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Why Trust the Buddha?

“Suffering, as a noble truth, is this: Birth is suffering, ageing is suffering, sickness is suffering, death is suffering, sorrow and lamentation, pain, grief and despair are suffering; association with the loathed is suffering, dissociation from the loved is suffering, not to get what one wants is suffering…” – The Buddha [1]


The idea of an omniscient, loving creator has never sat well with me. Try as I might, I just can’t reconcile the existence of an entity said to be personally responsible for the existence of predators and prey in a universe of unceasing creation and destruction, and I’ve yet to hear a convincing justification for such a state of affairs from any of the world’s religious representatives. Not sitting well with me either is the opposite extreme view of a random and meaningless universe emerging from nothing; this is the current orthodoxy frequently championed by humanist scientists and philosophers, who appear not to notice the irony when they speak so eloquently on the beauty of nature and humankind’s progressive mastery of it.

Such arrogance on both sides is all the more striking when compared against the Buddha’s humility. So far as I know, the Buddha was unique among spiritual leaders in refusing to speculate on the origins of the universe. He refrained from answering metaphysical questions like, is the cosmos eternal or infinite? Are body and soul the same or different? Does an enlightened being exist after death or not? When pressed, the Buddha explains that any answer to these and other such questions would necessarily be speculative and result not in peaceful awakening but in confusion and suffering. [2]

The Buddha’s claim that all sentient beings experience suffering resonates loud and clear. One could spend a lifetime reading all that has been written on what the Buddha thought and taught, but for me it’s enough to see that stresses and anxieties arise from deluded attachments, and freedom from suffering lies in relinquishing all that I wrongly cherish.  The very fact that body and mind, wealth and status, friends and relatives, etc. are all impermanent means they are beyond my control, not belonging to me, not my true ‘self’. But my ingrained habit is to cling to these things in the erroneous belief that they can insulate me from the vagaries of an uncertain world. Deluded clinging leads to unskillful action that perpetuates suffering.

Old habits die hard. The Buddha’s cure for suffering – the Noble Eigtfold Path – doesn’t actually suppress or get rid of the primal urges (arousal, fear, aggression, hunger, etc.) that have resulted in each and every one of us being here right now. However, by gradually breaking down the culturally conditioned responses and deeply rooted attachments of a lifetime the Buddha’s advice does enable a more wholesome way of relating to these entirely natural energies.

Early followers of the Buddha adopted the custom of taking “refuge” in Buddha (the enlightened one; the inspiration for practice), Dhamma (the teachings of Buddha; the way things actually are) and Sangha (the community of ordained monks and nuns; everyone who has studied and practiced to the point of developing trust or confidence in the Buddha – i.e. “Stream-enterers”). All three are traditionally referred to as the “Triple Gem” and viewed as equally important. [3]

My experience is that trust or confidence in the Buddha develops gradually as one practices awareness of Dhamma. Going for refuge isn’t a matter of offering prayers to the Buddha and expecting him to grant salvation.  Trusting in Buddha is nothing at all to do with blind faith or unfounded belief in dogmas. Trusting in Buddha is an attitude of patient acceptance through mindfulness of reality, here and now. Trusting in Buddha is trusting intuitive awareness more and relying less on conventional beliefs, role models, and authorities to resolve life issues.

Paul Lockey

May there be freedom from delusion, greed and hatred.
May all noble dreams come true.




[1]  “Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta: Setting Rolling the Wheel of Truth” (Samyutta Nikaya 56.11), translated from the Pali by Ñanamoli Thera. Access to Insight (BCBS Edition), 13 June 2010.

[2] “Aggi-Vacchagotta Sutta: To Vacchagotta on Fire” (MN 72), translated from the Pali by Thanissaro Bhikkhu. Access to Insight (BCBS Edition), 30 November 2013.

[3] “Refuge: An Introduction to the Buddha, Dhamma, & Sangha”, by Thanissaro Bhikkhu. Access to Insight (Legacy Edition), 30 November 2013.