My experience with Buddhism is that it defines faith the same way you have presented here, i.e., a natural human power that manifests results based upon how effective is the object of the faith. It is common to hear Buddhist teachers encourage followers to strengthen their practice OF faith the same way you might hear a piano instructor or fitness coach extol the virtues of practice. The more effective the object, the more valuable and instructive the actual proof generated by the act of faith. Deep and powerful faith is the result of the accumulation of abundant actual proof. We learn that we don’t “believe in” the object of faith, but instead believe in our ability to change ourselves through disciplined interaction with our object of faith.
The key, and that factor which quickly leads to the “we will simply need to agree to disagree” impasse found in the conversations here, is whether the actual proof derived from the practice of faith is to be judged in this life or an afterlife. Buddhism (and other Pelagian faiths differ greatly in this regard from non-Pelagian faiths). Pelagian faiths focus on THIS life.
Therefore, in response to the fellow in these comments who used the strength of the branch his faith reaches out to in the dark during a fall, Pelagian faiths would say that if he is not experiencing the strength of that branch now then it would be foolish to expect such strength in the afterlife. Just as it would be foolish to expect our problems to disappear the next day simply because we temporarily escape them by sleeping.
A paradox common in your thesis, Jack, is that the founders of religions are often quoted as saying their teaching is best. How can one follow them while simultaneously believing wholeheartedly that it doesn’t matter what object of faith one chooses?
Nichiren, the founder of the Buddhism I practice declared:
This I will state. Let the gods forsake me. Let all persecutions assail me. Still I will give my life for the sake of the Law . . .
Here I will make a great vow. Though I might be offered the rulership of Japan if I would only abandon the Lotus Sutra, accept the teachings of the Meditation Sutra, and look forward to rebirth in the Pure Land, though I might be told that my father and mother will have their heads cut off if I do not recite the Nembutsu — whatever obstacles I might encounter, so long as persons of wisdom do not prove my teachings to be false, I will never yield! All other troubles are no more to me than dust before the wind.
I will be the pillar of Japan. I will be the eyes of Japan. I will be the great ship of Japan. This is my vow, and I will never forsake it! (The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 1, pp. 280–81)”
Here he is declaring the practice he proscribed based upon the teaching of the Lotus Sutra a superior teaching (compared to the Meditation Sutra, Pure Land Sect and Nembustu practice) in that it enables all people to directly reveal their enlightened selves and free themselves from oppressive religious and civil authority.
It seems to me that all religions required a strong unbending founder; and that leader proves his love for the people by standing up to persecution by the religious/civil status quo of their time. In the spirit of your essay, though, I was attracted to Nichiren (after actually experiencing benefit from practice)not only because of the strength of his conviction, but for his openness to reasoned argument shown by the the phrase “so long as persons of wisdom do not prove my teachings false”.