As a westerner that self-identifies as Buddhist, I have struggled to understand the role of belief in Buddhist practice. In my culture, we are more familiar with the Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity, Islam) for which what one believes is central to the religion.

So, what if I choose to believe that nobody can be enlightened, therefore the Buddha was not enlightened? This question goes for other Buddhist concepts like karma too.

  • 1
    Buddhism is about come and see through wisdom not come and believe. Commented Mar 23, 2017 at 15:17

14 Answers 14


You don't need to believe anything in Buddhism, but a little faith can give you a boost in your practice. It would certainly be difficult to progress if you had no sense that the people teaching you knew what they were talking about.

But in the end, a good teacher will just tell you "This is the path to enlightenment", rather than "I am enlightened", and leave it up to you to discover the veracity of their claim.

Certainly, once you practice according to the Buddha's teaching, you will gain understanding about reality that will allow you to verify that karma and enlightenment are very real.

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    Thanks to ven. Yuttadhammo for the correct answer. I would just like to point out that ven. Yuttadhammo's answer is from Theravada's point of view. In other traditions, such as Pure Land, faith is of central importance - and in some subsects - it's even the final goal of this life (in Jodo Shinshu - attaining the true mind of entrusting / faith is the highest achievement for a practitioner of these Latter Ages).
    – Methexis
    Commented Jun 18, 2014 at 16:08
  • Definitely, Buddhism requires belief in some things, for example in rebirth and karma. Do not believing in it or believing contrary to it would be wrong view, which is unwholesome deed.
    – catpnosis
    Commented Jun 19, 2014 at 18:56
  • I believe the Pali word of relevance here is saddha which might be better translated as "confidence". Like Yuttadhammo suggested, it wouldn't be productive to sit in a classroom listening to a teacher whom you had absolutely no confidence in. Your mind just wouldn't be receptive. Commented Mar 30, 2015 at 0:11
  • @catpnosis It would be more accurate to say the Eightfold Path of practice leads to, amongst other things, right view. Right View is definitely not a minimum requirement to be accepted into any (decent) Buddhist community. Commented Mar 30, 2015 at 0:15

The role of belief is that you should be believe in the practice enough to give it a fair trial.

If you do not believe in the technique to at least some extent you will not practice it seriously to get results. Or even try it out at least.

Once you see the results your faith in the technique is re enforced.

So the belief should be resultant of seeing the results for your self and not out of blind faith.

That is faith should be balanced with wisdom.

  • +1 This is in part how I see it too. Is it necessary to believe that lifting weights will make your muscles bigger? Well, no, you don't have to believe it. But you're not likely to lift weights unless you do believe it. I'm sure others would say there's even more to it than that, but for me it's enough to be getting on with for the time being.
    – tkp
    Commented Jul 2, 2014 at 23:42

In the scriptures of the Pali Tipiṭaka the Buddha quite frequently talks of saddhā, Sanskrit śraddhā, which means "faith, trust, confidence" and a host of other things. This is sometimes identified with the first link of the Noble Eightfold Path, sammā diṭṭhi, Sanskrit samyagdṛṣṭi.

The interpretation goes mostly in this direction: since ignorance is a condition of the samsaric life, people who are not enlightened have difficulty seeing the path to enlightenment, since all kinds of attachments interfere. Therefore, a being may put its trust in the teaching of the Buddha and start on the Noble Eightfold Path. From a certain stage onwards, indeed, with increasing insight in to the true nature of things, this initial trust is no more needed and that being can by itself discern the truth, the dhamma, the teaching of the Buddha.

Note, that śraddhā is already a Vedic terminus.


In addition to the above answers, although it is not direct answer, you could find very profound teaching around the same area in "Kalama sutta". The people in the city Kalama asked Buddha, what to believe and who to believe.

Buddha stated don't go by legends, by traditions, by scripture, by logical conjecture, by inference, by analogies, by agreement through pondering views, by probability, or by the thought, 'This contemplative is our teacher.'

When you know for yourselves that, 'These qualities are unskillful; these qualities are blameworthy; these qualities are criticized by the wise; these qualities, when adopted & carried out, lead to harm & to suffering', then you should abandon them.



Belief, as considering something you can't perceive as existent, isn't taught in Buddhism. I would risk myself saying that it just creates illusion.

