The Buddhist Concept of ‘Saddha’ (Conviction) Distorted As (Blind) ‘Faith’!

‘Faith’ Can Certainly Move Mountains – But It Has NOTHING To Do With the Buddha’s Message!

When concepts move from one distinct culture to another, historical forces meet and clash.  This is not necessarily a violent encounter to any great extent, but within the realms of spirituality, philosophy and religion, the requirements of translation demand that the unfamiliar ‘in-coming’ concept is made generally understandable to the receiving the culture.  As a historical process, the transmigration of one set of human thoughts from one culture into another is often representative of the general climate of existent global interaction.  For instance, today it is considered important that translations of different modes of thinking and methods of believing are not only translated appropriately, but that in the process of the transference of innate meaning, a near as perfect ‘transliteration’ is achieved in the process.  Generally speaking, the sum total of contemporary educational efficiency in the world allows for an enlightened academic approach in the act of translation that contains correct and precise information regarding the distinct and unique historical forces that contributed to the development of the concept that is being analysed.  This method is very much an exercise in the comprehension and appreciation that different (and unfamiliar) formative concepts are the product of disparate social forces not necessarily relevant or directly understandable to the receiving culture.  First principles must be attained based upon a firm theoretical foundation.  How an in-coming concept is initially viewed (and understood) will set the entire interpretive agenda for decades to follow.  Despite the relatively high standard of Western academia today, it is important to make clear that such a situation has not always been the case, and that as a consequence, an interpretive battle has ensued (down the ages) that posits a wrong or incomplete understanding, against that of a correct or complete understanding, the former comprised of Western scholarly misunderstanding, and the latter comprised of scholars representing the correct meaning, some Western (initially swimming against the tide), and others perhaps the (indigenous) product of the education system from which the in-coming concept has emerged.

One of the major historical problems confronting Western academia has been the bias associated with an intellectually destructive imperial presence around the globe over the last two to three hundred years, that exported the Christian religion as a spiritual ‘cure all’, and a form of Western science that viewed everything ‘non-Western’ that it encountered, as an inferior ‘error’ that was to be either stamped out, or thoroughly reformed beyond recognition.[1]  Whilst advocating a material (and ruthless) logic as a method of demeaning and invalidating indigenous culture, the inherently illogical theology of Christianity was enforced upon the minds and bodies of people who had no historical connection with it, thus producing a rupture between the culturally irrelevant ‘new’, and the culturally relevant ‘old’.  The inconsistencies of this approach are obvious.  It creates a totalitarian situation (and attitude) that demeans the perpetuator and the recipient in equal measure.[2]  The Western academic tradition – originating in ancient Greece – is potentially far greater than this historical manifestation would suggest, and the other cultures of the world, far from being inferior or irrelevant, all contain the measure of their own unique historical greatness.  This historical process around the globe has led to many and varied adaptations of human ingenuity and inventiveness.  Disparate environment and regional experience has created a multitude of human endeavours and systems of thought.  Viewed from the perspective of human endeavour, a certain creative equality emerges that has produced numerous effects within the world, and regardless of the inherit merit or otherwise of these systems, it is correct to assume that all human populations have moved through many stages of cultural development, with some groups experiencing stages earlier than others.  The point is to acknowledge that groups of humanity have historically passed through similar stages at different times and that no single group has the moral right to assume that due to its historical development, it can arbitrarily persecute and abuse the unique cultures of other groups.  Development is a world-wide phenomenon and there is no reason to suggest, even in the great ‘evening out’ of this current postmodern era, that humanity will not move in a different direction to anything previously experienced.  Today, due to the asymmetric encountering of one another’s culture during the epoch of Western imperial expansion, a knowledge base (of one another’s culture) has been built and improved.  This has led to a great wave of academic revisionism in the West, whereby previously mistranslated and misunderstood in-coming concepts have undergone a thorough re-examination and been given an entirely new and correct interpretation.  This is a necessary ongoing educational trend is governed entirely by the academic requirement to be ‘correct’, so that reliable and authentic knowledge is attained and preserved.  In this respect, such re-examination can be a haphazard affair, occurring as and when an error is noticed and the collective will exists to do something about it.  Of course, these are historical errors that need correcting.  New academic studies are premised upon contemporary knowledge and usually do not repeat the errors of the past, but this is not always the case.  If a concept was mistranslated a two hundred years ago, often the mistranslation become the de facto ‘official’ meaning of the concept concerned, with no contemporary reference to any indigenous scholarship from the country the concept originally emerged.  In some cases, even if there has been revisionism resulting in a correction, older definitions in previous books still circulate throughout society as a whole, thus maintaining the previous, incorrect definition.  In the case of spiritual and religious thought, many concepts were ‘Christianised’ as a means of creating a common meaning.  This error has led to a situation of more or less permanent misinterpretation and false scholarship in the minds of the ordinary people, even within a secularised world, if ‘secularism’ is defined as a modern irreligious state that has developed out of Christianity, and whilst perpetuating implicit Christian thinking, denies any obvious physical Christian presence in the ruling, political sense.  Misconceptions, when wedded to the powerful ideology of a world dominating religion become very difficult to uproot – even with the use of demonstrable knowledge and logic.  This has been the case with regard to the Buddhist Pali concept of ‘saddha’[3] (Sanskrit: ‘sraddha’ – श्राद्ध), which has, in the past, been continuously and erroneously interpreted as carrying exactly the same meaning as the Christian term ‘faith’.

