Master of Arts
Douglas L. Berger
AN ABSTRACT OF THE RESEARCH PAPER OF
Odessa Katrine Colombo, for the Masters of Arts degree in PHILOSOPHY, presented on MAY 3, 2011, at Southern Illinois University Carbondale.
TITLE: AN ACT OF FAITH
MAJOR PROFESSOR: Dr. Douglas L. Berger
The purpose of this work is to examine the act of faith in three different texts: The Bhagavad Gita, Fear and Trembling, and Shobogenzo. I argue that karma-yoga, commitment, and zazen are each an activity of faith that adheres to an authentic experience of existence. Each individual must choose and enact what to believe as there are no universal rules to help make that decision. We are creators of our own reality to a certain extent by the beliefs that we hold. We are confronted with freedom of choice at every moment, regardless whether we are aware of it as a choice or not. We experience dread the moment we are fully aware of our own doubt in the uncertainty of a choice. This dread or anxiety from uncertainty is expressed in our emotions of despair that manifests in a crisis of faith. A crisis of faith is an experience of doubt that arises from conflicting beliefs and duties. When beliefs conflict, acceptance fails, and no reason is sufficient to compel the acceptance of one alternative over another. In the experience of doubt an inability to act may arise from the recognition that each act is a responsibility and the sheer terror of this is an existential crisis. The experience of an existential crisis confronts us to choose an act of a course of living in full awareness that we are ultimately responsible for our choice and the meaning of our experiences. This leads us to the question of faith and whether it concerns our actions of ‘what one should do’ or if it concerns knowledge of ‘what one should be’ or both. I propose that the unity of doing and being in living an authentic life is an expression of wisdom. This is the most authentic life because we are completely responsible for the choices that we make, and making them leads to enactment and so defines who one is. Therefore, in human experience, the activity of faith is a spiritual condition of existence.
In the first chapter I present an exposition of faith in The Bhagavad Gita to examine a metaphysical conception of faith. I discuss Arjuna’s existential crisis of faith and Krishna’s advice to determine whether faith is an activity, knowledge or consists of both. Krishna confirms that faith is a metaphysical conception because each being in existence shares a spiritual condition. It turns out that this spiritual condition is an act of faith in itself. And it appears that this is a revelatory account of faith since it is a metaphysical condition of existence. However, I argue that this account of faith is a knowledge that requires a choice to act in accordance with one’s specifically incarnated reality. The metaphysical condition constitutes a disposition towards action. Yet, there is a distinction between disciplined and undisciplined action. A disciplined action is a skill that is free from all attachments and the practice of this skill is karma-yoga. So then, karma-yoga is an activity of faith that consists of both being and doing. The unity of doing and being in living an authentic life is an expression of wisdom.
In the second chapter I expound a paradox of faith in Soren Kierkegaard’s Fear and Trembling. This text discusses the religious life and the choice of a religious life without any absolutes or guides. Kierkegaard believes that faith must be rooted in personal experience where the individual is free to choose such that the act of faith is a commitment without reason. We have to make a choice without knowing if it is the correct one and so it is ‘a leap of faith.’ This leap is risky and irrational because there is no knowledge or evidence to support the act of faith. Kierkegaard illustrates this free choice of the individual in the exemplar of Abraham, the father of faith in the Bible. Free choice is an existential condition and as such the act of faith is an individual choice regardless if it originates a blind belief. As an individual we realize with anxiety that any choice we make is arbitrary. The act of faith as an irrational jump into the uncertainty of existence requires a commitment. This commitment is an activity of faith because it is marked by a passion to live in adherence to experience. This is the most authentic life because we are completely responsible for the choices that we make and the choice defines who one is.
In the third chapter I explicate Dogen’s analysis of the 'eternal mirror' in chapter twenty of Shobogenzo Book I and how he re-creates the notion of the “eternal mirror” as a symbolic expression of the mind in a unified activity of zazen. Dogen synthesizes both abstract thought and concrete existence in the harmony of body and mind. The harmony of body and mind is the capacity of intuition and the practice of this intuition is wisdom that is expressed in faith. The practice of zazen is faith itself because the authenticity of practice comes from original enlightenment that is intertwined with faith in the unitary activity of thought and experience made in a choice of self fulfillment. Thus, zazen is an activity of faith that expresses the wisdom of an authentic life.