by Nina van Gorkom | 1999 | 122,172 words

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Chapter 25 - Confidence


Saddha, confidence or faith, is one of the sobhana cetasikas which arises with each sobhana citta: with the sobhana cittas of the sense-sphere (kama-sobhana cittas), with the rupavacara cittas, with the arupavacara cittas and with the lokuttara cittas. Saddha is not blind faith in a person, it is confidence in wholesomeness. There is saddha with dana, with sila and with bhavana. There cannot be any kind of wholesomeness without saddha. Saddha is called by the Atthasalini the "forerunner of wholesomeness.

The Atthasalini (I, Part IV, Chapter I, 119) states about saddha:

... It has purifying or aspiring as its characteristic. As the water-purifying gem of the universal monarch thrown into water causes solids, alluvia, waterweeds and mud to subside and makes the water clear, transparent and undisturbed, so faith arising discards the hindrances, causes the corruptions to subside, purifies the mind and makes it undisturbed: the mind being purified, the aspirant of noble family gives gifts, observes the precepts, performs the duties of "uposatha" (Uposatha days are days of fasting or vigil; uposatha is observed an the days of full-moon and new-moon, and sometimes also on the days of the first and last moon-quarter. in Buddhist countries there is a tradition for lay-followers to visit temples and to observe eight precepts on these days.), and commences bhavana. Thus faith should be known to hove purifying as its characteristic...

The Atthasalini refers to a simile given in the Questions of King Milinda (35) (Containing discussion on Dhamma between King Milinda and the arahat Nagasena. This work which is not part of the Tipitaka must have been written before the time of Buddhaghosa, but its date is not known. It gives most valuable explanations of the Buddhist teachings and it often refers to the texts of the Tipitaka) : a universal monarch crosses a small stream with his army.

The water has been polluted by the army but his water-purifying gem purifies the water so that mud, sand and waterweeds subside and the water becomes clear and undisturbed. The water which is disturbed by pollution is like the mind which is disturbed by defilements. Faith purifies the mind so that it becomes clear, transparent and undisturbed.

As to the characteristic of "aspiring", the Atthasalini uses another simile in order to explain this. A crowd standing on both banks of a great river full of crocodiles, monsters, sharks and ogres, is afraid to cross over. A hero crosses the river and repels the dangerous animals with his sword, and leads the crowd in crossing over. The Atthasalini ( 120) states:

... So faith is the forerunner, the precursor to one who is giving gifts. Observing the precepts, performing the duties of uposatha and commencing bhavana. Hence it has been said: Faith has purifying and aspiring as its characteristic.

The Atthasalini also uses another method of defining saddha:

... Faith has confiding as its characteristic; purifying as its function. like the water-purifying gem, or aspiring faith as function, like the crossing of the floods: freedom from pollution or decision as its manifestation; an object worthy of faith or factors of "streamwinning " as its proximate cause.

The Visuddhimagga (XIV, 140) defines confidence in the same way as the Atthasalini in the second method.

When there is akusala citta there is no confidence in kusala. For example, when we are attached to a pleasant sight or when we have aversion towards an ugly sight, there is forgetfulness of kusala, there is no aspiration for it. Whereas, when there is faith or confidence, there is aspiration for kusala. Only when people have confidence in the value of dana, sila or bhavana will they apply themselves to it. It depends on a person's accumulations which kind of kusala he is inclined to perform. Some people have confidence in dana and sila but they do not see the benefit of being aware right now of seeing or hearing, in order to know these realities as non-self.

As we have seen, purifying has been mentioned as a function of confidence and freedom from pollution as one of its manifestations. When the citta is accompanied by confidence, it is pure, free from the hindrances. But so long as latent tendencies have not been eradicated defilements are bound to arise, time and again. The purity of confidence is in the ariyan of a higher degree than in the non-ariyan. The sotapanna does not cling to the concept of self, he has eradicated wrong view, and thus his good deeds are purer. His sila is more purified than the sila of the non-ariyan, he has no more conditions to transgress the five precepts.