he English word ‘faith’ carries the meaning of ‘fulfilling one’s trust’, further suggesting ‘belief’, ‘confidence’ and ‘reliance’.  In the theological sense, the English word ‘faith’ is used to translate the Greek word ‘pistis’ (Πίστις), and in this sense denotes the unquestioning belief and acceptance of a theistic entity.[4]  The Greek ‘pistis’ is in fact the name of a spirit within Greek mythology who is believed to personify faith, trust and reliability.[5]  Christian New Testament theology uses this Greek term in a specific manner, whereby pistis can be interpreted in a number of ways relevant to religious thought.  Scientific thought, by comparison, makes use of the empiricist method of measurement through observation.  A phenomenon exists because it can be seen and quantified.  In this form of materialism, that which can be clearly seen with the eyes (or observed through the other senses) is believed to truly exist.  If a theoretical phenomenon is not observed and therefore recorded,  it is categorised as unproven and/or non-existent.  It is important to understand the materialist conception of ‘proof’ of existence, before analysing the Christian interpretation of ‘pistis’ as ‘faith’.  From the strict scientific perspective, that which is not evident to the senses is unlikely to exist.  Obviously this has certain draw backs in the sense that certain objects exist that are not visible to the naked eye – they are known to exist through the use of technology that reveals their presence, or through mathematical equations that suggest something is present.  The concept of god has not been scientifically proven to exist as no technology or mathematical formula has revealed the existence of such an entity.  As a result no scientific method has been based upon the existence of a theistic entity.  The scientific method therefore, implicitly assumes that god is non-existent (until proven otherwise), and that the theology based upon his assumed presence is merely a product of human imagination.  This mind-set reduces existence to observable cause and effect in the physical environment, with miracles being misunderstood natural phenomena, or the contrivances of the charlatan.  To choose to believe in god despite there being no scientific evidence, suggests to the scientifically minded that this kind of faith must be blind, because there is no evidence to support it.[6]

Although it may be true that amongst the masses that comprise the Christian populace, ‘faith’ is presented by the priest as a simple and unquestioned belief in a divine entity (and the teachings associated with such an entity), the developed theological viewpoint is not quite so simple.  From the privileged position of the educated Christian priest, who has attended theological university, ‘faith’ or ‘pistis’ is far more sophisticated.  For instance, Christian theologians do not accept the notion that faith – as they practice it – is ‘blind’, but rather approach the matter from the idea that as god is an infallible.  Infallibility is associated with truth, and means that faith in god (in this context), is not ‘blind’, but rather ‘correct’.  As god is both ‘correct’ and ‘true’, even the mysteries that he unfolds are equally ‘true’, whilst remaining mysterious.  Despite not being sensed or quantified in the scientific manner, the theology – as a history of god’s interaction with the physical world – is deemed ‘true’ due to its assumed spiritual infallibility.  Obviously this kind of reasoning places theology above science in the minds of those who adhere to it.  Scientific thinking is really a method of thought organisation that has nothing to say about the spiritual world, because it’s assumed boundaries and parameters do not allow it to speculate about that which it does not know.  From the scientific mind set, religion has no relevance in its method of objective investigation.  As a consequence, ‘faith’ does not exist as a viable operating method in the gathering of hard evidence (data).  Something that is not as yet accepted by the scientific community must be proven to be correct through the application of the agreed scientific method of gathering evidence and providing proof.  From the scientific perspective, Christian faith is the assumption of the existence of a theistic entity – with the requirement of ‘proof’ replaced by that of ‘belief’.  Evidence gathered to support theological argument is often speculative and general, and lacks the ‘exactness’ and direct relevancy of that gathered by scientific investigation.[7]  Nevertheless, Christian theology does assume that it has gathered enough evidence to support a belief in a theistic entity, despite this entities presence not being directly observable by those who do not believe in it.  This may be compared with medicinal compounds that have been artificially manufactured by, scientists, which have the same (or similar) healing effects upon people’s bodies throughout the world, regardless of their respective cultures or beliefs.  The religious conditioning that might inspire a stain on a wall to appear to be a vision of the Virgin Mary may not appear as anything but a stain to someone who does not share the Christian faith.  This might serve to demonstrate that although there is nothing particularly ‘wrong’ with faith in itself, the ‘universal’ nature that Christian theology assumes for its own belief, (that is a privileged position in comparison to other ways of interpreting the world), is in fact unwarranted and even within the context of religious thought, logically untenable.  Faith within its own context is a useful human construct.  The problems arise when this ‘faith’ is assumed to have some kind of intellectual merit that is used as a universal marker of progression and superiority, when in fact as a belief, theology is actually a method for exploring Middle Eastern history circa 2000 years ago.  Theology is a method for viewing the past and as such, always clashes with the present.  The idea that god is always correct, makes these clashes appear to be ‘god’s will’, rather than a product of incompatible thought structures.  The psychology that has developed around theology is one that pre-supposes that there is no higher knowledge – beyond that of theology, and that theology can not be intellectually proven incorrect.  This is the dogmatic interpretation of ‘faith’ (pistis) that the Christian religion has developed.  Obviously, the English term ‘faith’, with its inherent impregnation with Christian theological notions, should not, and can be used to adequately describe the Buddhist philosophical notion of ‘saddha’ or ‘sraddha’.

The etymology (and composition) of the Sanskrit word ‘sraddha’ (श्राद्ध) is as follows:

1)     Verbal root = ‘srat’.  This means ‘to be trustful’, ‘steadfast’, ‘confident’, and ‘to have conviction’.

2)     Suffix = ‘dha’.  ‘to support’, ‘uphold’, and to ‘sustain’.[8]

Within Chinese Buddhism ‘sraddha’ is translated as ‘信’ (xin4).  This ideogram is written as a ‘person’ (亻-ren2), who ‘speaks’ (言-yan2).  It is suggestive of a person who speaks with honesty and therefore can be trusted, (or believed), with confidence.  The correctness of the Buddha’s teaching is defined as being worthy of study and that this conviction should not be doubted.  A person presents his case in public and he speaks without hiding or holding anything back from those who listen.  Because he is ‘correct’, they is no danger in listening to, and believing in, the message he conveys.  It does not upset the prevailing sense of social order, but rather adds to it by being honest.  All who come into contact with the teaching, therefore, are enhanced as a consequence, and develop a firm conviction in it.[9]  Interestingly, within the Hindu religion, ‘sraddha’ is a term used to denote an act of filial respect, in relation to the religious rituals surrounding the cremation of deceased relatives.  For the Hindu, it is an act of intense sincerity and respect, which is sustained through the generations by male descendents for the spiritual welling-being of their ancestors.[10]  Respect for a Brahmanic ritual has been transformed into the new meaning of the attitude ‘respect’ for the Buddha’s teaching in both theory and practice.  To clarify exactly how ‘sraddha’ is used within Buddhist philosophy, it is helpful to assess two other Sanskrit terms that carry similar meanings, and that are found within the Buddhist teachings.  These terms are ‘prasada’ (Pali: ‘pasada’) and ‘adhimukti’ (Pali: ‘adhimutti’).

