'To Offer Your Heart'

According to Sharon Salzberg, faith is not a set of beliefs, but the act of opening our hearts to the unknown.

BY: Interview by Lisa Schneider

 
Sharon Salzberg has been practicing and studying Buddhism for more than 30 years. A renowned spiritual leader and meditation instructor, she is the cofounder of the Insight Meditation Society and the Barre Center for Buddhist Studies. The message in her latest book, "Faith," offers insight to practitioners of any religious tradition.

What does faith mean to you?

Faith means several different things to me. It means having the courage to go forward into the unknown. I think we spend so much of our lives trying to pretend that we know what's going to happen next. In fact we don't. To recognize that we don't know even what will happen this afternoon and yet having the courage to move forward--that's one meaning of faith.

Another meaning of faith is an engaged and open-hearted participation in life; it's not standing on the sidelines. So for example we might think that realization, compassion, or any of the beautiful qualities that spiritual traditions talk about are for others but not for us. To step right into the center of that possibility to see how we might evolve, the goodness that we might manifest--that's faith.

The way I use the word "faith" is not in terms of a belief system. When I started talking about faith I got many varied reactions from my students including a great deal of dismay.

As you quote your students in the book, "We came to Buddhism to get away from all this shit"

Right! I think so many people tend to think of faith as blind adherence to a dogma or unquestioned surrender to an authority figure, and the result is losing self-respect and losing our own sense of what is true. And I don't think of faith in those terms at all. I think we all have tremendous resources of faith within, that we can have an empowered faith, an idea of faith that's fresh and vibrant, and our own. So I wanted to write the book in part to help reclaim the word.

The traditional meaning in Pali is "to offer your heart, to place your heart." It is actually a verb, it's an action that we take. So the action of faith is that of opening, of connecting, of participating, and of moving forward.

It's also faith in an interconnected universe. That we are not alone no matter how alone we might feel. That what happens to us, what we do is part of the larger fabric of life. So what we care about, the actions that we take are very important because they ripple out throughout these threads of connection.

Continued on page 2: »

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