Faith and Reason in Buddhism

August 5, 2006 Buddhism Faith and Reason


      I caught most of the 7th part of the Bill Moyers series On Faith and Reason.  Pema Chodron was on.  She is a Buddhist Nun who grew up Catholic.  When her husband divorced her she turned to Buddhism.  For 20 years or more she has been a teacher. They call her a Bodhisattva Warrior.


She has Reason is an open mind and Faith is an open heart.   Chodron explained the idea of suffering and how it is different from pain.  We cannot eliminate pain, but we can end our own suffering.  She spoke of Shempa or getting hooked on our anger and need for control.  One of the things that really resonated with her was the idea that nothing was wrong with our negativity.  It was all a part of our human experience. The key was to take responsibility for your suffering and change your perceptions.  She discussed the idea of groundlessness.  Feeling out of control, like the ground has fallen away is frightening, but this often unpleasant feeling leads to the most profound experiences and awakenings.

At the end Moyers asked about God and Faith.  Chodron explained how God is more of an open question to her rather than a fixed notion.  There is no proof one way or the other.  Instead, of a fear based or security deity, she sees a sense of wonder and mystery.  Perhaps the best quote from her Master Rinoche was, “All of you are perfect, but you could use a little improvement.”


As the program ended I wondered how I’d reconcile Faith and Reason.  Moyers had interviewed a variety of people with a variety of perspectives on a variety of topics.  From Philosophy to Theocracy and Christianity to Science and Myth to Islamic Fundamentalism Movement—he covered it all pretty much.  Ending with Buddhism was an interesting choice.  I think that perhaps Moyers sees Buddhism as the answer.  Or at least Buddhism allows for us to hold two conflicting beliefs.  The paradox of Faith and Reason is something that a Buddhist is able to do without feeling torn.  It isn’t such a controversy to the Eastern mind.

In keeping with paradoxical statements I came up with a couple of my own.  “Be reasonable about Faith.”  And, “Have faith in your power to Reason.”

Faith and Reason

In the end, both are vital.  You must learn to think critically about religion and philosophy.  Never accept something blindly, especially if it doesn’t feel right to you.  Questions are an important tool for spiritual growth.  However, after you’ve exhausted all avenues of exploration, sometimes there is nothing left to do but believe.  Some truths can only be known intuitively.  And that’s fine.  I can’t imagine a world without wonder.  If we were given proof or disproof of everything then we would cease to grow and learn.  I think that if we work hard in life then we are rewarded with answers in the afterlife.  The only pay off for faith in this life is spiritual growth.  Well, not the only one, but a big one.  Once you surrender your fears and have faith then you reach a place of relative peace inside.

Faith is necessary in order to obtain harmony.  Reason is necessary to maintain balance.  It goes back to what I said about human beings, about what makes us superior.  It is not our intellect alone that makes us superior.  It is our ability to understand our emotions that makes us superior.   Reason is intellect and faith is very much tied to our emotions.  We do not think faith, we feel it.  Our emotions are connected to the spiritual realm and so is our faith.  Still, we have a need to understand exactly what we have faith in and why


  • The Wisdom of No Escape And The Path of Loving-Kindness. Shambhala Publications, 1991. ISBN 1-57062-872-6
  • Start Where You Are: A Guide to Compassionate Living. Shambhala Publications, 1994. ISBN 0-87773-880-7
  • Awakening Loving-Kindness (abridged version of The Wisdom of No Escape). Shambhala Publications, 1996. ISBN 1-57062-259-0
  • When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times. Element Books, 1996. ISBN 1-57062-969-2
  • Tonglen: The Path of Transformation. Vajradhatu Publications, 2001. ISBN 1-57062-409-7
  • The Places that Scare You: A Guide to Fearlessness in Difficult Times Shambhala Publications, 2002. ISBN 1-57062-409-7
  • Comfortable with Uncertainty: 108 Teachings on Cultivating Fearlessness and Compassion. Shambhala Publications, 2003. ISBN 1-59030-078-5
  • No Time to Lose: A Timely Guide to the Way of the Bodhisattva. Shambhala Publications, 2005. ISBN 1-59030-135-8
  • Practicing Peace in Times of War: A Buddhist Perspective Shambhala Publications, September 2006. ISBN 1-59030-401-2
  • Taking the Leap: Freeing Ourselves From Old Habits and Fears. Shambhala Publications, 2010 Reprint. ISBN 1-59030-843-3

About carilynn27

Reading and writing and writing about reading are my passion. I've been keeping a journal since I was 14. I also write fiction and poetry. I published my first collection of short stories, "Radiant Darkness" in 2000. I followed that up with my first collection of poetry in 2001 called "Journey without a Map." In 2008, I published "Persephone's Echo" another collection of poetry. Since then I've also published Emotional Espionage, The Way The Story Ended, My Perfect Drug and Out There. I have my BA in English from The Ohio State University at Mansfield and my MA in English Lit from The University of North Carolina at Greensboro. I also have my Post BA Certificate in Women's Studies. I am the mother of two beautiful children. :-)
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