting through life; I just was not sure what it was. I also felt that someone somewhere was trying to tell me something, I just wasn’t sure who or where they were!

I think everyone has thoughts like these, even if it is 3am in the morning and the thought quickly fades or is pushed away. These are tiny cracks of light. They don’t amount to anything consistent or even life-changing, but they are an expression of the actual interdependent nature of all phenomena and our pure potential or Buddha nature (mystic theistic traditions might say our divinity and potential for apotheosis) — and they give us an intuition of something beyond this world of ordinary appearances. Whether we choose to pursue those existential thoughts or not depends on many things, of course.

Back in the mine, imagine now that the crack above your head becomes larger. And there is now a voice coming through from outside.

That voice is telling you that he wants to come and meet you and not to blow it because there is a way out of this mine…

… in fact he has all the equipment we’ll need to dig ourselves out with his help.

I remember when I first realized I had met my own Spiritual Guide. I was a student at university and was, strangely enough, at a disco (it was the 80s!) dancing with a friend. We had both met Geshe Kelsang a few weeks or months earlier, I don’t really remember. Suddenly, I was hit with a very blissful understanding — my starman had arrived. I shouted to my friend over the music, with unchecked teenage exuberance and somewhat to his (and probably everyone else’s) embarassment: “Do you realize our Spiritual Guide has found us?!!” And yes, it did blow my mind.

Since then, my teacher Geshe Kelsang has given me exactly everything I need. If all the enlightened beings had gotten together to figure out what I personally needed to escape from ignorance, anger, attachment, mistaken dualistic appearances and suffering, and start helping others to do the same, they would have done exactly what they have done. They would have emanated as someone I can communicate with and relate to because he appears in a relatively ordinary form, and given me through that person all the teachings, inspiration and conditions I need.

If I want to get out of the mine, I need to stay close to that light source and voice — not stray too far or get all skeptical about it — and keep believing that there is another world beyond the world of suffering. As my teacher says in Transform Your Life:

“Without faith, everything is mundane. We are blind to anything beyond the ordinary and imperfect world we normally inhabit, and we cannot even imagine that pure faultless beings, worlds, or states of mind exist.”

Dakini (female Tantric Deity) in the Metropolitan Museum, NYC

In truth, the world outside the mind is not somewhere else – the Pure Land is right here, it is the emptiness (lack of independent existence) of all phenomena that is always mixed indivisibly with the blissful wisdom of all enlightened beings. (When Milarepa, the great Buddhist meditator and poet, was asked in which Pure Land he had attained enlightenment, he famously pointed to his cave.) This bliss and emptiness pervades all phenomena, and we are only subtle mistaken appearances away from that experience ourselves. Faith in the enlightened beings and teachings necessitates faith in one’s own infinite potential. I sometimes like to think that we are just a trick of the mind away from enlightenment. As Geshe-la says in Yoga of Buddha Heruka:

“The moment our mind is free from subtle mistaken appearance, we open the door through which we can directly see all enlightened Deities. For as long as our mind remains polluted by subtle mistaken appearance, this door is closed.”

Through understanding that, I think we can understand what blessings actually are. But perhaps that can be the subject of another blog article.

Your comments are welcome!

(If  you are interested in knowing more about my teacher, see this article.)

Author: Luna Kadampa

Based on 40 years' experience, I write about applying meditation and modern Buddhism to improve and transform our everyday lives and societies. I try to make it accessible to everyone anywhere who wants more inner peace and profound tools to help our world, not just Buddhists. Do make comments any time and I'll write you back!

37 thoughts on “What is the point of faith?”

  1. Thank you for your article. I was looking for some articles on faith for the faithless. I can’t seem to experience the faith people are always talking about. I have no direct experience of a world beyond the one I’m seeing now, so I find it difficult to keep going. I have a feeling I won’t ever experience the kind of faith you have experienced.

    1. Faith goes hand in hand with experience. If you have put an instruction into practice, and it worked for you, made you more peaceful for example, you can have faith in it, and even some faith that it is worth pursuing it further. It is like putting one step on an icy lake to see if it will hold you. If it does, take another one. Faith is not something we either have or don’t have. It grows through contemplation, over time. So please keep going.

