Friday, June 29, 2007

Belief and Faith

Belief. Faith.

These two words crop up all the time when discussing spiritual work. Some of us may recall that Ouspensky said he left Gurdjieff because Gurdjieff's work became too religious for him; Ouspensky wanted science, he wanted verifiable, quantifiable work, and Gurdjieff told him some things simply had to be taken on faith.

I constantly encounter people who ask me what I believe. Then, on the other hand, there are the priests, the evangelists who ask me if I have faith.

So, what is the difference between belief and faith?

I will try to state it quite simply. Keep in mind that what I am about to say is a whole teaching in itself that takes a great deal of time to understand.

To believe is to want to understand without work; to have faith is to be willing to work without understanding.

We are back to the question of the free lunch which we examined a few days back. Belief is a free lunch; you can believe in any old thing you want to, because it is very easy to believe. All you need to do is take a group of facts, make up a story about them, and presto! You can believe anything you want to. Belief is available by the cartload at Barnes & Noble. Just pick a book, any book. Even if it's fiction, it will tell you what to believe.

Even this blog.

Belief is the easy way out in life; it requires nothing more of a man than the surrender of his judgment. Once that is done, any action is justified, so long as it fits into the beliefs. Belief refuses to ask the tough questions. It is a creature of the personality, formed by the most superficial parts we have, and used as a weapon to prevent anything new from entering. The stronger the belief, the more powerful the defenses. Every single one of us can see this in action in us if we are willing to look closely enough.

The mechanism works in the following manner: personality uses belief as an immune system to protect itself. New material, fresh impressions of the world that ought to be feeding the essence, are either parasitized by personality to bolster itself or-- if they appear to be too threatening and cannot be assimilated into the belief mechanism-- are attacked and destroyed. It would be bad enough if this just functioned on a psychological level, but it usually translates into direct action in the real world, where personality becomes so invested in its own survival that it uses actual physical violence to preserve itself, projected through the mechanism of belief. This is precisely where terrorism and war originates.

It's no wonder that belief is on the ascendancy on this planet. Even in the most traditional and conservative cultures, the idea of making sure everything is as easy as pie is the disease du jour. And belief is the easiest thing in the world. As Gurdjieff pointed out to Ouspensky, men believe they can do things, they believe that they have free will, that they are conscious, and so on. Because they believe this, they need make no effort to acquire any of these qualities.

Faith is a different question. Faith does not presume to understand; its premise is that we do not understand everything up front, we cannot understand everything up front, and that something is required of us if we wish to gain understanding. Faith involves taking a risk; it involves betting the farm.

Sometimes, we hear talk of "blind faith." but faith is never blind; faith has eyes that, in seeing , know their limitations.

The eyes of belief are drunk on their own power. The eyes of faith dwell within the cold sobriety of unknowing. They take measurements, acknowledge mystery, are willing to make an effort. They know that nothing real can ever be acquired without work, and they know that what we work for can never be known until it has been paid for.

When we have faith, we are willing to do the work without the presumption of reward. we work because we can work. We seek because we can seek. We make efforts because we can make efforts. It reminds me of Suzuki Roshi's comments, in "Branching Streams Flow in the Darkness," that we sit just because we sit. That is what we do. We don't know why we sit, or where sitting will lead us.

We just sit.

One of the chief diseases that belief causes is the belief that we are special. That is what belief is all about. Faith seeks union; belief divides and separates.

This reminds me of Gurdjieff's remark that our aim should be to become "a man without quotation marks." The chief characteristic of quotation marks is that they separate text from the body of a document-- the text becomes special. To be without quotation marks is to lose the imaginary separation that we create with our belief. To lose the idea that we are special and different, to just become very simple and ordinary.

Being ordinary is much more difficult than it appears. And certainly, in our world of personality and ego, no one strives to be ordinary.

The idea does not even exist, does it?

Maybe we need to learn to distinguish between believing what something is, and understanding that something is.

May your trees bear fruit, and your wells yield water.

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