The Importance of Confidence in Buddhist Practice

“Confidence is needed in order to align yourself with the heart-essence and its three qualities of openness, clarity and sensitivity. Sometimes in Buddhism it is called faith, but really it is a kind of confidence that there is the ‘heart’ of openness, clarity and sensitivity to be discovered in our being. Buddhism teaches that it is there in its completeness to be recognised, and to be relied on. It is something that we can take refuge in.

This reality is often described as non-conditioned. Non-conditioned in this context means that it is not something that comes into existence at some point in time and somehow exists as an object of awareness that can be grasped or pinned down as this or that. Everything of this nature that we habitually grasp onto in this way turns out to be an illusion when looked at more closely.

Samsara means what is created by the apparent coming together of various causes and conditions. As those apparent causes and conditions change, what is apparently created by them changes. Since time is always passing, change is constantly in process. Samsaric phenomena are therefore inherently unstable and unreliable, yet we continually invest in them emotionally as if they were stable, solid and real.

Intellectually this is all very obvious, but that does not mean it is easy to accept the full implications of this emotionally. Whatever it is we’re looking for in life, be it security, a partner, or fulfillment of some kind or another, whatever we might think could be a refuge making our life feel safe, good and worthwhile, is conditioned and liable to change – that would be samsara, constructed, unreliable and if grasped at, the cause of suffering.

In the Living the Awakened Heart Training course, we are looking for and seeking to relate to something that is not samsara, not constructed, not coming into apparent existence or formed from apparently existing conditions.

We are looking for something stable, reliable, and worthwhile that is always present. This would be something we could take refuge in. Buddhism calls that we are seeking our ‘Indestructible Heart Essence’ – the very essence of our being.

If we learn to trust that and to rely on that, then we have something that takes us through life and what is more, it would by definition take us through death. We are moving always towards a true stability, a true security, a true happiness that isn’t going to fall away or fail us.

At first there is a sense in which the heart essence itself seems unstable, because we are not yet sure it is really there. The training is designed to help us return again and again to the point where we recognise that we are never away from the three qualities that constitute the heart essence, they are indestructible. The hope is that at some point we will latch onto this and and start to feel that there is maybe something in it.

This is the beginning of the special kind of confidence. It is the confidence to question and investigate; to poke into dark corners, pull the rugs out from under long cherished assumptions. The process of developing that kind of confidence is the process of aligning yourself with something that is not going to let you down.

It is the confidence that you have the clarity to understand your experience. It is the openness to be able to let go of preconceived ideas, to let go into that deeper understanding. It is the sensitivity to be able to appreciate the quality of that and to respond. That is the beginning to have confidence in your own heart essence.”

Lama Shenpen Hookham

From the Discovering the Heart of Buddhism ‘Course Companion’ book, given to all students of the Living the Awakened Heart Training. Find out more about the training here.