The etymology (and composition) of the Sanskrit word ‘prasada’ (प्रासाद) is as follows:

1) Prefix = ‘pra’ – (‘before, in front, forward’)[11]

2)     Verbal root = ‘sad’ – to ‘sink down’, or ‘firmly root’

According to this interpretation, the term ‘prasada’ means that a follower of the Buddha is ‘firmly rooted’ in his teachings.[12]  The Sanskrit dictionary defines the term ‘prasada’ as carrying many related meanings such as ‘clearness’, ‘brightness’, ‘radiance’, ‘calmness of mind’, ‘serenity’ and ‘cheerfulness’, as well as others.[13]  It can also refer to a gift of food to a deity, and in a broader sense, refer to the general spiritual principle of granting the gift of ‘help’ and ‘aid’ to other beings.[14]  Not only is there the implication of a calm and serene mind, but also that of a clear voice and pure countenance.  The Hindu usage suggests a free giving of food (as offerings) to holy men, and on altars and shrines, intended for deities.  Food offered on altars, although directed toward a god, is not actually ‘physically’ eaten, but is assumed to have been ‘spiritually’ touched by the god in question.  This ‘touching’ imbues the food with spiritual qualities that are taken into the human body, through the act of ingesting.  A similar situation exists for food offered to holy men who bless the food (and give it back uneaten), or who partake in some of the food, before giving it back.  For this ritual to work there must be a belief (i.e. ‘faith’) that a spiritual power is being conveyed (and shared) during the interaction.  Obviously, the Buddhist use of the term ‘prasada’ does not recognise, or take into account this physical Brahmanic ritual, or the psychology associated with it.  Instead, the notions of clarity of thought and tranquillity of mind are emphasised, with no sense of ‘faith’ advocating a belief in unseen processes operating ‘behind the scenes’, as it where.   This definition is supported by the Chinese translation of the Sanskrit term ‘prasada’, which is ‘淨信’ (jing4xin4).  The term used to translate ‘sraddha’ (信xin4), is again present in this translation of the term ‘prasada’, accept here it is prefixed by the ideogram ‘淨’ (jing4).  The ideogram ‘jing’ (淨) translates as ‘pure’, ‘to cleanse’, and ‘to purify’.  It is comprised of the particle ‘氵’ (shui3), which represents water, and the particle ‘爭’ (zheng1),  which represents ‘struggle’ and is depicted by a piece of string pulled from [15]both ends.[16]  The meaning is clear – through the participation required within the structure of a correct struggle, clarity of mind is attained.  Through correct struggle, or right effort, the mind is purified and made clear.  Such a person might be described as speaking with honesty, and therefore considered trustworthy, so that others might believe, and have confidence in what is said – ‘信’ (xin4).  Literally, ‘prasada’ translates into Chinese as ‘淨信’ (jing4xin4), and carries the direct meaning of ‘purified conviction’.  This appears to suggest that through meditative training, that is, through applying the Buddha’s teaching on the purification of the mind, a firm conviction based upon a ‘clarity’ of experience is attained.

The etymology (and composition) of the word ‘adhimukti’ (अधिमुक्ति) is as follows:

1)     Prefix = ‘adhi’ – (‘above, over’)[17]

2)     Verbal root = muc – ‘to liberate’, ‘to release’, ‘to be free’.

Adhimukti is used within Buddhist philosophy to refer to a state of ‘trust’ and ‘confidence’.[18]  Considering the literal meaning of the term implies a release from a state that encumbers, it would appear to suggest that ‘adhimukti’ is the result of experience.  That is to say that knowledge of a curative technique, (and the putting into practice the technique itself), has reaped the reward of freedom from the ailment.  There is trust in the medicine, (i.e. the Buddha’s technique), and confidence is the inevitable result.  It is a striving toward the final liberation (‘mukti’, or ‘moksa’), which within Buddhism is viewed as the breaking of the cycle of samsara and the ending of transmigration through the realisation of nirvana, achieved through the ending of greed, hatred and delusion, via the meditative technique.  Hinduism broadly shares the same definition of the escape from transmigration, but in Hindu teaching, such emancipation is achieved through the personal union with a divine concept, or a similar knowledge of ultimate reality.[19]  Adhimukti is translated into Chinese as ‘信解’ (xin4jie3).  As with ‘sraddha’ and ‘prasada’, the Chinese rendering of ‘adhimukti’ again makes use of the term ‘信’ (xin4) – meaning ‘honesty’ and ‘openness’ whilst speaking.  The second ideogram of ‘解’[20] (jie3) is comprised of the particle ‘角’ (jiao3), which means ‘horn’, the particle 刀 (dao1) signifying a knife, and the particle ‘牜’ (niu2), which represents a ‘cow’.  The literal interpretation for this ideogram ‘解’ (jie3) is that of solving difficult problems and the developing of understanding.  Concepts and physical objects can be assessed by the mind that observes them, through the act of deconstruction.  This is achieved through the analysis of the constituent parts that comprise a ‘whole’.  By taking apart a concept or an object, an understanding of how it fits together is gained.  ‘解’ (jie3) refers to the cutting-up of a (slaughtered) cow, and the understanding of the anatomy that is gained as a consequence.  The Sanskrit term adhimukti is translated into Chinese as ‘信解’ (xin4jie3) which suggests a meaning of an ‘open’ and ‘honest’ attitude that leads to an important attainment of a fundamental ‘understanding’ of the nature of reality, a knowledge that is so penetrating that it frees the recipient from the cycles of becoming and human suffering.  Knowledge that truly ‘understands’, that sees through to the profound nature of the universe, is a knowledge that can be ‘trusted’.  Confidence is a result of this trust.

