What do we trust in?

“What do we trust in?” is a pinnacle spiritual question. In order to surrender, or let go of control by our so-called mind and “I”, we have to trust in something. What is it that we surrender to? I’ve noticed in my teaching life, that when I ask people about trust, often I hit on a stumbling block with a blank stare looking back at me. Often people say, “I can’t trust, or I don’t know how to trust, or that’s my problem.”

Well, it’s pretty obvious to most of us that we can’t entirely trust in the world, in people and in appearances. The world of appearances is filled with the three poisons of greed, anger and ignorance. Sometimes, our closest people have betrayed us. The world as it appears in conditioned reality and ordinary life, is filled with unpredictable and often unexplainable occurrences that definitely go against how we wish things would be. Because of our unfulfilled desires, we suffer. When I was teaching recently at the prison sangha, The Unpolished Diamond Sangha, one man laughed at me and said, “You might be able to trust out there, but in here, that’s seems almost impossible. There is almost nothing and no one that can be trusted.” That has stuck with me. How to respond to that? Is there something unconditioned that we can trust in?

Katagiri Roshi often said, “We are living in peace and harmony.” How can he say that when in reading the paper every day or watching TV or online, we can see war, poverty, disease and natural disasters at any moment and everywhere we turn. How can we say that when often our own lives feel very out-of-control and filled with distress? At that moment, is there something we can trust in?

Buddhist practice has a lot to teach right there at that moment of questioning. In order to trust, we have to find a connection with the perspective of life that is larger than our personal desire systems. We have to feel connected with peace and harmony, or the total dynamic working of the universe, or universal perspective. We know that things are working in that largest sense. The sun rises in the east and sets in the west every day. Our hearts are continuously pumping, our neurological system is working underneath our consciousness in every moment. Astronomy or any of the sciences really points to the incredible mystery of life that is working in peace and harmony underneath the surface conditions of our human stories. 

In order for a human being to cultivate trust and the ability to let go, we have to stay connected to this harmony that is beneath the appearance of things. We do this in Buddhist practice by stopping, pausing, and reconnecting to universal consciousness or the Big Mind as Dogen sometimes calls it. This is hard to do. We can deepen our understanding of this underlying harmony through meditation practice and through mindfulness practices; of stopping, interrupted our storylines, and reconnecting to that which is continuously working.

This is the meaning of taking refuge. I take refuge in Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. Often I translate this as, I trust in Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha. I can let go of my desire system’s manipulations for the so-called right outcome according to ME. I can return to trusting in something larger than myself; cultivating interconnectedness and feeling absorbed by the larger harmony.

We can cultivate in ourselves:

  • Trusting in the process of our awareness and attention
  • Trusting that I am Buddha
  • Trusting universal functioning or basic goodness
  • Trusting the “knowing quality of the mind” – that part of our mind that is connected to universal functioning, to DNA, to our intuition.
  • Trusting in cause and effect. We can take good care of the smallest seeds of wholesomeness. Being devoted to taking care of the wholesome seeds, we can trust that there will be a wholesome result, sooner or later.

This requires moments of quiet and contemplation in order to reconnect. These pauses can be a moment of conscious breathing to a longer meditation period. Without these interruptions in the stream of the activities of life, the momentum of the stories are too strong to break through. So, we practice, interrupting the stream of appearances and reconnecting with silence and the universal harmony. This is the practice of letting go and trusting, of taking refuge.