Faith is an emotional connection, with someone or something of religious affiliations. Or it could mean a connection with someone or something in a secular sense, as well. Religious faith is transcendental, and promotes unquestioning devotion while secular faith is derived from the testing the waters and then developing faith, or better put, confidence as a result. Confidence, in this way, allows for greater openness to what the Buddha’s teachings bring. Religious faith leads to practicing blind rituals (silabbataparamasa) where one believes, salvation lies.
As a practitioner cannot know right from the start if they can face deeper challenges in the Path, confidence or saddha allows one to take up the those challenges, in good faith. It is said in the commentary, that those with faith have little intelligence, and vice versa. This likely to be referring to religious or ‘faith without evidence’, and perhaps referring to the suggestibility, in such a person. Stream entry (or Sotapatti) is the first milestone where faith plays a significant role, in breaking the fetters (samyojana), for reaching nibbana. The first steps of faith-follower and dhamma-follower lead up to stream entry. It shows the significance of faith in developing insight into the dhamma, and also shows how ego, disturbs the path into insight, as it sides with ignorance (avijja), which then shows up as lack of faith. The meditator will then have to take a longer trek in to insight. Faith’s real contribution, in reaching nibbana, is overcoming doubt, accepting what is presented the meditator, in their meditation and being a wholesome mental state, clearing the mind of the hindrances like cravings, aversions, restlessness, regret, drowsiness, laziness and doubt (the five hindrances). If disbelieving some may not want to accept, that what is arising is not ‘self’ and that everything in the world is just fleeting phenomena. This maybe an issue if someone is strongly wedded to the idea of a Soul or Creation in Christianity.
Insight meditation takes a deep look into the true nature of existence, and only see rapid arising and passing away of fleeting experiences. This can be delightful, if prepared or difficult, if the mind is unprepared, through instructions. Part of the preparation is that they are expected to practice contemplations which increase faith in the Buddha, dhamma and Sangha, the triple gem. It’s also practiced during the process of developing insight.
Those ‘released through insight’, upon attaining stream entry, are given a specific name: saddhavimutta. Going further, in to the path faith is said to increases along with the five faculties of faith, effort, mindfulness, unification of mind, and insight. The faculty (indriya) of faith becomes the power (bala) of faith. It can allow the meditator to even overcome all bonds to lay life, become ordained and nourish him till he reaches full enlightenment. The person who reaches full enlightenment, the arahanth, has developed great insight with all delusion about the world discarded. He doesn’t believe in beings, but sees only aggregates, sense bases and elements. How to have faith in those? He fully understands the true nature of ‘teachers’, ‘the teachings’ and ‘the student’ and sees theIr conventional nature and that in ultimate reality these are merely fleeting phenomena, and are ultimately unsatisfying. The word ‘faithless’ or ‘assaddhaka’ is used, for Arahants, in this context.
The path begins it is said, in the Upanissa sutta when someone who has suffered, seeks a teacher and finding one, listens to them and faith is born.