  2. please could you tell me where Lakmae is teaching please she was so fabulous at teaching

  3. Enjoyed this Luna. Helped me realise how close my Pure Land is.
    Thought you’d like this poem from Nic Askew http://www.nicaskew.com

    ‘The Riddle of Here’

    We’re looking. For something so simple.

    So simple, that we can’t hold it in
    our hands. Or in our heads.

    So we look to him. To her.
    To them. To there.

    We look to everywhere
    but here.
    To when. To then.
    But not to now.

    It’s hidden just beyond
    our cleverness.

    So we presume it’s
    out there.

    But perhaps it’s in here.

  4. I have always had strong faith and when I first met the teachings…never really struggled and always said to myself, this is true. Recently however I have noticed that perhaps this was due to strong imprints from previous lives…and maybe not so much to do with faith. Now, when I contemplate faith I realize that it is something that has slowly but surely developed through my practice. The practice of hitting the same mark over and over again until something happens. The best example of this is when I started teaching the kids class years ago….and only had one student. That little guy came to my class for almost two years…and everyone kept telling me that perhaps we needed to change the venue, do more publicity, try different strategies. And yes, these were good suggestions, ones that I didn’t discard. But I just kept at it because in my heart I felt that Geshe_la would just bring them. And here we are six or seven years later with a room full of students. So I think you are right – it is belief in one’s potential and reliance on the Guru. With love and patience – all is possible.
    Love you Luna xoxo

  5. “If I want to get out of the mine, I need to stay close to that light source and voice — not stray too far. . . ” Sometimes I feel like Ulysses making my way amongst the sirens, almost but not quite forgetting that the light source and voice of Dharma is the only way through the whirling waters of mistaken appearances. Thank you for this post.

  6. I love hearing/reading other peoples stories of how they found Dharma, thank you for posting this!

    In my experience, people tend to have an amazing first few years of discovering the source of happiness and feeling quite blessed, then it is so easy to become discouraged and operate at a low burn just steadily practising to the best of your capacity at given moments.

  7. “Faith in the enlightened beings and teachings necessitates faith in one’s own infinite potential.” That is an incredible sentence – I have been thinking about it all day. Great article!

  8. Luna

    I loved your post, and in particular the reference to David Bowie’s Starman! Bowie’s lyrics are sometimes profound, and I sense that he is a deeply spiritual person struggling like the rest of us with his delusions.

    I too struggle with my faith at times, so the link to the Chilean miners was very helpful – Thank you!

    ps Bowie’s “Five Years” is also a great track from this same album – it reminds me of the compassion we can develop for all living beings when we realise the transience of our human life…

  9. Thank you for this Luna. I remember my “ah-ha” moment of faith when I first received teachings and thought how wonderful it would have been to be alive when Buddha taught- just to realize that I AM alive and have the fortune to hear Dharma from Geshe-la.

    Gen-la Dekyong once told me that faith is like a hypothesis in that you are confident of the outcome and have tested it many times over. I am now confident that the Dharma I don’t understand or have direct experience with is beneficial and will come in time because I have had so much good fortune with things so far. I am grateful for all my kind teachers

    1. Yes, we don’t go for blind faith in Buddhism. It goes hand in hand with wisdom, reasoning and experience (hmm, four hands, never mind!)

  10. Experiences of deep faith are so profound. I recall the Dharma story from the Joyful Path of Good Fortune in which the old woman had been saying a mantra and as a result of her faith in the mantra was able to make stones eatable-her monk son then comes home and tells her she has been saying the mantra incorrectly. She can no longer have faith in the mantra and can’t believe that the stones are eatable so starves. I sometimes feel like the son and the mother in this story. Having deep faith and then questioning it, but always coming back to the importance of nurturing and developing a deeper faith in Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha.

