Dharma Data: Faith
Many religions could be described as religions of faith in that they teach that faith is sufficient for salvation. In this sense Buddhism is not a religion of faith. Faith is important, not because it leads to salvation, but because the psychological qualities it imparts motivates one to walk the Path, prepares one for the journey and sustains one until results are achieved. Emotionally it is an attitude of serenity and joy which frees one from the discomfort of doubt and thus prepares the mind for meditation. Volitionally it is a strong and courageous act of will which concentrates all one's energies on the ideal that one can see ahead but not yet reach. Intellectually it is the acceptance of doctrines that cannot be immediately substantiated by direct experience, a willingness to wait with patience and trust until the gaps in the evidence can be filled. Faith's importance in the beginning of the spiritual quest and its contrast with wisdom is well summed up by Nagarjuna who says:
One associates with the Dhamma out of faith,
But one knows truly out of understanding;
Understanding is the chief of the two,
But faith preceeds.
The objects of faith in Buddhism are the Buddha, the Dhamma and the Sangha and in the Mahayana, the bodhisattvas also. Most schools of Buddhism have substantially the same attitudes to faith, one notable exception being Japan's Jodo Shin Shu School founded in the 13th century. In a remarkable parallel to Protestantism, Jodo teaches that humans, being utterly evil and powerless, can only be saved by absolute faith and even that faith is given by the Buddha's grace.
Nyanaponika, Devotion in Buddhism. Kandy, 1975;
A. Bloom, Shinran's Gospel of Pure Grace. Tucson,1965.