Faith is a turning point, whether it’s a new faith or a renewed faith. Like everything, there are dangers surrounding faith, and there is opportunity surrounding faith. One of the dangers of faith, particularly religious faith, is that people may not have a reason for their faith. They just believe in certain things or they trust certain ideas because they have been told to do so. In Zen, we are taught to not even trust things like mountains and rivers because “the Rockies may tumble” and “Gibraltar may crumble.” We are taught to put our faith into love “forever and a day,” because, “Our love is here to stay.”
So, if we don’t even trust the mountains because they too are impermanent, what do we trust? We trust being present with the mountains when they tumble. I’m proposing to you that you might consider trusting in the crisis of the mountains. That when you are in the mountains, you know that the mountains can move, they can crack, they can crumble and you could be hurt. If you can have faith in facing the danger of the mountains, you will find an opportunity to realize true freedom, freedom from fear.
So, in Zen, we trust in the turning point and in the opening to the danger and opportunity of the situations we live in. But the danger may scare you. You may think, ‘I don’t really have a reason for trusting this.’ But if you can realize that living at the turning point sounds like a good idea, and are willing to take a giant step into danger to try living in crisis, you might awaken to the freedom of knowing that every moment is a crisis of faith.
There is another kind of faith, and it too has its dangers. In this other kind of faith, you slip into thinking,” Well, I received this information on good authority, or I read it in a very old book, so it must be true. It couldn’t be wrong.” The danger here is that after arriving at a conclusion like this, there is no possibility for a true conversation about your faith. If I agree with you, we can talk; but if I don’t, I am wrong, and we have nothing to say to each other. When the conversation stops between people who have one faith and those who don’t have the same faith, the possibility of realizing a truth deeper than both is drastically hindered.
This hindrance points out a big social danger of putting your faith into an idea that you have developed through social conditioning. In societies where some faith or some religious truth is held to be infallible, anybody who questions it can be in danger of a kind of spiritual or religious inquisition, or a shunning from the community, or an argument that can escalate into war. This can happen in Myanmar or Afghanistan, in the United States or in Creston, and, as we have seen, results in the suppression of freedom – and a great deal of suffering.
There is a Czech writer named Milan Kundera who says that he invents stories and then uses them to have conversations. He writes one story and then he writes another that questions the premise of the first. In this way, he turns his stories into a way of questioning and frees them from the claim of holding ultimate truth. He says, “The stupidity of religion comes from having answers for everything.” It is this stupidity that has led us into conflict after conflict after conflict. One way out of this pattern is to open up to a deep self-questioning conversation with each other’s religious stories; that is to enter into a crisis of faith without donning the armour of what we believe.