From the assessment of (the Pali) and Sanskrit terms ‘sraddha’, ‘prasada’, and ‘adhimukti’, as used within Buddhist philosophy, (both early and late), together with a cross-referencing of the translation terms used to render these notions into written Chinese, it is clear that these terms can not be interpreted through the lens of a Christian concept of ‘faith’.  Buddhist philosophy is an example of the product of pristine ‘logical’ thought that is dependent upon personal experience and spiritual experimentation.  The Buddha’s system is simple in essence – over-come greed, hatred and delusion, and suffering will stop – but extraordinarily extensive in presentation.  Each expressed idea and concept fits neatly into every other idea and concept.  It is precise, exact and constant in its original form, and a simple idea, (the product of a profound enlightenment), requires literally hundreds of sutras to express its totality.  Whereas St   Augustinedescribes Christian faith as coming before knowledge, the Buddha’s message is exactly the opposite – it is the presence of exact and profound knowledge – that generates a confidence and a therefore a ‘qualified’ belief in it.  Although it is true that ‘faith’ In a deity is a Hindu belief, and that the Buddhist terms are also used within Hinduism, nevertheless, the Buddhist usage is of a specific type that alters considerably, the original Hindu meanings, which are dependent upon a belief in a deity, (or divine concept) for salvation.  It could be argued that there is perhaps a certain similarity between a Hindu faith, (dependent upon the existence of a god concept), with that of the Christian belief in the same theistic entity.  Perhaps it has been this similarity that has led certain academics to confuse notions of Buddhist and Hindu ‘faith’, (mistaking the latter for the former), and then equating this misunderstanding with the concept of a Christian faith.  The problem is that the Buddha completely, and without hesitation, rejected a belief in a deity as a means to spiritual salvation.  As a consequence, Buddhist philosophical terms that suggest ‘conviction’ in the teachings, can not be designed (or interpreted) as meaning a belief in a deity that can not be seen, experienced, or otherwise known.  There is a complication here, however.  Although the Buddha taught a path of self-effort toward liberation from human suffering, a logical path with no reliance upon a deity, he did say that gods did exist but were unable to free humanity from the experience of daily suffering.  The Buddha acknowledged the existence of gods, but denied their usefulness on the spiritual path.  Faith in these (Hindu) gods was, therefore, not required and not apart of his teaching.  This unenthusiastic approach to theism is further compounded by the Buddha’s denial of the existence of a permanent ‘self’ or ‘soul’ (anatta).  A soul is a central premise for Christianity and much of Hinduism.  The Buddha teaches that there is no soul, and therefore a non-existent soul can not unite with a god concept.  Nowhere in the Buddha’s teaching is there room for a faith that precedes knowledge.[21]  Indeed, within the sutras a distinction is made between ‘rational faith’ (akaravati saddha), and ‘baseless faith’ (amulika saddha), the latter of which (the Buddha teaches), is applied to the Hindu Vedas by the Brahmins.[22] Truth within Buddhism must stem from the Buddha’s teaching, (Dharma), the validity of which is derived from the enlightenment experience itself.  The Buddha is not a god (deva),[23] and never claims to be.  Instead he is referred to in the earliest Buddhist teachings as ‘Sattha Deva-Manussanam’, that is the ‘Teacher of gods and men’.  Following the enlightenment – the Buddha is no longer an ordinary human being, but is referred to as a ‘uttama-puriso’,[24] which is often translated as ‘superman’, but can also be rendered as the ‘utmost, or ‘greatest’ of ‘puriso’[25], or ‘men’.  The accomplishment of enlightenment lifts the Buddha beyond the definition of an ordinary being as such a being is, by definition, still adrift in samsara.  It is important to note in passing that the gods as defined within Buddhist philosophy are not immortal theistic entities, but rather karma creating beings, also stuck (like those on the human plane) in the endless cycles of samsara.  As the Buddha intends to ‘free’ all beings from the cycle of suffering, his teachings are directed to all beings in the 31 planes of Buddhist existence, without exception.[26]  To clearly perceive the innate spiritual worth contained within the Buddha’s teachings, is an act of clarity of mind, based upon a thorough examination of the teachings with the intellect.  The Kalama Sutta specifies in no uncertain terms that teachings are not to be accepted through authority of any kind, but rather closely scrutinised for their spiritual worth.  An incisive mind considers the content without either initially accepting or rejecting the teachings.  Following this impartial assessment, the teachings can be judged to be either ‘useful’ or ‘not useful’ on the spiritual path and treated accordingly.  In this way, and through this method, a state of ‘cetaso pasada’ or ‘mental clarity’ is achieved.  This is the attainment of an intellectual insight into the teaching that is profound and satisfying.  It is a sense of appreciation based solely upon the reasoning process.  However, having established the grounds for a ‘non-faith’ approach to securing confidence in the Buddha’s teachings, it is interesting to consider that neither saddha, adhimukti or pasada are considered attributes of an arahant, or mentioned as requirements pertaining to the effective following of the Noble Eightfold Path.[27]

