Buddhism – in its American incarnation – has long informed my spiritual path. So Sharon Salzberg is someone I’d heard of for years. I’ve picked up her book Lovingkindness more than once, but just hadn’t yet felt drawn to read any of her works.
When I came across her book on faith, however, I was intrigued. Faith to me has seemed associated with theism in general, the Abrahamic religions in particular. How would a Buddhist talk about faith?
The subtitle gives the first clue: trusting your own deepest experience, rather than “following God’s word” or the precepts of a given religion.
The first four pages set up a conundrum with that subtitle, though. Salzberg’s childhood was a crazy quilt of extreme tragedy. Reading her simple account of family life gone terribly wrong, I felt it was inevitable that she either become a deeply spiritual person or a crazy person herself.
I compared her in another post to Viktor Frankl or Anne Frank. Her circumstances, extreme as they were, did not rival being in Aushchwitz (Frankl) or murdered by Nazis (Frank). But like them, she turned ‘unfair’ suffering into gold by her response to it.
She quotes Aung San Suu Kyi, leader of the democracy movement in Myanmar/Burma:
“There is darkness in the world, but it is merely an absence of light. All the darkness in the world cannot dispel even the smallest candle flame. We need only to accustom ourselves to the dim vision, and then the blessing of light will grow.”
The books is most decidedly based on her Buddhist beliefs, and she applies the Four Noble Truths and the insights she has gained from years of meditation to the question of how we maneuver life amidst the suffering, chaos and delight – all of it.
Meditation – for Salzberg, and indeed for me – reminds us that everything passes. Everything. “There is a far bigger picture to life than what we are facing in any particular moment” (p 127). It helps us gain perspective. To be at peace. To just BE.
Sprinkled throughout the book are personal vignettes. Salzberg, along with Joseph Goldstein and Ram Dass, was part of the early vanguard of American Buddhism. With Goldstein she co-founded the Insight Meditation Society and the Barre Center for Buddhist Studies.
But she doesn’t ‘name drop’ or self-aggrandize. On the contrary, she shares her human-ness with us and just simply illustrates how Buddhist teachings on meditation, kindness, compassion, the ephemeral nature of life have helped her to deepen, and to live a fully authentic life despite the inevitability of suffering.
I loved this:
“But if that inevitable sorrow is joined with faith in interconnectedness, rather than bitterness at the nature of things, we can more likely get up the next morning and once again do the best we can, knowing that in this inter-connected reality, even the smallest action done with good intention is consequential.”
I really loved this book and will soon be reading more from Salzberg. I “liked” her page on FaceBook and am enjoying the updates there as well.
And I liked that, for me, she reclaimed the idea of ‘faith’ – which had become for me a sort of ‘bullying’ word used by zealots to beat on “non-believers”. In my worldview (not hers perhaps) it is having faith in an immanent God and essential goodness – and then putting THAT faith into action that is a faith I can live with.
How about you? Have you read any of Sharon Salzberg’s books? What does faith look like to you? As always, I really want to know!