Then there is something similar - faith. But in Buddhism it is more to trust in a teaching, than believing. We are used to use thought to solve all problems, so sometimes we need a "leap of faith" to take an action instead of keep fiddling on thoughts.

I prefer it as determination, an attitude that bypasses thought and creates action (even if it is in the mind level).


If you choose to believe nobody can ever be enlightened, like you said, then it's impossible to walk the Buddhist path. Can you at least allow for the possibility that enlightenment could exist? Just allowing that possibility is enough to start with. But if you dogmatically assert that enlightenment cannot exist, then there's no point to practice. It's like saying "There is no God - can I still be a Christian?" -

Faith in Mahayana Buddhism has a central role:

We say that unsurpassed awakening [bodhi] has faith as its cause. The causes of awakening are innumerable, but if stated as faith, this covers everything. (Nirvana Sutra)

But faith has to be balanced with understanding and insight (otherwise it can become blind fanaticism):

If a person does not possess faith and insight, such a person increases his ignorance. If a person possesses insight, but not faith, such a person will increase [his or her] distorted views. ... A person who has no faith will say, out of an angry mind: "There cannot be any Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha!"


An answer to this would be just as the following:

If you can "wake up in the morning with full energy, eat when you feel hungry, be able to pass the bowels when needed and sleep when the night falls and when you feel tired" - you would have understood.

One might say, "What are you talking about? aren't those what we do every day?"

Not really.

We wake up in the morning thinking of yesterday, when someone said something unpleasant to us, something that should have been finished, how much did you pay for the meal in a restaurant where the waiter was rude (or nice, that you must come back), etc.

We eat thinking of work, the co-worker who we need to pay attention to because he might be doing something ulterior, the "for-loop" the fails from time to time, etc etc.

We sleep thinking of tomorrow or next week, our holiday plans, what to wear, "how humiliated I was, when that Jack pulled a trick on me trying to impress the girl I try to get a date with", etc etc.

So, what is the role belief? As mentioned, one doesn't need to believe in anything. There is no form. It is not the incense you burn or the perfectly cut rose wood that you set up in your home that make you a Buddhist, or how much you argumentatively "win" in a conversation with others about life or how many temples you have visited, etc etc.

As time goes by, and when the understanding is obtained, you lose the sense of "self" and thus "you". You mentioned Western and so I would take the freedom on making a comment correspondingly - in western culture, the "I" is huge, the "form" is more important and the "steps" must be followed sequentially (science) and the "things" must be studied and proven by mathematics and seen under the microscope; this is the only barrier I have experienced when one is learning to walk the path towards Buddhism.

What I have learnt is:

Observing. Learn how to observe yourself and the nature. If one can do something that is truly beneficial to other beings and livelihood that is not based on "self", it would be a good first step attained.


Belief is important in Buddhism. There is good dharma for belief called shraddha, and there is bad dharma opposite to belief, which is doubt in the right teaching, it's called vicikitsa.

Some people will tell that you don't need to believe in Buddhism in anything. This is wrong.

We can not directly know rebirth or working of karma, but this knowledge is important basic right view. We can only uphold this right view with belief. If we don't uphold this view, this is wrong view, and it's unwholesome deed (and cause of other bad deeds) resulting in accumulation of demerit.

And from gnoseological point of view, belief is important mental factor in learning. You need to believe teacher to learn, it can not be otherwise. You can not be skeptical (or otherwise dislike given knowledge) to learn in in a good way.

Difference with Abrahamic religions is that you should not just rely on single belief as most important thing, you need also to learn and acquire direct knowledge.


I think 'Shradda' can be easily misunderstood by many people. As an example, I think it is the belief you acquire by understanding something. As an example, if you understand Newton's first law, you start believing it. That is the shardda on Newton's first law. I believe you need to have a very 'CLEAR MIND' when you start to learn a Buddhist theory. Thus, you will understand and start believing it. That is the right way of acquiring 'Shradda'.


My response came above against your curiousity. A belief.

