by Gil Fronsdal
Confidence in our practice is central to the Dharma path. No matter what the circumstances, no matter what the challenges, as practitioners we trust the practice. No matter the distance we’ve traveled on the path—however little or far—our confidence to keep practicing is the most important thing. It is said, “Before Awakening, one practices; after Awakening, one practices.” In other words, no matter what, keep practicing.
Awakening is not the end of practice; Awakening is the confirmation that the practice works. Awakening solidifies our confidence in Dharma practice. We understand that when done sincerely, a beginner’s practice is as valuable and meaningful as that of an experienced practitioner. The greater our maturity with practice, the more often and more confidently we can begin afresh, always ready to keep practicing.
The key to Dharma confidence (saddha) is trusting the wholesomeness of the mind. Wholesomeness arises from the mental states—traditionally referred to as “beautiful”—nourishing and cleansing the mind and heart. These are states rooted in generosity, goodwill, and wisdom. With confidence in the mind’s wholesome activities, we will do what it takes to refrain from acting on the unwholesomeness that muddies the mind. When there is a clear choice between what is unwholesome or what is wholesome, Dharma practice chooses the wholesome. This is a choice to keep practicing.
When we have insight into the pain of unwholesome mind states on the one hand, and the happiness and peace of wholesome states on the other, our confidence in the wholesome grows. Discovering how wholesome states of mind lead to greater happiness builds this confidence further. When our Dharma practice is rooted in wholesomeness, it is natural to want to keep practicing.
A traditional simile for Dharma confidence likens it to a magic gem that, dropped into muddy water, turns the water clear. Similarly, our doubts, anxieties, and agitation settle when our confidence is strong and the mind becomes clear. This transformation happens because confidence in Dharma practice introduces safety, peace, and a clear purpose into the mind. It is a reassuring confidence. We know we have a trustworthy path to keep practicing.
Dharma confidence is a force that motivates our practice. When we have strayed, it brings us back. When we are back, it keeps us going. When we keep practicing, we discover its personal benefits. This, in turn, transforms confidence into peaceful clarity (pasada) and verified faith (avecca pasada). Our motivation also becomes peaceful, less interested in dramatic results than in the steady, ongoing continuity of Dharma practice. We have an embodied momentum to keep practicing.
Dharma confidence is like a ship’s ballast that keeps the boat afloat. Waves and wind may list the boat sideways, but the ballast always returns the vessel to its straight and upright position in the water. Similarly, while the waves and winds of life may toss us about, we won’t capsize when we’re rooted in Dharma confidence. When tilting too far for or against, we will return to being steady and upright. To find this balance, keep practicing.
Dharma confidence doesn’t necessarily eliminate fear. It does, instead, prevent our fears from unduly influencing us. Despite our anxieties, insecurities, and trepidations, it encourages us to “keep practicing” in the midst of our fears. Fears stop being obstacles: rooted in fearless practice, we keep practicing.
One of the great gifts of Dharma practice is the dedication to continue doing it. This dedication is especially the case when the practice becomes the center of our life. Other things don’t then have to become less important than they are. Dharma practice becomes more central because it benefits all other valuable parts of our life. We relate to everything from our deepest wellsprings of freedom and profound care.
We pay back the gift of the Dharma by allowing our confidence to keep us practicing. In time, it is a confidence by which we become free in ourselves and compassionate to others. In the language of the Buddha, we are no longer “dependent on others” (aparapaccaya) but capable of “service to others” (parakamma).
When we keep practicing, we become fearless in the Dharma.
When we become fearless in the Dharma, we keep practicing.
When we are confident in this mutually reinforcing cycle
We turn the Dharma Wheel.