Another manifestation of confidence is decision or resolution. When there is determination to accomplish kusala, it is evident that there is confidence in kusala. There is no self who decides for kusala, it depends on conditions whether kusala citta arises or not. When there are conditions for aversion and discouragement, there is no resolution for kusala. We may have no energy for any kind of kusala when we feel annoyed because of our shortcomings, or when we are disappointed about other people, when we feel lonely and depressed, when we find life useless and frustrating. When we are depressed we are self-centred. We want pleasant objects for ourselves and when we do not get these we feel dissatisfied with life. If there would be less clinging to the self there would be less conditions for feelings of frustration. Right understanding can eventually eradicate the clinging to the self, but it can only develop very gradually.

If we are impatient because we do not notice any progress in the development of right understanding, we should remember the patience and determination of the Buddha in the lives when he was still a Bodhisatta. He was determined to develop right understanding life after life, without becoming discouraged, without coming to a halt halfway. Courage and patience are needed in order to develop understanding of the realities appearing in daily life. One has to have "aspiring confidence" like the hero who crosses the floods. It is useless to worry about the lack of mindfulness, or to think of ways to make it arise. When there is more understanding of what the object of mindfulness is, an ultimate reality, there are conditions for mindfulness now of whatever reality appears.

"An object worthy of faith" is a proximate cause of confidence. The Buddha, the Dhamma and the Sangha are objects worthy of confidence. This does not mean that someone who never heard of the Dhamma cannot have confidence. Confidence is an ultimate reality with its own characteristic, it is not specifically Buddhist. Each kusala citta is accompanied by confidence; kusala is kusala, no matter what nationality or race one is, no matter what faith one professes. Also those who never heard of the Dhamma can have confidence in ways of kusala such as generosity and true loving kindness. Also good deeds are objects worthy of confidence. If one listens to the Dhamma and develops right understanding there am conditions for the eradication of akusala and thus there will be more opportunity for the development of wholesomeness.

The "factors of streamwinning", that is the factors, necessary for attaining the first stage of enlightenment, the stage of the "streamwinner" or sotapanna, are also a proximate cause for confidence. These factors are: association with the right friend, hearing the Dhamma, wise attention and practice in accordance with the Dhamma (Dialogues of the Buddha , III , 33 , Sangiti Sutta , 227.). Confidence in the Buddha, the Dhamma and the Sangha starts with listening to the Dhamma as it is explained by the right friend. we read in many suttas that people first listened to the Buddha, considered what they heard and then took their refuge in the Buddha, the Dhamma and the Sangha. Their confidence was based on listening, inquiring and considering.

We read in the Middle Length Sayings (I, no. 4, Discourse on Fear and Dread) that the Buddha, while staying near Savatthi, in the Jeta Grove, spoke to the Brahman Janussoni about his living in the forest without fear and dread, and his attainment to Buddhahood. Janussoni, after he listened to the Buddha, took his refuge in the Buddha, the Dhamma and the Sangha with the following words.

... Excellent, good Gotama, excellent, good Gotama. It is as if one might set upright what had been upset, or might disclose what was covered, or show the way to one who had gone astray, or bring an oil-lamp into the darkness so that those with vision might see material shape- even so in many a figure has dhamma been made clear by the reverend Gotama. Thus I am going to the reverend Gotama for refuge, to the Dhamma and to the Order of monks. May the reverend Gotama accept me as a layfollower going for refuge from today forth for as long as life lasts.

Some people have confidence to become a lay-disciple and others have confidence to become a monk, it depends on one's accumulated inclinations. There are also people who are inclined to listen, but who do not gain enough confidence to practise the teachings. It may not be the right time for them to begin with the development of the Path, but in a future life they may listen again and then gain enough confidence to practise the teachings. We should find out for ourselves whether our confidence is to the degree that we apply the Dhamma we have heard or not yet. If one has enough confidence one will continue to develop right understanding until enlightenment is attained and all doubt and wrong view are eradicated.