The enlightenment experience is not dependent in its achievement upon sraddha, prasada or adhimukti.  These developmental attributes have to be considered as being of an expedient nature, that once achieved are destined to fall away as just so much movement of the mind.  Conviction, clarity and trust are positive mind constructs associated with the propagation of good (kusala) karmic fruit (vipaka).  The cultivation of these attributes sets forth the good psychological and environmental conditions conducive to the cultivation of the Dharma.  Positive circumstance are preferable to negative ones, and although not ending suffering in its essential sense, nevertheless can be used for beneficial achievements.  Conviction, clarity and trust do not achieve, in themselves the uprooting of greed, hatred and delusion, and do not bind the practitioner in any way to the physical presence of the Buddha, or to his expressed teachings.  Even if sraddha, prasada and adhimukti were defined as ‘faith’ in the theistic sense, it would be a pointless exercise – as Buddhism advocates the breaking of ties (i.e. ‘attachments’) with the world, and this also applies to the abandoning of all contrived mental state.  This requirement may be seen in the accomplishment of the rupavacara (fine-material) jhanic states, where ‘reasoning’ and ‘reflection’ are present in the 1st absorption (together with ‘joy’ and ‘happiness’), but are abandoned in the 2nd level of absorption.[28]  As reasoning and reflection are abandoned in the 2nd jhanic state of 8 – it is obvious that any mental constructs originating in reason and reflection, (with reason and reflection acting as their base), are abandoned along with their conditioning originators.  As attitudes of mind based upon reason and reflection, sraddha, prasada and adhimukti are necessarily abandoned at the attainment of the 2nd (rupa) jhanic stage.  Beyond this point of meditative attainment, sraddha, prasada and adhimukti have no means of existence within the Buddha’s scheme of mind development.  As ‘stilling’ the mind is central to all forms of Buddhism, and considering that even the Buddha describes his teaching as a raft that must be abandoned once the other shore is reached, the presence of ‘faith’ is not required, needed or of any use whatsoever.  No amount of ‘believing’ in the achieving of enlightenment will move the practitioner any nearer to that state, without the actual training of the mind being put into practice.  Confidence, clarity and trust, however, are useful as steps on the path, but even these must be given up, as the Buddha teaches in the Atthinukhopariyāya Sutta.[29]  In this sutta, the Buddha advocates a ‘wise realisation through experience’, rather than the reliance upon sraddha (and other thought organising strategies), as a means of directly knowing that greed, hatred and delusion have been uprooted and the state of nirvana attained.  When encountering the Dharma for the first time, conviction, clarity and trust never precede the verification of the Buddha’s teaching.  Only when the Buddha has explained (i.e. ‘instructed’), his explanation put into practice (and the results experienced), can a reliable opinion be formed that leads to the formation of conviction, clarity and trust.

The use of ‘faith’ to grant an approximate translation of sraddha, prasada and adhimukti is highly problematic due to the connotations that this word carries, which are inherited from the Christian religion.  Faith in a theistic god is an end in and of itself.  God may grant ‘grace’ to a faithful heart, that is make his presence known, but equally he may not.  Christian monks often spend decades in pious and humble [30]meditation and activity, keeping their minds and bodies free of evil tendencies, and remaining pure in intent – usually through following a monastic rule.  The outer physical life is highly regulated by the rules and regulations of such Rules, and the mind is calmed through disconnecting with the ordinary world and committing its full attention toward god.  The mind is further developed as a vehicle for god’s presence through scripture study, contemplation and meditation.  The Christian laity strives to manifest god’s will within ordinary society, manifesting the teachings of Jesus Christ within the context of everyday life.  This practice is focused and enhanced through the attendance of church and the study of the Bible itself.  Christian faith (Greek: ‘pistis’) begins with the physical presence of Jesus Christ upon the earth.  His radical form of Judaism eventually evolved into a separate and distinct religion named after the Greek translation for the Hebrew word ‘messiah’ (meaning ‘anointed one’) – namely that of ‘khristos’ (Χριστός) – which was re-interpreted by St Paul into the Christianity known today.  It is through this interpretation that ‘pistis’ became solidified as the kind of ‘faith’ associated with contemporary Christian theology.  This definition of faith clearly differentiates between an intellectual acceptance of truth (which it rejects), and the ‘embracing’ of god and his son Jesus Christ, which it fully endorses.[31]  This is termed ‘the faith that saves’ and it is defined as not being dependent upon intellectual knowledge.  This kind of faith is considered a ‘gift’ enshrined in love that allows a life to be lived according to ‘spirit’ and away from the world of flesh.  This love emanates from Christ and enters the individual, creating the conditions for love, (and many other attributes such as charity, peace, kindness, self control, etc), to be inwardly created, which counter states such as immorality, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, etc.  Christian faith as it is defined and practiced today originates from the outside of the individual and appears to be a spiritual ‘gift’ manifesting from god, through his son, Jesus Christ.  This faith, once manifest in the world is reflected in the minds and hearts of all those touched by its presence – and is enhanced (and shared) through pure character and spiritual action.