  11. A beautiful article Luna. I felt like i had been hooked by Geshe La, and pulled in – a most fortunate being in this sea of samsara. It certainly didn’t come from my side 🙂

  12. My Spiritual Guide has found me. Yes – your post is wonderfully inspiring – thank you.

  13. Wonderful! Thank you for this inspiring article, it has deeply touched my heart 🙂

  14. Okay, this was fantastic! I am almost speechless which for me is an odd experience to be sure! I said almost!

    Once, in a far off distant land my star-man and star-woman brought to me the teachings of Je Tsongkappa and the wisdom and whispered lineages of Kadam Dharma.

    All my life I studied history and finance and had some measured success. But the first time I read “Joyful Path of Good Fortune” I read for hours on end mostly with my mouth opened in wonderment. I understood a lot the first time through; but most of what I subsequently learned was through my teachers. I loved being taught Dharma – i took four years off work and mostly i studied Dharma. Not memorizing a thing – just practicing the teachings and seeing the results – what fun!

    These two emanations appeared and brought a spiritual guide into my life of whom I have unwavering faith. Not because these star quality beings were outstanding teachers (of course they were) but because I tested, thru experience, every single teaching as Buddha instructed us to.

    Now five years later, I have this amazing faith! In who or what you might ask. I have faith that in meditation when I mix the emptiness of my mind with the emptiness of my root Guru’s mind I am totally absorbed in potential. Basking in potential actually. Nothing wild or fantastic happens right there or then – but during the meditation break the Dharma I read or listen to seems so much clearer and i wonder how i missed that before!

    At some point your teacher leaves the local area and you can’t meet your spiritual guide any longer in person – so all you will have is your faith and your wisdom.

    1. Thanks Wisdom Nectar. You are partly the reason I wrote this article, as you had asked some time ago if I was going to write something on faith.

  15. Wow! This artical really struck a chord with me – thank you Luna!
    The following is something I wrote almost 14 years ago when I had that ‘lightbulb’ moment of realising I had spiritual beliefs:

    “It has struck me only recently that I have never actually had real beliefs before. I always thought there was something more to this life but never actually believed it sincerely. To find that I now have strong beliefs is very comforting to me. For example, I believe sincerely and wholeheartedly that it was only through the blessings of my Spiritual Guide that I was able to overcome my emotional ‘illness’.(I’d been suffering from panic attacks and depression previously) I believe that Geshe-la was with me and when I could go on no more and literally cried out for help – he helped me. This belief then leads to others. I now believe that if I can attain Buddhahood, I will be able to help others just as I was helped. I know it may take many lifetimes but I also know that the more I familiarise myself with Dharma in this life, the easier it will be to find it again in future lives. I know that if I don’t attain enlightenment in this life then I must attain a perfect human life again and that this will be very difficult, so I need to prepare now. I believe that I can get out of this cycle of rebirth. It will take a great deal of effort but with Geshe-la as my Guide the journey will be fun and also much easier. So when I get tired, when I get scared and feel myself slipping back into trains of thought I never want to ride again, I know Geshe-la can and will help me. All I need is this knowledge and the wish to be helped, Geshe-la always knows how to put me back on track and always seems to point me in the right direction. Sometimes I think I even get a gentle push to get me moving again. Like a snowball that is gently pushed down a hill, it gathers up speed and it’s momentum carries it a long way. So Geshe-la’s push gets me moving and as I gather knowledge and wisdom, these help me to travel further and eventually I will reach enlightenment.”

  16. The subject of faith, as I have learned about through Buddhism, more specifically the NKT, is one of the most inspiring to me.
    I love thinking of faith as light as you have said above Luna.
    Also, the image of the untiring nuclear light of the Buddhas always being there, always outside the doors and windows of our minds. We just have to open them a chink for this gorgeous, blessing, happy-making light to flood in.
    The Buddhist analogy of our faith being like a sun that, when it shines on the snow-mountains of the Buddhas, lets us receive the water of their blessings, is also so beautiful.
    I think I’m suddenly lost for words to talk about Faith!
    We need some experience or ‘proof’ on which to base our faith, or our further ‘leaps’ of faith, I’m just glad for any faith – in Buddha, Dharma and Sangha – that I’ve had, it’s brought me nothing but good.

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