There is still another aspect to confidence, saddha, and that is the aspect of indriya, controlling faculty. An indriya exercises leadership over the dhammas it accompanies. There are five wholesome cetasikas, indriyas, called the " spiritual faculties", which should be developed. They are : confidence, energy, mindfulness, concentration and wisdom. These faculties overcome the defilements which are their opposites. Confidence governs the accompanying dhammas, citta and cetasikas, in its quality of purifying and of confiding in kusala. It overcomes lack of confidence in kusala, without confidence kusala citta and its accompanying cetasilkas could not arise. The Atthasalini (I, Part IV, Chapter I, 119) states:

"From the overcoming of lack of faith, faith is a controlling faculty in the sense of predominance, or in its characteristic of decision it exercises lordship (over associated states)."

When the "spiritual faculties" have been developed they become "powers " or "strengths" (balas ) . Then they have become firm and unshakeable, they cannot be shaken by the defilements which are their opposites. The same cetasikas which can be considered under the aspect of indriya can also be considered under the aspect of power, we read in the Dhammasangani about confidence as faculty, indriya, and as power, bala:

The faith which on that occasion is a trusting in, the professing confidence in, the sense of assurance, faith, faith as a faculty and as a power- this is the faith that there then is.

The Atthasalini (I, Part IV, Chapter II, 145) explains this passage and states that assurance is abundant assurance in the virtues of the Buddha. Such assurance is not based on mere theoretical understanding of the Buddha's teachings. There can only be abundant confidence in the Buddha's virtues when right understanding of realities has been developed.

Those who want to develop calm to the degree of jhana have to develop the five "spiritual faculties". we read in the Visuddhimagga ( IV, 45-49 ), in the section on the conditions necessary for the attainment of jhana, that the faculties, indriyas, have to be "balanced". When any one of them is too strong and other faculties weak, they cannot perform their functions. The faculty of faith has to be balanced with the faculty of wisdom:

... For one strong in faith and weak in understanding has confidence uncritically and groundlessly. One strong in understanding and weak in faith errs on the side of cunning and is as hard to cure as one sick of a disease caused by medicine. With the balancing of the two a man has confidence only when there are grounds for it...

Further on we read that concentration and faith must be balanced: "One working on concentration needs strong faith, since it is with such faith and confidence that he reaches absorption..."

The "spiritual faculties" have to be developed also for the attainment of enlightenment and they must be balanced. How are the faculties balanced in vipassana? One may have confidence in the Buddha's teachings but there may not be the development of right understanding of realities and then confidence is not balanced with the other faculties. But when there is the development of right understanding of the present moment, there is also confidence and this is balanced with understanding and the other faculties.

When we are forgetful of realities there is no confidence in awareness of the present moment. This may happen, for example, when we are listening to the stories other people tell us and we are quite absorbed in these stories. But sometimes there may be mindfulness of one reality at a time, for example of sound, and then this can be realized as only a rupa, a reality which can be heard, not a voice or a person. At such a moment there is confidence which sees the value of right understanding. When we develop right understanding, we do not have to aim at confidence, it arises already. Confidence grows to the extent that right under-standing develops. Through mindfulness of nama and rupa, thus, through the development of the four "Applications of Mindfulness" (satipatthana) the five spiritual faculties develop together.

As we have seen, when the faculty of confidence has been more developed, it can become unshakeable and firm, it can become a "power" or "strength" (bala). So long as one has not attained enlightenment confidence can still be shaken. One may have doubt about the value of the development of right understanding, doubt about the eightfold Path. The confidence of the sotapanna cannot be shaken anymore; he has eradicated doubt. He has an unshakeable confidence in the Buddha, the Dhamma and the Sangha. At each stage of enlightenment the faculties and thus also confidence have become more developed. At the moment of the attainment of arahatship they have reached completion.