The Christian concept of ‘faith’ can not be suitably compared with any other (similar) spiritual notion originating outside of its own definitional boundaries.  To associate it with essentially alien concepts create a situation where either Christian faith will be modified or altered by the new concept, or Christian faith completely dominates and subsumes the unfamiliar concept, as has been the case with the previous expansion of European imperialism across the world.  Concepts rarely move in a vacuum, and are associated with politics and social engineering.  The structure of Pauline theology does not allow for Christian dogma to altered by any ‘outside’ forces, but it does allow for the destruction of non-Christian concepts through the conversion (to Christianity) by those who follow them.  This is viewed as a compassionate act that sees so-called ‘pagan’ followers brought on to the righteous path of god’s love.  Obviously this is a highly subjective, self-justifying perspective.  Christian faith – as it is not dependent upon the logical ascertaining of the worth of a concept, would be considered ‘rootless’ (amulika saddha) by the Buddha.  The term ‘pistis’ is used within Greek philosophy to indicate the act of persuasion, whereby an opinion or a viewpoint is formulated in expression, so as to convince others of the validity of the opinion itself.  In this respect it is inherently linked to the practice of rhetoric and is used to ‘convince’ different listeners of an argument’s coherency.  This attempt to ‘persuade’ is often achieved through the use of different and distinct rhetorical styles or modes of delivery.  The presentation might change from one audience to the next, (as an adaptation to local conditions), but the underlying message remains the same.  The ability to convince others of the merit of a philosophical theory or construct was very important in ancient Greeceand the requirement of virtually all philosophers from that period.  This ability to convince demonstrates a certain assurance in the areas of logic and reasoning.  An argument in its bare essentials had to be conveyed to the populace through written and verbal constructs that clearly demonstrated the philosopher’s grasp of the minds of others, and to adjust and adapt his teachings accordingly.  Although these persuasive activities cultivated ‘belief’ (pistis), the philosophical concepts themselves were always considered to be logically constructed, regardless of the ultimate conclusions of said concepts.  An acceptance of an argument, based purely upon an incomplete presentation of evidence or information, was unheard of.  A presentation of a chain of logical thoughts, correctly conveyed to an audience, culminated in an understanding that allowed for both belief and acceptance of an idea or concept.  Equally, a well presented argument may be rejected due to its logical construct, and belief withheld.  As can be clearly seen, the Greek philosophical concept of pistis denotes a state of belief created in the mind of another, through the use of the logical presentation of an argument.  The origin of this belief is external to the holder – that is, it is caused by the effective rhetoric of the philosopher.  This state of inner belief is created through conditions external to the ‘believer’, and is dependent upon ‘proof’.  The Christian use of pistis borrows the idea of a ‘belief’ triggered by an external cause, but in the New Testament sense, the external cause is a monotheistic ‘god’.  God bestows pistis into the mind and heart of the believer, irrespective of proof or argument.  The grace of god is not defined by or limited to what maybe described as ‘clever’ or ‘logical’ arguments.  Here, ‘belief’ is bestowed upon the ‘believer’, without the believer being able to create the state of belief (in god) through self-effort.  Greek pistis is self-generated, whilst Christian pistis is other-generated.[32]  Furthermore, it is interesting to observe that the Greek term ‘pistis’ is a translation of the Hebrew word ‘emunah’, and that there are a number of Hebrew terms that denote ‘faith’, ‘trust’ and ‘belief’ (such as ‘emet’, and ‘amen’). [33]  Emunah, however, derives from a term denoting a craftsman who is firm in his profession.  It is not necessarily ‘faith’ in god’s existence, but rather represents the idea that a person stands firm in the presence of god’s will.  Emunah dos not represent the choice between ‘believing’, or ‘disbelieving’ in god’s existence, and therefore can not be correctly be interpreted as ‘belief’ (pistis).  The concept of emunah assumes a priori that god exists and his presence in the world is obvious and self-evident – that which is self-evident does not require ‘belief’, or ‘faith’.  Emunah represents a determined action, as opposed to a passive acceptance.  The Greek philosophical concept of ‘pistis’, (and its Christian re-interpretation) do not adequately describe the Hebrew notion of ‘emunah’, and yet the Christian ‘pistis’ claims a theological link to the Hebrew ‘emunah’.  In reality it appears that the Christian notion of ‘faith’ (pistis) is premised upon a re-definition of the ancient Greek philosophical term ‘pistis’, and a movement away from the requirement of the necessity of a convincing argument based upon the presence a self-evident logic.  Belief is divorced from the necessity of the presence of reason.

Sraddha, prasada and adhimukti all represent the notion of belief as contained within Buddhist philosophy, as being dependent upon the presence of a reasoned argument.  In this respect, ‘belief’ as defined in Buddhist thought has more in common with the ancient Greek concept of ‘pistis’, than it does with the Christian re-interpretation of the same concept.  If a ‘divine presence’ is substituted with that of the ‘presence of Dharma’, then the Hebrew concept of ‘emunah’, (defined as standing firm in the presence of god’s will), could be interpreted as standing firm in the face of the Buddha’s teachings, and applying them with vigour to one’s life.  Although ‘reaching’ in many respects, this reasoning demonstrates that Buddhist belief has more in common (potentially) with Hebrew thought, than it does with Pauline Christianity.  Therefore the use of the Christian notion of ‘faith’ (pistis) to transliterate the Buddhist philosophical terms of sraddha, prasada and adhimukti, is both inadequate and misleading.  Buddhism is not a theistic construct and does not rely upon the faith, or belief in an abstract concept, the presence of which is neither provable nor non-provable within the realms of logical thought.  Buddhism, like Greek philosophical thought, attempts to use the human mind to build an explanatory model of the universe which explains human existence through the concept of ‘life’.  Belief in what is not there, or self-evident is not required.  The Buddha chose neither to affirm nor deny such questions of a metaphysical nature, the answers to which he thought were unprofitable upon the spiritual path of deliverance.  In other words, such speculations, and ‘faith’ in them, are deemed as unworthy and unnecessary.  When all these considerations are taken into account, it is obvious that the term ‘faith’ does not correctly translate the Buddhist terms it is associated with, and that other terms should be used in its place.

[1] Brookes,Martin, Extreme Measures – Dark Visions Bright Ideas – Francis Galton, (Bloomsbury) 2004.  Francis Galton (1822-1911), the cousin of Charles Darwin, was very much in favour of the notion of eugenics and through his work envisioned a future world inhabited by super-humans, the presence of which constituted a superior race of beings.  Galton viewed Western Europeans as inherently superior to other ethnic groups in the world, a viewpoint that was very common at the time, and which served as the (mistaken) scientific foundation for racism.  See also:

Bakunin, Michael. God and the State, (Dover) 1970 – page 66 footnote:

‘The idealists, all those who believe in the immateriality and immortality of the human soul, must be excessively embarrassed by the difference in intelligence existing between races, people and individuals.’

[2] Livingston, RW (Editor), The Legacy of Greece, (Oxford-Clarendon), 1921 – page 58:

‘…there is no evidence that philosophy has ever come into existence anywhere except under Greek influences.  In particular, mystical speculation based on religious experience is not itself philosophy, though it has often influenced philosophy profoundly, and for this reason the pantheism of the Upanishads cannot be called philosophical.’  The author – J Burnet – Professor of St Andrews University then goes on to say that whatever philosophy the ancient Indians may have developed – it was probably the result of contact with the Greeks, rather than an independent indigenous creation.  In his analysis, the author, although aware of Hinduism, appears completely ignorant of Buddhism, or the fact that Buddhist philosophy existed hundreds of years before the invasion of Alexander the Great.  AncientChina, of course, is completely ignored.  For an interesting modern analysis of certain aspects of the philosophy contained within the Upanishads see:

Jayatilleke, KN, Early Buddhist Theory of Knowledge (Motilal), 2004), pages 32, 221, 222, 223, & 406.

