Looking for some help on the Buddhist perspective on the May ministry theme, devotion, I looked through the indexes of several Buddhist books, but none had a listing for devotion. It’s not a common topic. The dictionary defines devotion as a strong sense of love or loyalty. But Buddhism tells us to look closely, to question. Don’t believe anything just because I say it’s so, the Buddha said. Examine it for yourself and see if it’s true.
Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche says devotion is often characterized by a feeling of inadequacy, that we are less accomplished or less able than the object of devotion. There’s a sense of separation and distance. In tantric or Tibetan Buddhism practitioners cultivate devotion to a guru or a deity – but that’s really a way of seeing the qualities of the deity in themselves. Devotion to the guru or deity is a way of cutting through the ways we cling to a sense of having a separate self. It’s connected with surrender, one of our previous minis¬try themes.
Another way to look at devotion is as abiding or unwavering faith. Sharon Salzberg defines abiding faith as “the magnetic force of a bone-deep, lived understanding, one that draws on us to realize our ideals, walk our talk, and act in accord with what we know to be true.” (“Faith: Trusting Your Own Deepest Experi¬ence” by Sharon Salzberg.)
For Buddhists, unwavering faith or devotion is related to buddhanature, that which has inherent worth and dignity, that which is innately compassionate and kind. “Unwavering faith knows to call upon the trustworthy earth of our own nature,” Salzberg writes. Devotion to our own potential for waking up leads us to see that in others, to feel compassion for others, and to want to help them.
The dictionary offers a second definition of devotion: “the use of time, money, energy, etc., for a particular purpose.” In Buddhism that purpose is enlightenment or liberation from suffering. And all of life can be used toward that end. The way to do that is outlined in the Eightfold Path, which lays out practices for living life with wisdom, ethics, and contemplation.