As we have seen, one of the proximate causes of confidence is an object worthy of confidence. The Buddha, the Dhamma and the Sangha are objects worthy of confidence. so long as we are not ariyans we do not really understand what enlightenment means; we have only theoretical understanding about it and thus our knowledge is very limited. We take our refuge in the Buddha, but our confidence in his virtues cannot be as strong as the sotapanna's confidence. The second Gem in which we take refuge is the Dhamma. The term "dhamma" has many meanings, it can stand for the teachings, or for paramattha dhamma, ultimate reality. seeing and attachment are real, they are dhammas. We do not take our refuge in every dhamma.

Nibbana is lokuttara dhamma and this is the second Gem, the Dhamma we take our refuge in. Also the eight types of lokuttara cittas which experience nibbana are included in the second Gem; thus there are "nine lokuttara dhammas" in which we take our refuge. Again, our understanding of the second Gem is limited so long as we have not attained enlightenment. Our confidence in the teachings which lead to enlightenment cannot be as strong as the sotapanna's confidence; he knows from experience what enlightenment means. The ariyan Sangha is the third Gem in which we take our refuge. We do not really know what it means to be an ariyan so long as we are not ariyans ourselves and thus our confidence in the ariyan sangha is still weak.

When we realize how weak out confidence still is, we should not become discouraged. When we think of all the virtues of the ariyan, his unshakeable confidence in wholesomeness, his purity of sila and his generosity, we should not forget that it all started with listening to the dhamma, considering it and developing right understanding. We read in the Middle Length sayings (II, no. 70, Kitgiri sutta) that the Buddha, while he was in Kasi, said that enlightenment could not be attained without diligence. He spoke to the monks about people with different accumulations who attained enlightenment, and then said:

I, monks, do not say that the attainment of profound knowledge comes straightaway; nevertheless, monks, the attainment of profound knowledge comes by a gradual training, a gradual doing, a gradual course.

And how. monks. does the attainment of profound knowledge came by means of a gradual training, a gradual doing, a gradual course?

As to this, monks, one who has faith draws close;
drawing close, he sits down near by;
sitting down near by he lends ear;
lending ear he hears dhamma;
having heard dhamma he remembers it;
he tests the meaning of the things he has borne in mind;
while testing the meaning the things are approved of- there being approval of the things desire[1] is born;
with desire born he makes an effort;
having made the effort he weighs it up;
having weighed it up he strives;
being self-resolute he realizes himself the highest truth itself and, penetrating it by means of wisdom, he sees...

The ariyan is often described as a person who has heard much. He has listened to Dhamma and has applied what he has heard. If he had been a passive listener he could not have attained enlightenment. We may wish to reach the goal without cultivating the right cause which leads to the goal. If there is no beginning of the development of understanding at this moment how can we expect the arising of profound wisdom? Realities such as hardness, feeling or sound appear time and again.

If one begins to be mindful of the reality which appears now, one cultivates the right conditions for the growth of right understanding. There should be confidence which is as courageous and determined as the hero who crosses the flood. Many moments of such courageous determination are needed in order to realize what one has not yet realized.


  1. Which are objects worthy of confidence?
  2. Can confidence arise with maha-vipakacitta?
  3. How do we know when there is confidence?
  4. How can confidence grow?
  5. What hinders confidence?
  6. Why is the sotapanna's confidence "unshakeable"?
  7. How is confidence "balanced" with the other spiritual faculties in vipassana?
  8. At which moment is there confidence in the development of the four Applications of Mindfulness?
  9. People can take their refuge in the Triple Gem with confidence, but why is the confidence of the non-ariyan still weak in comparison with the confidence of the ariyan?
June 29, 2001

Footnotes and references:


kusalacchanda, "wish-to-do" which is kusala.

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