[3] Saddha Sutta – Accessed 27.1.12.  The title ‘Saddha’ translates as ‘Conviction’.

[4] See: ‘faith’ Online Etymology Dictionary – – Accessed 27.1.12.

[5] Pistis, – Accessed 27.1.12 – explains that Pistis was a female spiritual entity (daimona), who upon escaping Pandora’s Box, fled to the Olympos, abandoning humanity to its own devices.

[6] The author is speaking in a general manner so as to present a straight forward argument.  Of course, in today’s world many scientists, whilst pursuing the scientific method in their academic lives, nevertheless profess a sincere faith in the divine in their private life.

[7] Christian Faith – The Early Record, – Accessed 27.1.12‘Although the Christian faith is not based purely on evidence, it is definitely supported by evidence.’

[8] Park, Sung Bae, Buddhist Faith and Sudden Enlightenment, (SriSatguru), 1983 – page 15 for a very interesting and comprehensive discussion about ‘sraddha’ and other Buddhist Sanskrit terms that are translated as ‘faith’ in English.  Professor Sung also mentions that the Christian St Augustine explained ‘faith’ (pistis) as always preceding reason.

[9] Sears, Richard, Chinese Etymology <> Accessed 27.1.12 – ideogram信 (xin4).

[10] See: ‘sraddha’ <> – Accessed 28.1.12.  Only a certain kind of (male) ascetic is exempt from this important Hindu religious and social duty.  The ‘trust’, ‘respect’ and ‘sustaining’ attributes associated with this Brahmanic ritual have been preserved within Buddhism, but instead of being directed toward the memory and spiritual well-being of deceased relatives, ‘sraddha’ is aimed exclusively toward the Buddha’s teaching (Dharma), and by implication, toward the spiritual concept ‘truth’ that the Buddha represents in word, deed and thought.  The Brahmanic conviction that ritual assisted the dead, has become the conviction that the Buddha is fully enlightened, and therefore ‘knows’ the truth of the matter.

[11]Gradinarov, Plamen, Indo-Pacific Journal of Phenomenology, (Volume 5, Edition 1 April 2005)

<> – Accessed 29.1.12 – page 2: ‘The Sanskrit prefix pra- can be traced to the Latin prae- and the Slavic pra- with the meaning of something preceding.’  See also:, <> – Accessed 29.1.12 – ‘pra’ – ‘before

forward, in front, on, forth ( mostly in connection with a verb, esp. with a verb of motion which is often to be supplied.’ 

[12] Park, Sung Bae, Buddhist Faith and Sudden Enlightenment, (SriSatguru), 1983 – page 15. ProfessorPark also defines the term ‘prasada’ as ‘to grow clear and bright’, and ‘to become placid and tranquil.

[13] See: ‘sraddha’ A Practical Sanskrit Dictionary <> – Accessed 28.1.12.

[14] See: ‘prasada’, The Rider Encyclopaedia of Eastern Philosophy and Religion (Rider), 1999 – page 276: ‘Prasada: 1) the favour or benevolence of god. 2) clarity, purity, peace of mind. 3) food sacrifices that are presented to a divinity and then distributed to the worshippers, or food sampled by holy men.  Such prasada is said to contain spiritual powers.’

[15] Feuerstein, Georg, The Philosophy of Classical Yoga, (Inner Traditions International), 1996 – page 92-93.  Whilst discussing the (Patanjali) yogic concept of ‘gnostic illumination’ (Sanskrit: ‘nirvicara-samapati’), Feuerstein describes this state by using the Sanskrit term ‘vaisaradya’, and points out that the Pali equivalent term is ‘vesarajji’, which refers (within Buddhism) to the ‘four unshakable  confidences’ of a Tathagata (i.e. perfect enlightment, all impurities destroyed, all obstacles over-come, and the cycle of rebirth finished).  Within the Patanjali system, however, ‘vaisaradya’ refers to ‘mastery’ (i.e. the attainment to ‘lucidity’ and ‘brightness’).  This illumined state is described as possessing ‘prasada’, which Feuerstein translates as ‘clarity’.

[16] Sears, Richard, Chinese Etymology Accessed 28.1.12 – ideogram淨 (jing4).

[17] (Prefixes) <> – Accessed 29.1,12 –‘adhi’ – ‘अधि – ‘above, over’.

[18] Park, Sung Bae, Buddhist Faith and Sudden Enlightenment, (SriSatguru), 1983 – page 15-16.  Professor Park further defines this term as ‘abiding with confidence in a state of freedom.’

[19] See: ‘prasada’, The Rider Encyclopaedia of Eastern Philosophy and Religion (Rider), 1999 – page 229-230: ‘the final liberation and release from all worldly bonds, from karma and the cycle of life and death (samsara) through union with God or knowledge of the ultimate reality…’

[20] Sears, Richard, Chinese Etymology Accessed 29.1.12 – ideogram 解 (jie3)

[21] Skilton, Andrew, A Concise History of Buddhism, (Windhorse) 1994, page 26: ‘It is important to remember that the three prajnas form a series of graded levels of wisdom, which means that the Buddhist tradition regards understanding through thinking as superior to that which has merely been heard from another.  (This suggests that “faith”, in the sense of a passive belief of received – or revealed – dogma, is alien to the Buddhist outlook, and that when we come upon references to “faith” in a Buddhist context, as we frequently do, it must carry some meaning other than that familiar to those with a theistic background.)’  See also:

