Faith In Buddhism: Which Of These 3 Faith Types Do You Belong To?

Faith In Buddhism: Which Of These 3 Faith Types Do You Belong To?

This is an abridged chapter from Buddhist Scholar Sylvia Bay’s Book on Faith. You may find the book here


TLDR: Buddhism is nowadays taken to be ‘scientific’ with little need for faith. Have we got it wrong? Which type of faith do you identify with? Blind, Knowledge, or practice? Sylvia shares more

Faith is not a static mental state. Faith can strengthen (or fade). Right knowledge and clear understanding will strengthen faith. 

1. ‘Blind’ Faith 

When we first declared ourselves to be Buddhists, the odds are that at that time, we didn’t really know much about Buddha or his Teaching. What little we knew then was probably hearsay or as tradition dictated. 

We were likely to be caught up with the dos and don’ts of the rites and rituals. What to do at the temple or monastery? How to bow? How to chant? What offerings to make? And so on. Our faith might or may be transactional. 

We “pray” to Buddha and show our devotion by making offerings so that we will be blessed with success or be able to ward off misfortune. We may have all kinds of wrong understanding: ‘Buddha is god’, ‘Buddha can save me’, ‘just pray to Buddha and all will be fine’. 

Even worse, we may be afraid of asking questions because we think that it is ‘bad kamma’ to do so. Blind faith is superficial and fragile as it rests on ignorance and fear. This type of faith cannot withstand life’s inevitable disappointments and setbacks. It will be at constant risk of falling away. 

2. Knowledge-based Faith 

The faith that Buddha spoke about that is critical for spiritual growth is grounded on knowledge and a thorough understanding of the teaching. 

The deeper the knowledge, the stronger is the faith. 

Now, we must all start somewhere in terms of gathering knowledge. Buddha’s advice was to approach a teacher that you have respect for. Because of that positive chemistry, you will be willing to keep an open-mind and give him the benefit of the doubt. Because of your attitude, your mind is pliant, receptive and attentive. 

That helps you to register the Dhamma properly and remember it. What you can remember, you must reflect thoroughly and compare the teachings against your observations about life’s experiences and your mind. 

Only when the Dhamma makes sense, because it is consistent with what you have observed, will you embrace the teaching fully and confidently.

From the above, it is clear that Buddha had expected his followers not to just accept his words at face value but to have an enquiring mind and ask questions, challenge assumptions, think critically, and make thoughtful conclusions. These are high order cognitive processes. 

He said that they should accept his teachings only after they are satisfied that Dhamma makes sense from their own observations about their mind and life’s experiences. 

3. Practice-based Faith 

Ultimately, Buddha’s Dhamma is not an intellectual exercise. It helps the practitioner to understand the true nature of the mind such that he can overcome feelings of dukkha and is able to live more happily. 

It is not easy to get to a state where one can see the mind’s true nature. It may require fundamental changes to one’s habits and behaviour. One must make a serious effort to overcome one’s negative instincts and obstructive habits. 

Hence, the next level of faith development is practice. You must be ready to deliberately and thoroughly weave all aspects of his teaching into your daily life. And you keep applying the training discipline until your mind settles into a new equilibrium, with new knowledge about itself and its habits. 

When that happens, the practitioner would find himself becoming a kinder, gentler and wiser person, more content, happier and less caught up with ego and desires. 

As your understanding of the Dhamma deepens because of the practice, you will experience more periods of peace in your waking moments. Once the Dhamma is not just an abstract concept but a way of life, faith will grow exponentially. 

You have confidence that you know how to shape the mind because you understand how it works. 

You feel empowered. 

You no longer feel helpless in the face of changing external or internal conditions.

