Recently over on Facebook, I have watched a couple discussions move from literalism in Buddhist interpretation (Is Amida´s Pure Land to the “West” of here? If so, how far “west” and what exactly does “west” mean in the context of space where there is neither “up” nor “down” much less east, west, north or south?) to whether we should understand doctrines and teachings more metaphorically. I responded to one question, about how can we ever know we have “faith” (or shinjin in the Shin Buddhist tradition) with the following reply, slightly edited for comprehension. It is about as clear an explanation I can give to what and how I believe what I do:
The longer a tea bag remains in water, the darker the fluid becomes and the stronger the tea. Likewise, dipping into Pure Land “faith” may change the flavor of the “water” a bit, but until one lets the bag of faith sit for a long time, one will never, can never know.
I began with Zen over 40 years ago and spent 20+ years there and 6-7 in Vajrayana. before really coming to Shin. It was not that I had no faith in Buddhadharma as a whole; there is I believe a transcendental unity to all Buddhist teachings. But in terms of me… little ol´me, as they say, it was practice for enlightenment. And I was far from being enlightened. But, informed by those years of Zen practice and Vajrayana ideas (Dzogchen and Mahamudra specifically, and their practices/worldviews) I approached Shin in a non-dual practice vs faith way.
Openness to the Infinitude all around us, a relaxed gratitude towards all Life (as I created nothing here and thus, have been given everything) and a deep inward understanding of my faults and inabilities has led me to a more mature view, a real “faith”, I think, and, if we look at Shinran in that light, I think it clarifies many points you raise which lead many of us to always wonder if in fact we will ever have such faith as he speaks about but rarely describes.
“Sincerity”… real deep sincerity, which includes the promise of Awakening as well as an honest, unsparing view of our our limited, finite abilities, is, I believe “faith”, real shinjin (信心 – the first character, shin, can mean “faith, trust, or belief” and is also understood by Shinran to mean “sincerity”). It is (said to be) diamond-like because it is precise and reflective, NOT because it is solid and unerring. That literalizes and reifies a dynamic PROCESS into a THING, concrete, absolute, which would be something all Buddhist schools reject.
Our awakening is, I think, like this, a deepening process where asking if we have it or not misses the point. Be sincere. Know that your life, my life, ALL Life is a wonderful and Mysterious “gift” and that we are placed firmly in the “arms” of Infinitude–Infinite Life and Infinite Light. That we are embraced by this and that, therefore, we are OK, as we are and that we can let go of our striving. Oh, we can still strive – if we choose, and we will be “forgiven” for it as well, but it is a rejection of this gift we are given. When I am able to relax in that manner, I “have” it. When I continue to strive and struggle, I am, then, without faith. Either way, I am embraced as I am, now, here, in this life, in this moment.