Choong, Mun-Kat, The Notion of Emptiness in Early Buddhism, (Motilal), 1999, Page vii/viii – ‘‘Another topic discussed in the early Buddhist texts is the teaching of faith, confidence (P. saddha, Skt. avetya prasada). For example, definite faith is equated with the faculty of faith (saddha-indriya), which is one of the five faculties (P. Skt. panca-indriyanic: faith, effort, mindfulness, concentration, and wisdom). Faith in early Buddhist texts is not passionate, fanatical, or blind faith, but is closely related to wisdom. “Calmed faith” (P. pasada, Skt. Prasada), cultivated in daily devotion to Buddha-Dhamma-Sangha, leads to confidence in and practice of the five moralities (panca-sila), in which the stream-enterer (sotapanna) should abide. The verbal form of pasada is pasidati, which means not only “to have faith”, but also “to be clear and calm; to become of peaceful heart; to be purified, reconciled or pleased”. Faith, in early Buddhism, is essentially governed and stabilised by “individual understanding”.

[22]Jayatilleke, KN, Early Buddhist Theory of Knowledge, (Motilal), 2004), page 393.  Jayatilleke, while expertly assessing the nature of ‘saddha’ within early Buddhism considers it ‘strange’ that scholars have not drawn attention to this clear distinction when discussing the notion of faith within Buddhism, when comparing such a notion with that found in theistic religion.  See also:

MN 95 Canki Sutta, Vipassana Fellowship -Accessed 30.1.12.

[23] Pali: ‘Shining One’.

[24] This can also be rendered as ‘maha purisa’.

[25] The Pali Text Society’s Pali-English Dictionary <> Accessed 30.1.12 – ‘puriso’ – ‘Prk. form puliśa (Māgadhī) we get pulla] man (as representative of the male sex, contrasted to itthi woman,’

[26] Story, Francis, Gods and the Universe In Buddhist Cosmology, (Buddhist Publication Society), 1983.  Those with good karmic fruits (vipaka), create the conditions for re-birth in the higher planes, this can include accomplished meditation practitioners who have gained access into the four arupavacara jhanic stages of attainment, which correspond to the four highest planes of Buddhist cosmology – planes 28, 29, 30 and 31.  Even this lofty attainment is not free of samsara.

[27] Jayatilleke, KN, Early Buddhist Theory of Knowledge, (Motilal), 2004), page 384 – ‘Faith likewise is not a characteristic of an Arahant.  It has no place in the Noble Eightfold Path: “if saddha had been regarded as essential to the attaining of Nibbana, it certainly would have found its way into the Noble Eightfold Path”’  Jayatilleke is quoting from the eminent work of BC Law (Faith in Buddhism), and Dr Gyomroi-Ludowyk.

[28] Rahula, Walpola, Zen & The Taming of the Bull Towards the Definition of Buddhist Thought, (Gordon Fraser), 1978, page 101-109.  Rahula stresses that one-pointed concentration (ekaggata) is only really present in its pure form in the 2nd (rupa) jhanic state, and that this is achieved only after the mind has been ‘stilled’ and ‘reason’ and ‘reflection’ abandoned.

[29]Atthinukhopariyāya Sutta> –    Accessed 30.1.12 – SN 35.152 – Translated by Maurice O’Connell Walshe.  The name ‘Atthinukhopariyāy’ is translated as meaning ‘Is there a criterion?’.  In his ‘Vision of Dharma’, (pages 140-141) Nyanaponika Thera translates the title of this sutta as ‘Beyond Faith’.

[30] Gruber E & Kersten E, The Original Jesus The Buddhist Sources of Christianity, (Element), 1995 – page 9 – ‘William Nestle, a historian of religion, expresses that as follows: “Christianity is the religion found by Paul, which replaces Jesus’s Gospel with a Gospel about Jesus – a religion that should rather be called Paulism.”’

[31] Sehgers, Jimmy, St Paul and Faith,  – Accessed 30.1.12 – ‘The faith that saves is never a mere intellectual acquiesce to truth, but the embrace of the God-man, Jesus Christ in the gift of faith. It is this dynamic communion with Christ, who is Love, which empowers us to live according to the Spirit (Gal 5:22-26), and not according to the flesh (Gal 5:19-21). True faith in Christ creates a life lived in charity.’

[32] Gier, N. F, God, Reason, and the Evangelicals (University Press of America), 1987, chapter two – The Temptation of Belief> – Accessed 1.2.12.  ‘The term “fideism” is usually taken to mean that faith and reason exclude each other, and this is the meaning I wish to ascribe to radical fideists like Tertullian and Kierkegaard. Nevertheless, insofar as the Bible clearly establishes faith in God as superior to human understanding, and insofar as orthodox Christianity has generally accepted this doctrine, then I contend, against all forms of Christian rationalism, that “fideism” is the only term that properly describes the Christian religion. The radical fideist makes the mistake of totally divorcing faith from reason–exhorting us to make leaps in the dark and celebrating the absurdity of Christian doctrines–but Christian tradition has always affirmed the absolute primacy of faith and ultimately rejected the self-sufficient reason of natural theology.’

[33]Benner, Jeff, A, Ancient Hebrew Word Meanings Faith ~ Emunah –> – Accessed 1.2.12.  Benner explains the original meaning of ‘emunah’ and how its meaning may not actually convey the concept of ‘faith’.  ‘The Hebrew root aman means firm, something that is supported or secure. This word is used in Isaiah 22:23 for a nail that is fastened to a “secure” place. Derived from this root is the word emun meaning a craftsman. A craftsman is one who is firm and secure in his talent. Also derived from aman is the word emunah meaning firmness, something or someone that is firm in their actions. When the Hebrew word emunah is translated as faith misconceptions of its meaning occur. Faith is usually perceived as a knowing while the Hebrew emunah is a firm action. To have faith in God is not knowing that God exists or knowing that he will act, rather it is that the one with emunah will act with firmness toward God’s will.’


  1. Thank you for your kind words of encouragement – they are very much appreciated.


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