The Buddhist Understanding of Saddha: Or, Faith vs. Conviction

The Buddha often stressed the importance of saddha, stating that it’s the absolute foundation of applying yourself to anything worthwhile.  As most Buddhist literature has been translated by people deeply entrenched in judeo-christian vocabulary, saddha is generally translated into English as faith—a term that usually means believing in something even without rational proof.  This can certainly be an admirable quality, but it’s far from what the Buddha meant.

A better translation of saddha would be conviction, not so much a thought-based position (aka a belief), but rather a movement of the heart towards action.

For example, to be strongly convicted of the worthwhileness of eating broccoli doesn’t mean we sit around thinking in circles about broccoli.  It also doesn’t mean we believe people who don’t eat broccoli will burn in hell for eternity.  It just means that we have such a strong sense of its goodness that we are going to adamantly include it in our own diet.

In other words, conviction doesn’t mean we sit around thinking something.  It means we’re called to act on it.

On a grander level, if we have a strong conviction towards, say, living harmoniously, we actually live it.

Maybe we do sitting meditation every morning.  Maybe we clean up our diet.  Maybe we shift from spending time with friends who represent the “old us” and towards those who connect with the “new us.”

Maybe we de-clutter our schedule, taking the risk of going against society’s message to be crazy busy, achieving, producing, attaining and, instead, make more time for simple moments with ourselves, our friends and family.

There are so many possible ways of acting on our deepest convictions.  While all true spiritual practitioners find their convictions point their lives in a similar direction, they also veer slightly different ways.  This is normal.  The path is about acting on your inner voice, not mine, not the Buddha’s, not Jesus’, not your best friend’s (of course, you would be well advised to listen to all of them!).

Anyhow, what I’m trying to say is that for the Buddha—one of the wisest people of all time—faith isn’t even in his vocabulary; instead, he advocates cultivating conviction in order that we consistently act on our deepest aspirations.

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