Starting on 28th June we have a five day retreat on the topic of Anshin. In preparation, I'd like to say a bit about the topic here.

The term anshin is Japanese. It is commonly translated as 'settled faith'. As such it is one of several forms or aspects of 'faith'. Other aspects are shinjin, bodaishin, and another for which I do not know the Japanese term, but which, in the language of India is called abhilasa. Each of these is worth a teaching in its own right, but we can briefly define them as follows.

Dawning Trust

Shinjin is the dawning of trust, the opening of the heart. It involves a 'turning around'  or change of heart, often springing from contrition or inspiration or a juxtaposition of the two.We can think of Shakyamuni seeing the 'Four Sights'. In such an awakening one is seized by new light and/or driven by a sense of having gone astray but seeing new possibility and feeling new verve. in a sense, and sometimes literally, shinjin precedes anshin and can be its foundation. Then we can say that anshin is the maturing of shinjin.

Faith in Action

Abhilasa and bodaishin can be thought of as flowing from anshin and so as being subsequent, at least in a logical sense. Abhilasa is something like 'willingness', the willingness to do whatever is for the general good. Bodaishin is really the mind of enlightenment, or, at least the condition of heart that conduces to it, sometimes called 'the Way-seeking mind', a great compassion toward all sentient beings. So we can understand anshin as nested within these wonderful spiritual qualities. When we call out toward what is sacred to us, that calling is truly spiritual if and when it is touched by such qualities. These are what we worship and aspire toward, hoping that they will be granted to us, will bless us and hold us. This is what we pray for. 

Although I have described them somewhat as a sequence in the last paragraph, all these dimensions of 'faith' really function together. They are its modes or moods. Insofar as one's life is grounded in faith, at any one time one or other of these aspects will be showing.

Trust in the Heart

'Faith' in Buddhism is perhaps not identical to faith in other religions, since here there is more emphasis upon a state of 'heart' or 'mind' and less on belief or assertion. Buddhism is not so much adherence to a creed and more a journey of exploration and grace, and faith, here, is the willingness to wholeheartedly entrust oneself to that journey irrespective of where it may take one. The obstacle is attachment. Faith is like letting go of the rail on the side of the swimming pool whereas attachment is like adding more and more rails. Soon the rails, that each seemed so necessary and fine, have become the bars of the cage in which one has ones limited existence. Inside one's cage one may read about the wonderful life of liberation, but it lies beyond one's reach.

Entering Upon the Path

Even if we manage to leave our cage, squeezing out between the bars and slipping away, we may still be bring some attaqchment with us. We may think that we are going to develop these qualities as personal characteristics, we are going to get and possess them, and (secretly hoping) be admired for them. They are going to displace the characteristics that have been given to us by our immemorial karmic history, most of which are nothing like so noble, and we shall then be more perfected beings. Such is the pride we carry into our spiritual life..

However, what we gradually or suddenly learn or realise is that it does not work quite like that. It is not really that any part of what we are is given up, but it all comes to be bathed in a new light. That light may be thought of in many ways - the light of the Buddhas, the Divine Light, the Light of Truth, whatever. This thing we call 'faith' that brings peace to us like a miracle, is not something we manufacture, nor own, but is a kind of grace that alights when we start to take ourselves less seriously.

To Know the Self is to Forget the Self

This diminishing seriousness is a function of familiarity. As we come to know ourselves better, to see ourselves more clearly, we perhaps start to realise that we are not actually as special as we always wanted to think we were. We find in ourselves much the same characteristics - good and bad - in varying degrees as we find in everybody else. Their joys and sorrows, pride and shame, anxiety and relief, peace and panic, are all rather similar to our own, and our own to theirs. As this obvious truth become real to us, much of the mesmerising fascination of our own story fades. It is not that it vanishes, but it becomes less compelling, less central to the meaning of life. A good example of how our attitude to our favourite self stories can change is given by Sujatin in her teaching yesterday.


When we start to recognise our common humanity more authentically, something deep within us relaxes. It is as if a cosmic grandmother had soothingly said to us, "It's alright." That is 'faith'. Realising that we are never going to be self-sufficiently perfect or self-justifying, whether in rightness, saintliness, victimhood, vengeful heroism, or whatever other role we might fall into, we start to rely upon something that is vaster, pervasive, and beyond our grasp. This 'realisation of alrightness' is shinjin. When it is established in an enduring way deep within us, that is anshin. When it expresses itself in action, that is abhilasa. When it transforms our perception of the world, that is bodaishin.

Such anshin faith provides a kind of bedrock in one's life that is independent of condition or circumstance, which is why it is called 'settled'. Although the vicissitudes of conditional existence in a world of impermanence continue, when one's heart has been touched in this way one can face whatever may come and not lose faith.

To Be Continued

Over the next few days I hope to say some more things about this subject from different perspectives.

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Namo Amida Bu ~ thank you for allowing those of us not able to attend this year, a glimpse into the summer retreat. Very helpful.


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