you won’t believe what I don’t believe

March 20th, 2017

From time to time I’m asked this question: What do Buddhists believe? I like to respond that Buddhism requires no beliefs, but that’s rather hard to believe. And so I offer this.

I believe in love. Not the love that is the enemy of hate, but the love that has no enemies or rivals, no end and no beginning, no justification and no reason at all. Love and hate are completely unrelated and incomparable. Hate is born of human fear. Love is never born, which is to say, it is eternal and absolutely fearless. This love does not require my belief; it requires my practice.

I believe in truth. Not the truth that is investigated or exposed, interpreted or debated. But the truth that is revealed, inevitably and without a doubt, right in front of my eyes. All truth is self-revealed; it just doesn’t always appear as quickly or emphatically as I’d like it to. This truth does not require my belief; it requires my practice.

I believe in freedom. Not the freedom that is confined or decreed by ideology, but the freedom that is free of all confining impositions, definitions, expectations and doctrines. Not the freedom in whose name we tremble and fight, but the freedom that needs no defense. This freedom does not require my belief; it requires my practice.

I believe in justice. Not the justice that is deliberated or prosecuted; not that is weighed or measured or meted by my own corruptible self-interest. I believe in the unfailing precision of cause and effect, the universal and inviolable law of interdependence. It shows itself to me in my own suffering every single time I act with a savage hand, a greedy mind or a selfish thought. It shows itself in the state of the world, and the state of the mind, we each inhabit. This justice does not require my belief; it requires my practice.

I believe in peace. Not the peace that is a prize. Not the peace that can be won. There is no peace in victory; there is only lasting resentment, recrimination and pain. The peace I seek is the peace that surpasses all understanding. It is the peace that is always at hand when I empty my hand. No matter what you believe, this peace does not require belief, it requires practice.

I believe in wisdom. Not the wisdom that is imparted or achieved; not the wisdom sought or the wisdom gained. But the wisdom that we each already own as our birthright. The wisdom that manifests in our own clear minds and selfless hearts, and that we embody as love, truth, freedom, justice and peace. The wisdom that is practice.


I invite you to join me at an upcoming practice retreat this year. I know it is too far, too much, too long, too impossible to ask, and I understand. I just believe in asking.


  1. I love this explanation. I will refer to this when people ask me that same question.

    Of course, much can also be learned from questions.

    I have learned more by teaching the Dharma that I ever learned by studying it.


    Comment by TennZen — September 5, 2008 @ 9:19 pm

  2. This made me cry and I’m not sure why .. just so simple and honest and beautiful. Perfect. I could just imagine the cost and stress of trying to get to LA to a meditation retreat … but I bet it’d be worth it.

    You can sit and think about nothing in a Zen center and still be a good Mormon girl, right, no conflict of interests … right?

    Still teary eyed … your writing just touches my heart!

    Comment by Mrs. B. Roth — September 5, 2008 @ 9:31 pm

  3. I loved your comment. If I were wealthy, I would see that you got to go on the retreat. One day…

    Comment by Marilee Pittman — March 21, 2017 @ 12:49 pm

  4. one day…i will be there xo

    Comment by Wendy — September 6, 2008 @ 12:35 pm

  5. When I read this post, I thought of tens of thousands of self-help books fearful people buy every year, chasing happiness. Those can’t touch the problem, so they go back for more.

    But in a few clear, steady words you have articulated a reminder that our answers can only be found through silence and a look within.

    Well done.

    Comment by bluelikethesky — September 6, 2008 @ 1:39 pm

  6. thats beautiful!!!

    Comment by Ash — September 6, 2008 @ 3:18 pm

  7. I like this.

    Comment by Rowena — September 6, 2008 @ 5:16 pm

  8. I will be there in my own way!

    I love this post, could keep reading it over and over.

    I am taking refuge this month in Seattle. I invite you to be there!

    Comment by Mambinki — September 6, 2008 @ 6:12 pm

  9. So beautiful and thoughtful and soulful, Karen. Thanks for those clear and simple, yet profound and misunderstood definitions of those words that are so very overused these days. Thank you.

    Comment by GailNHB — September 6, 2008 @ 6:57 pm

  10. Someday. Maybe even today.

    Comment by Jena Strong — September 7, 2008 @ 2:21 am

  11. All I can say is:


    Comment by Stacy (mama-om) — September 7, 2008 @ 3:40 am

  12. This was heart stoppingly beautiful! Thank you. It is just what I needed today.

    Comment by Noreen — September 7, 2008 @ 3:59 am

  13. lovely thank you.
    I always quote the quaker testimonies:
    Integrity (or sometimes Truth)

    as values I live my life by. I loved your explanations too.

    Comment by Honey — September 7, 2008 @ 6:45 pm

  14. What a beautiful post.

    Comment by Shelli — September 7, 2008 @ 8:59 pm

  15. ohhhh, that is it. everything. so simple.

    Comment by denise — September 8, 2008 @ 7:15 pm

  16. My son and I were talking about beliefs last night – I will print this and leave it for him to read -this is lovely.

    Comment by Cat — September 9, 2008 @ 1:48 pm

  17. Someday I will be there!

    Comment by MojoMom — September 9, 2008 @ 4:45 pm

  18. I believe in beauty….and this is beauty.

    Comment by Alex — September 10, 2008 @ 9:41 am

  19. Lovely. I’ll have to remember this the next time someone tells me what I believe, as in “I read somewhere that Buddhists believe xyz…”

    Comment by Lorianne — March 20, 2017 @ 1:29 pm

  20. This is just simply beautiful. It IS too far and too much and too long and too
    impossible, which is exactly why I know that someday I will be there. Thank you for this today.

    Comment by Bonnie Rae — March 20, 2017 @ 5:47 pm

  21. I believe in gratitude. And today I’m grateful for every word here, and for you. I, too, will print this one out to return to often. Thank you for putting into words some things that I’ve never been able to articulate with clarity and for inspiring my own practice.

    Comment by Katrina Kenison — March 22, 2017 @ 5:53 am

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