Featured in Mountain Record 29.1, Fall 2010

Faith is a mysterious force, seemingly at odds with our scientific culture and its apparent certainty. From the Zen perspective, the teachings on great faith can be a lifeline, because they have a medicinal quality when applied in the context of our anxiety, cynicism, and doubt.

Many of us start out on the path perceiving a huge chasm between our doubts—Who am I? Is it really possible to live a life free from suffering?—and the tender, inexplicable knowledge that our lives could be vast and fearless, in perfect harmony with all things.

This issue of Mountain Record looks at faith in its many forms, from within various traditions and contexts. Most pointedly, it explores the distinct meaning and role of faith in Zen—a religion which teaches us to not seek outside the self, and does not rely on belief in God. So, what are we to have a deep and abiding faith in?

Daido Roshi, Shugen Sensei, and Ryushin Sensei each respond to that question by pointing us back to trusting ourselves. Daido Roshi urges us not to live our lives seeking others’ approval, and to have faith in ourselves, so that “ultimately this practice becomes totally personal.”

Both Shugen Sensei and Ryushin Sensei teach that having faith is not hoping for a better moment, not waiting for some other time, place, or person to save us. Ryushin Sensei stresses that this first requires us to have faith in our buddha nature, and then to act out of it. He challenges us by asking how deeply we trust reality: “Do you believe that you are perfect and complete just as you are?”

Shugen Sensei’s discourse speaks to our mysterious ability to have great faith even from within profound doubt and insecurity: “The most powerful moment is when we manifest this courage, this trust, from within the halls of our own defeat; from within the moment of our turning away.”

This issue also explores the role of faith in times of crisis. Mother Teresa’s private writings reveal her ability to give of herself completely in service, despite a long-lasting and utter sense of alienation from God. Barry Lopez offers a window into the arising and functioning of faith when one least expects it. In his essay he describes two encounters with “the Blessed Mother”—one as a man out at sea dealing with life and death, the other as a child in grave danger.

Abraham Heschel offers us a Jewish scholar and activist’s meditation on faith and the sacredness of the here and now. He writes that faith “comes with the discovery of the holy dimension of our experience. Suddenly we become aware that our lips touch the veil that hangs before the Holy of Holies.” Offering yet another perspective, Lisa Hamilton introduces us to Henry, a faithful organic dairy farmer whose religion is pasture, and for whom giving cows access to open fields of grass is a holy act. In Henry’s words, “pasture is Godliness.”

The writings in this issue reveal a spectrum of views on faith, yet they all point to a common, fundamental truth. Regardless of circumstances, whether adverse or favorable, there is an innefable compass we can trust in ourselves—an inherent, boundless wisdom in the universe of which we are a part

Valerie Meiju Linet, MRO
Mountain Record, Editor