In zen, faith can be difficult to talk about. Since zen isn’t a theistic religion, when we talk about faith, the question immediately arises: faith in what?
I love Sheryl Crow’s lyric, “She don’t believe in anything, but if you ask her she’ll say there’s plenty of things to believe in.” The idealistic/cynical stance of someone who believes there are things worth believing, even if she doesn’t believe them.
According to scholar of religion Karen Armstrong, the word translated as faith in the Old Testament came from a Greek word meaning “trust, loyalty, engagement, commitment.” In the New Testament, the word became credo, from the expression, “I give my heart.”
So faith is not merely believing in something, but giving our hearts to it. The use of faith to mean intellectual belief came later, and many Buddhists wouldn’t use these words interchangeably. For Alan Watts, they’re opposites: “Belief is holding tight to something; faith is letting go.” Hence our expression, “leap of faith”.
Throughout our lives people tell us what we should believe in and give our hearts to. The urgings, subtle and not so, begin early and continue as long as we live within society.
One of the most important challenges of our lives is finding our own faith. Because as David Foster Wallace observes, there are no true atheists — “Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship.”
I worship trying to see things the way they are, and I worship trying to make them better.