Buddhism is a set of understanding, belief and teaching. Being a student/learner ,it is very important to have Faith in what you are doing, but being a step-taker it is all about strengthening your faith which means you are now all set to set a belief. Everything we read and get from other's (even buddha's life incidents) is a part of reality for now (this present). UNDERSTANDING all that the way it was supposed by THE TEACHER is THE FAITH. Acting as per that is about reincarnation, that's THE BELIEF. Having an urge that you still need to learn more, Beyond all of you and your knowledge and practice. But There's and here will always be something that can compel you to go beyond all these, your past. That something is you. Your kind mind. Buddhism isn't about attaining Nirvana and beyond that. It is just a WAY OF LIVING. All is on you 'what you ask to yourself when you are conscious ?

  • Sorry jitin, I cannot understand this answer.
    – Anthony
    Commented Mar 8, 2015 at 16:31

"Believe" is actually the most required prerequisite, not only to listen to the Dhamma but also to put an effort to get results you are not able to know for now: Suffering - Believe and the key out of it.

In contradiction to maybe dealers in Dhamma, who make people believe that no believe is required, you may also look into the questions of King Milinda who have been answered very wisely, for example: ‘And how is aspiration the mark of faith?’

In the case one would say:

But in the end, a good teacher will just tell you "This is the path to enlightenment", rather than "I am enlightened", and leave it up to you to discover the veracity of their claim.

He would actually say that the Buddha was not a good teacher, since there have been lot of occasions, where he simply used the fact that he is awakened (and made people believe so) "The Tathagata is worthy and rightly Self-Awakend" even had no other change as to argue in this way.

Not to speak, how could one say "this is the path to enlightenment" without neither knowing by him self, or have strong believe.

So it's for no purpose to make people in doubt believe that there doubts are even more of value as saddha, does it make people believe that one does not cheat? And does it actually or not, given of what the Buddha taught.


The central tenet I have found from most belief sets has been "what must be done to make you think of others before yourself". I see that Buddhism is no different here. To that extent faith would be very helpful.

But as others have noted faith is not necessary. From a laymen's perspective there are many logical reasons to select the Buddhist path. The actual, mechanical concept of karma (vice retributional) being a prime example.

Our goal as humans is to interact with trust. As Buddhists it is to assist others in finding enlightenment (Shinshu pledge) and our eventual goal as 3rd dimensional creatures is to break these bonds of rebirth and pierce the veil to the next dimension so we wont be bound by time.


A beginner should believe (have faith) that the practice (Path) is functional, that is all.


let us think upon what is belief/saddha,trust etc etc?----it is attained by two ways. First all of us have carried out experiments in science lab in our schools. i am not talking about the higher education/college etc bcs we change our branches i. some one chooses economics, where no relation to experiments in lab and like wise. So in our schools during our science practicals ,the teacher comes he instruct us, take that blue litmus and dip in that solution . we dip, the colour is changed to red.same thing goes on for red litmus. we write in the conclusion column of our journal . such and such litmus turns blue/red in such and such solution.If any one comes and say no your conclusion is wrong . we argue with him ,i have seen it my own eyes,how can you say so?. This is the faith/trust saddha arrived after carrying out the experiment by ourselves and seeing the results then and there. In this what we have done ? . prior to start of the experiment there was no any conclusion. we simply have obeyed the instruction of our science teacher and met with the truth of the changing of colour of litmus.After this we have developed faith on that particular phenomenon. The other method of attaining faith/saddha,trust/belief is just following blindly without seeing /experiencing by our own the truth of any phenomenon initially. Belief is also what? it is just blind following of something which is propagated in scriptures,said by wise etc etc. In this type of belief the danger is that the belief shatters when something goes wrong,against the propagated outcomes gained after keeping faith,belief,trust. So the only way is start following the instructions of science teacher without prerequisite of belief/faith/saddha and after seeing /experiencing by your ,. ownself. the experienced conclusion after the experiment will take you in deep and deep into the truth irrespective of your belief/faith/sadha /trust. having faith.belief,saddha is of no use. you have to experiment yourself anf see the truth. there will be no option but to believe the truth. In school, there is need to pass the exam, go in higher grade, gain marks which makes us remain present in the science lab though we wish it or not. But in real life ,there is no any higher grade to obtain,gain marks,pass the exam. Then what it will make us to remain present in lab and do the experiment?. No in any happy happy goody goody situation no we do it. But as life is a great teacher, it will bring in the situations when you will think of doing the experiments. Then that will be the start of the journey. very rare is anybody having interest/desire/curiosity about dhamma,enlightenment,liberation. So just pray, that situation comes early.

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