Faith, Trust or Shinjin

Posted by:

K. Ken Fujimoto
A number of recent incidents have made me rethink how we explain the term shinjin (信心)and other concepts in our tradition. One of those events was during the temple tours during our Obon festival. In explaining features in our naijin, I remembered how one elementary school student asked me many years ago, why the statue of Amida Buddha was standing on an artichoke. At first, this had me confused, but looking at the statue, I realized the boy was looking at the blue lotus flower that forms the base of the statue as an artichoke. Not knowing much about lotus flowers and the symbolism of the lotus as a representation of enlightenment, he used his own, familiar frame of reference and saw it as an artichoke.
I realized that we all do this. We use our own frame of reference to try and understand concepts without really looking into things. We tend to try to make things fit that which we are comfortable with rather than actually trying to understand what is. Concurrently, the recent BCA Ministers Association Summer Seminar lectures gave me insight into the importance of a priori experience and observation in the development of Buddhist thought. This made me wonder if we might not be using an inappropriate model for our understanding and taking the easier way out by using terms that seem close, but does not communicate the reality, just like the boy who saw the artichoke.
Recently reading an article on shinjin, it seemed clear that there was a definite difference between faith and shinjin. However, after some reflection, there seemed to be a bigger difference between the popular conception of religious faith and how faith, or trust, actually develops between individuals. We often talk about shinjin as being from Amida and this seems very different from having faith in a deity. Yet, when we see how faith or trust develops between individuals, that dynamic seems to give us a better model for understanding shinjin in our Jodo Shinshu teaching.
Trust between individuals develops over time as we come to see and comprehend what another person does for us. We come to see how much a person does for us and how they are there when we need them, their advice and/or guidance. As we come to see what they do for us, our reliance and our appreciation for them grows. We come to have faith in them. We come to know that our reality, our existence is very much dependent on their efforts. It is not simply a matter of us believing in them, but more a matter of the faith/trust in those people having been given to us because of what they had been doing for us over time.
Is this not the same with shinjin? As we come to see the working of the great compassion on our lives, our appreciation grows and deepens. We come to see how that compassion has been working on our lives to enable us to have the experiences and relationships that we have, do have, and will have. This realization leads to our shinjin or having faith or appreciation in the awareness that it will always be there for us to enjoy the lives we are able to have.
© August 20, 2014