Img Alt text:

  • Blinded Sapa for blind faith
  • Reading sapa for knowledge
  • Meditative sapa for practice


Wise Steps:

  • Pause and reflect. Where do you currently stand now in your Buddhist faith? Are you comfortable with where you are right now?
  • Ask yourself, ‘How can I go from understanding the teachings to realising them?’. Take active steps to grow your circle of spiritual friends to support your journey
  • Associate with wise teachers, explore and find teachers to learn from. Those who are worthy of respect and conduct themselves similar to how the Buddha or disciples would behave.
Letting go of the Buddhist Myths I Once Held

Letting go of the Buddhist Myths I Once Held

TLDR: I used to think that Buddhism is all about blind faith, rules, god, rituals. I didn’t want to associate with it. Now, having practised the path, I see Buddhism as a way of life and I LOVE it! Here are 6 myths I use to believe!

I did not know about most of these are myths until I read “Just Be Good” by Mr T. Y. Lee. These myths were previously what I thought Buddhism was all about! 

Myth 1: Buddhism is about blind faith where we must believe everything we are told

Myth 2: Buddhism is Only Focused on Praying and Meditating

Myth 3: Follow the Rules or Else!

Myth 4: Buddha is our God

Myth 5: Sakyamuni Buddha is Amitabha Buddha

Myth 6: Buddhism Emphasises a lot on Rituals like Burning Incense or Joss Paper

Having read the book, I understood better the meaning behind certain practices in Buddhism and how I can use them to live a happier and better life! 


Wise Steps:

  • Don’t just believe, investigate more into Buddhism and ask questions! It might just burst myths you held
  • Be open to new insights that challenge what you held to be true and whole
  • Knowing these as myths, don’t try to change everyone to ‘see the light’, it takes compassion and wisdom to know when is the right time to share them!
What Burning ‘Paper Money’ Really Meant

What Burning ‘Paper Money’ Really Meant

Ghost Month Series: This series explores different angles of the 7th Lunar Month, also known as the Ghost Month. Festivals, Cultures, and Religions often mix together in one place, offering space for different interpretations. We, like you, are keen to explore more. Discern on what is helpful to your practice and discard whatever is not.

The following article has been reproduced with permission from Nalanda Institute, Malaysia.


During a funeral ceremony in ancient China, paper-made models of houses, sedan chairs, treasure chests, clothes, daily utensils, and even effigies of servants, were burnt as the cortege was leaving home for burial in the cemetery.

The original meaning of such an act is to show everyone present that all former possessions of the deceased cannot be brought along to the next life. 

At one’s death, everything one had ever owned has to be left behind. The burning only emphasizes this message, as it is the most graphical, symbolic, and dramatic way of showing total loss!

There is a Chinese saying that ‘no possessions can be brought along to the next existence; the only thing that follows one is his deeds, or ‘kamma’ ‘ ( 万般带不去,唯有业随身 ).

 Furthermore, his relatives and friends only follow the deceased up to the grave, but soon turn to go home, leaving the dead alone in his tomb!

Thus, the burning of cheaply-produced paper models and effigies served as an effective educational tool.  Witnessing how fire consumes every ‘former possession’ of the deceased, even an illiterate peasant or young child was able to understand this sense of total relinquishment at death.

Today, this practice is completely misunderstood by the majority of Chinese.  Instead of the original meaning, paper-made models have been turned into “paper offerings” – with the mistaken thought that whatever one burns, his departed relatives will obtain in the netherworld!

Hence people nowadays burn paper models of the latest i-Pads, smartphones, LED screens, and “paper money” in inflated sums in order to please the dead. 

All these will not help the departed ones at all. 

In fact, this misunderstanding will only harm the living by maintaining their ignorance and delusions.

Many people assume that whatever is fancied in life is also fancied in the netherworld.

Instead of burning “paper offerings”, one can perform ‘Dedication of Merits’ (Pāli, ‘Pattidāna ’) to help their departed relatives. 


Wise Steps:

  • Recognise the possible different reasons why burning paper money became a tradition. Understand that there may be more than one reason. For example read Mothership.sg’s take on it here
  • Though one may have more knowledge on Ghost Month, do not seek to aggressively change other’s behaviour (e.g. burning paper money). Instead, start a conversation to understand why others perform certain rituals. At times, being kind is better than being right. Sharing at the right time matters too!

  • When walking past burning paper and effigies during this month, reflect on the impermanence of all our possessions

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