I am often asked what I see as the difference between ‘faith’ and ‘belief’.”
Though in common parlance we often find these terms used interchangeably, technically these terms point to very different things.
Belief in a thing may be unfounded. Faith, on the other hand, is founded upon the experience that when certain conditions are met, inevitably (of itself) there will manifest a result.
The deep religious faith of Shinran, however, is founded upon his realization that compassion, by its very definition, requires no pre-condition whatsoever for its functioning. True compassion, Shinran perceived (with a clarity rare even amongst those of the highest order of religious experience), must necessarily be unconditioned and absolute.
One may start on the Pure Land path from belief — having heard of the causal seed of the compassionate primal vow of DharmaKara Bodhisattva and the fruit of its fulfilment in the welcoming of all people, without judgement, into Amida‘s Pure Land and their consequent attainment of Buddhahood for the benefit of all beings. This is the most common way to enter into Jodo Shinshu, from belief (as yet unfounded in experience) in the underlying reality of this teaching-story as revealed in the three Pure Land Sutras.
Certain other persons, however, may have never even heard of Dharmakara Bodhisattva, Amida Buddha or the Pure Land and yet may enter into this tradition directly by means of faith (true entrusting) arising from the experience of the fundamental futility of self-willed endeavors, the illusory nature of our sense of having a self that is unique, discrete, independent and competent to know and do good, simultaneous with the perception and acceptance of the universal availability, perfect wisdom, complete efficacy and absolute compassion of Buddha-Nature which realization arises from deep-hearing of the name-that-calls.
Entrance into the Pure Land Path through belief, while common, is nevertheless provisional. In fact, it is in many ways related to those Buddhist practices of a self-willed and auxiliary nature, for it does not spring immediately from Faith (but arises, mediately, by fits and starts from belief and hope) and thus still requires effort on the part of the believer. Be that as it may, belief may very well precipitate true self-knowledge (ones utter inability to ‘know’ and ‘do’ good), followed by a sense of gratitude and joy for the qualities of Buddha-Nature as revealed by the Pure Land masters, leading ultimately to that moment when deep-hearing of the name-that-calls awakens faith in the absolute compassion of Amida Buddha and we, without calculation receive shinjin.
Entrance into the Pure Land Path through Faith, on the other hand, is uncommon, true and real. It is the foundation of the True Pure Land Path (JodoShinShu) for it springs immediately from direct experience of the universal availability, complete efficacy and absolute, unconditioned nature of the compassion of Amida Buddha (DharmaKaya, Buddha-Nature).
The primary difference between the person of faith (true entrusting, shinjin) and the person of belief, is that the person of faith, having directly experienced the reality of the absolute and unconditioned nature of compassion, perceives quite clearly that there is no difference in the ultimate fate of persons of faith and those of belief … or even those of unbelief. Ultimately, all are embraced by the primal vow, never to be abandoned.