Reflections on 'trust, confidence, faith'

Exploring Theravāda's connections to other paths. What can we learn from other traditions, religions and philosophies?
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Reflections on 'trust, confidence, faith'

Post by zavk » Fri Mar 20, 2009 7:20 am

Dear friends,

I have been reflecting on the notions of trust, confidence and faith from a Chinese language perspective after encountering some posts over at ZFI that mentioned how the Chinese/Japanese character for 'faith' connotes more than the English word. And by coincidence, christopher::: recently posted the 'Hsin Hsin Ming: Verses on the Faith Mind by the 3rd Zen/Chan Patriarch, Seng T'san in this thread here. Over the past week, I've been meaning to express my thoughts in words. I finally have some time to do it now. So FWIW:

The characters for Hsin Hsin (also phoneticized as Xin Xin) are: 信 心

The first character 信 is made up of of two elements. The one on the left is 亻which connotes 'person'. The one on the right is 言 which connotes 'to say/speech/word'. When these two are put together it becomes 信 which connotes: 'trust/to believe/sign/evidence/letter (as in what you write to people)'.

So it seems to me that when a 'person' 亻is coupled with 'speech/word' 言, it gives rise to what can be 'trusted' and 'believed in'. It is as if 亻bears witness to 言 and hence, we get the connotation of 'evidence' in 信. I guess this can produce the meaning of 'letter' if we understand 'letter' as 'that which a person transmits by speech/word'.

信 is used in East Asian Buddhism to express saddha, what we normally call 'faith'. But as we can see from the above, 信 is a kind of trust in what has been witnessed, a kind of faith in evidence. Like the Pali word saddha 信 exceeds the meaning of the English word 'faith'. Moreover, if we take into account how individual elements in 信 connote 'person' and 'speech/word', it recalls the refrain in the Suttas 'Thus I have heard.....'

信, therefore, is compatible with what many of us feel about Buddhist faith as a kind of trust in evidence. I do agree that 'faith' that is based on evidence is necessary to counter blind faith. But I also feel that it is too easy and convenient, that such a notion of 'faith' blunts the possibilities (and indeed, radicalness) of what faith can be. Let me try to explore this further by considering the second character.

The second character is 心 which connotes 'heart' and 'mind'. It is like the word citta which means heart-mind. This demonstrates to us that in the West we have perhaps wrongly separated the heart and mind, feeling and thought.

So, when the two characters are put together, we get 信 心. These two characters usually means 'confidence'. But in light of what I have discussed above, we can expand 'confidence' (信 心) further to also express 'trust/to believe in the heart-mind'. We can also express it as 'evidence of the heart-mind'. So if 信 心 means 'confidence' it expresses more than the English word, for as I'm suggesting it is 'a kind of confidence that is rooted in trust and based on evidence of the heart-mind.'

Because 心 connotes both heart and mind I want to suggest that 'trust', 'confidence' and 'faith' shouldn't be limited to what can be thought (rational) but also include what is felt (affective). This then suggests that those aspects of Buddhism (e.g. devotional rituals and deities) that are often dismissed as superstition or impediments to 'verified faith' because they cannot be rationally explained, can in fact give rise to trust/confidence/faith in the dhamma. They can give rise to trust/confidence/faith in the dhamma because they engage with the affective dimensions of experience, because they speak to the heart. We are of course taking 'feelings' to be inter-related to 'thoughts', 'heart' to be conjoined with 'mind'. In other words, the Chinese term for trust/confidence/faith (信 心) embraces more than our conventional Western understanding of those same words.

Anyway, these are just speculative thoughts based on what I understand of the Chinese language (my ethnic background). I could have misread some of the characters. In any case, I want to speculate on one more possible meaning of 信 心....As I have suggested above, 信 is based on the idea of 'bearing witness'. In light of this, perhaps we can also understand 'confidence' (信 心) as 'bearing witness to the heart-mind'.

I like this interpretation because 'bearing witness' recalls mindfulness and awareness. To bear witness requires effort and vigilance. To bear witness is to ask for honesty. To bear witness is to be responsible. To bear witness is nothing less than a duty. To bear witness is no easy task. Indeed, 'to bear witness to the heart-mind' is a daunting task. But I wonder if to be daunted is also that which prompts the journey towards trust, confidence, faith?

:anjali: :heart:


EDIT: I just realised that I have posted this in the General Theravada section. It should probably be in the Dhammic Free For All. Dear mods, can you please move this? Thanks.
With metta,

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Re: Reflections on 'trust, confidence, faith'

Post by Dan74 » Wed Mar 25, 2009 9:20 am

Thank you for sharing these reflections, zavk! I enjoyed them.


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Re: Reflections on 'trust, confidence, faith'

Post by Ben » Wed Mar 25, 2009 11:19 am

Thanks Zavk

You reminded me of something that I read in Nyaniponika Thera's 'Abhidhamma Studies'
Kind regards

“No lists of things to be done. The day providential to itself. The hour. There is no later. This is later. All things of grace and beauty such that one holds them to one's heart have a common provenance in pain. Their birth in grief and ashes.”
- Cormac McCarthy, The Road

Learn this from the waters:
in mountain clefts and chasms,
loud gush the streamlets,
but great rivers flow silently.
- Sutta Nipata 3.725

Compassionate Hands Foundation (Buddhist aid in Myanmar) • Buddhist Global ReliefUNHCR


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