Faith

Trusting your own deepest experience
by Sharon Salzberg
ISBN: 1573223409

First, there are two things this book isn’t: dogmatic or proselytizing. I want to be clear about that, because I think there might be a tendency to assume any book about faith must be. It isn’t particularly New Agey, either. (Or maybe that’s just me, revealing my bias.)

What it is: a personal examination of faith, belief, and the struggle to make meaning and deal with suffering. Salzberg is a Buddhist and a meditation teacher, and she shares the story of her spiritual development. She doesn’t present her path as the “right” path or the the only path; she presents it as her path, and encourages readers to explore the possibility and power of faith for themselves.

Early in the book, she relates this story:

The Buddha once told a story about faith: A herd of cows arrives at the bank of a wide stream. The mature ones see the stream and simply wade across it. The Buddha likened them to fully enlightened beings who have crossed the stream of ignorance and suffering. The younger cows, less mature in their wisdom, stumble apprehensively on the shore, but eventually they go forward and cross the stream. Last come the calves, trembling with fear, some just learning how to stand. But these vulnerable, tender calves also get to the other side, the Buddha said. They cross the stream just by following the lowing of their mothers. The calves trust their mothers and, anticipiating the safety of reunion, follow their voices and cross the stream. That, the Buddha said, is the power of faith to call us forward.

I’m not sure I can explain why, but this passage strongly affected me.

Salzberg’s journey from bright faith, through verifying faith, and how faith works through fear, despair, and into action just makes sense to me. I hadn’t considered before that faith isn’t something that you have or not but that it is something you do (in languages other than English, faith is a verb), and that is a powerful idea.

You don’t need to be a Buddhist to get something from reading this book. (Salzberg says in her introduction, “Faith does not require a belief system, and is not necessarily connected to a deity or God, though it doesn’t deny one.”) I think what is required is a willingness to investigate spiritual principles with an open mind; if you have that, you’ll enjoy the journey.

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