Excerpted with permission from "Faith: Trusting Your Own Deepest Experience" by Sharon Salzberg, published by Riverhead Books, a division of Penguin Putnam.

It is a common assumption that faith deepens as we are taught more about what to believe; in Buddhism, on the contrary, faith grows only as we question what we are told, as we try teachings out by putting them into practice to see if they really make a difference in our own lives. The Buddha himself insisted, "Don't believe anything just because I have said it. Don't believe anything just because an elder or someone you respect has said it. Put it into practice. See for yourself if it is true."

In order to deepen our faith, we have to be able to try things out, to wonder, to doubt. In fact, faith is strengthened by doubt when doubt is a sincere, critical questioning combined with deep trust in our own right and ability to discern the truth. In Buddhism, this kind of questioning is known as skillful doubt. For doubt to be skillful we have to be close enough to an issue to care about it, yet open enough to let questioning come alive....

Beliefs are not necessarily wrong or irrelevant. Every religion, including Buddhism, has a set of beliefs. If they are skillful, beliefs can serve as a reminder of what we value. If we believe in future lives, for example, we may use that as an inspiration not to make a mess out of this life, since habits of discord, strife, and isolation may carry over into the next one. Beliefs can provide a thread of continuity and perspective as we undergo the tumultuous changes and storms of everyday life.

It's not the existence of beliefs that is the problem, but what happens to us when we hold them rigidly, without examining them, we presume the absolute certainty of our views and become disdainful of others.... If we hold beliefs skillfully, we will not get entangled in them, but will see them as the mental constructs they are. When we claim our right to question everything, including our beliefs, we can unhook from our dependence on what is familiar and let in the heartfelt, open, fresh quality of faith.

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