Buddhism and Trust

A matter of Trust

Once, years ago, I had a discussion with a friend on the subject of trust. She described herself as a real Pollyanna and said she trusted people until they really let her down. I found this position ridiculous. I insisted that trust had to be earned, not given out like a gift certificate.

I haven’t found anything specifically written by Buddha about trusting others. Should trust be offered freely and with a totally open heart to anyone? Or should it be carefully regulated by the logic of a lifetime?

I, myself, had never been one to trust readily. In fact, for most of my life, very few people were allowed to pass my life-long defenses and join the short list of people I trusted. Generally, I expected the worst, and given how often I’d been disappointed, it still seemed to me a wise policy. I agreed with Shakespeare’s line “It’s a wonder men dare trust themselves.”

But when I became a Buddhist, my goal became to have a peaceful and happy life. Therefore, I was left with a large question…How can I have a peaceful life if I’m suspicious of everyone? By trusting people, I could probably improve myself in a spiritual sense. But this seemed at odds with my self preservation instincts, which warned me not to sit with my back to the door. It was a conundrum. Do I perfect myself or do I protect myself?

Two of the 10 life-states are learning and absorption. Learning is self development gained through experience with others and through sufficient reflection on life. Absorption is gaining insight and wisdom from intuition, taking in life on a visceral level.

So which of the two vessels should I sail on my course in life in? My experience or my instinctual insights? Which would the Buddha recommend? Which would be better for me? Should I unlock all the doors or should I remember the Alamo? If I go by what I’ve experienced, then I’d never turn my back on anyone ever again. But if I opened myself up to truly absorbing life, I could experience potential rewards that can only come with having an open heart and a trusting nature. This sounded tempting but how do I ignore the little devil on my other shoulder who says “Trust should be reserved for those who deserve it.” Is that a paranoid philosophy? Maybe so but as the saying goes “Just because you’re paranoid, doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you.”

When I finally opened myself up to trust, I was like a Cro-Magnon discovering fire. I was like someone leaving a cave and seeing the sun for the first time. It was frightening but also strangely liberating. It was nice to let my guard down for a change and feel safe with someone. I’d like to feel that more often but my battered instincts warn me that that just because ONE person earned my trust, does that mean I should blindly trust everyone? I have too many scars to take off my armor.

So where did that leave me? What should I do? Do I hunker down behind the castle walls, only inviting in those who bring me the Holy Grail? Or do I walk a high-wire over a bottomless pit of faith and fire, hoping no one cuts the line?

Personally, though my instincts still lean towards protecting myself, I know that it's a very limiting way to live, and a seeking spirit like myself needs to explore a larger universe. So I trust and I get hurt; but even in the hurting, I learn more about the world than I did when I hid behind the barricades.

Of course, it all has to be guided by wisdom and perspective. I wouldn't give a stranger my credit card number. But I've realized that there are times that you must take the risk if you want the reward. And so I trust people now more than I did. Do I get kicked more? Yes! But have I grown more than ever before? Yes, I have. It's a whole new world full of people; some trustworthy, some not. You just have to learn to be a little picky, without being paranoid.

I guess I’ll just have to have a little faith.

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Comments 16 comments

noturningback profile image

noturningback 5 years ago from Edgewater, MD. USA

In the words of George Santayana "those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it", although I have considered this then (before being a follower of the Way) and now,I don't dwell on it before taking a chance trusting in others now.

In the last several years I have been afforded many opportunities to look at myself through the eyes of others and I had plenty of second chances given to me by others.

Robwrite profile image

Robwrite 5 years ago from Bay Ridge Brooklyn NY Author

That's great, noturningback. Its a gift when you can see yourself through the eyes of others.

Thanks for reading and commenting.

Hello, hello, profile image

Hello, hello, 5 years ago from London, UK

This was a very interesting read and thank you bringing it to our attention.

Robwrite profile image

Robwrite 5 years ago from Bay Ridge Brooklyn NY Author

Thanks for the comment, HH.

Christopher Price profile image

Christopher Price 5 years ago from Vermont, USA

Disappointment can become enervating, draining and depressing. I applaud your valiant attempt to trust people, but I already trust...I trust them to act in their own self interest and I am seldom disappointed.

When I need to be reminded of the fruits of expecting the best of others I just watch how often my saintly wife is used and abused by family, friends and strangers, and I continue to sit with my back to the corner and my expectations low.

Good luck.


Robwrite profile image

Robwrite 5 years ago from Bay Ridge Brooklyn NY Author

I don't blame you for your caution, CP. It's not easy to trust and it leads to a lot of hard knocks. But I'm trying to be optimistic.

Thanks for reading and commenting.

Craig M profile image

Craig M 5 years ago

Your writing style is very flavorful and rich. This hub is quite thought provoking for me. I have never thought of the question of trust so thoroughly, even though it has always been an issue for me. I think I have approached the question more from the perspective of softening the hardness around my self, which in the end amounts to the same thing.

One other thought this brings up for me is that when I'm hurt by others, it's really not about them anyway; it's me who is hurt, it's me who has set myself up with my hardened heart, it's me who has created these feelings of hurt, not the other person.

This helps me a lot because it gives me the power to change my mind and not depend on what others say or do. This has given me much strength in recent years and I don't have so many needs and expectations of how others should be, so I can be myself and feel good about that, without needing others to be a certain way for me to be happy.

Robwrite profile image

Robwrite 5 years ago from Bay Ridge Brooklyn NY Author

Hello Craig; You're right. Our expectations of how we hope others will act is a reason for our disappointment in people and in the world. Others can only let us down if we have high expectations of them. Our distrust hinges on the expectations we have in our minds.

Thanks for reading.

gg.zaino profile image

gg.zaino 5 years ago from L'America

Hey Rob, me again. :) good topic once more.

This caught my eye as i have trusted often, giving 'all' the benefit of the doubt. not always wise choices but then again my conscience is clear- those who betray must have terrible weight to bear.

I have traveled in many circles Rob- in many lives- and been kicked in the pants many times by the object of my trust.

It only made me wiser- i've learned to use the natural gift of intuition and utilize what i have learned without being unfair. not so hard and not so different in thought and belief than Buddhist belief.

The universe is fair in all respects- how can i not be anything but the same. The thief and the liar are traitors to humankind.

Wisdom tells me know who you sup with and share what you can afford to give... and do it often. this is a way of life for me these days- though later in life. .

Thank you Rob- you have my mind moving at 10pm, and have given me an idea for an article.

Peace brother- trust is a must- but a fool also trusts.


Robwrite profile image

Robwrite 5 years ago from Bay Ridge Brooklyn NY Author

Hi GG. Good to hear from you. I'm glad I got you motivated to write an article.

Trust is a difficult thing and it takes a lot of life experience and wisdom to find a balance between being a pollyanna who gets walked over and being the paranoid guy who thinks the world is out to get him.

Thanks for reading GG.



Light.of.sitmoia2 5 years ago

I've always had an open heart and always given my trust in everyone and I have learned that really can't trust and believe in everyone..and it has been the most heartbreaking thing I have experienced..now, I am guarded and a bit afraid to keep my heart open. I meditate on this everyday...I work at being in the present so I can totally re-open my heart and begin to trust again...it has been a difficult thing to loose.

Robwrite profile image

Robwrite 5 years ago from Bay Ridge Brooklyn NY Author

I sympathise with you. It is a sad thing to realize that you have to distrust in order to survive. Learning to trust is a delicate balance, which takes a lot of judgment and intuition. It doesn't come easy.

Thanks for reading;


JoeMamma 5 years ago

simple and sad fact is that you cannot actually trust humans, human nature dictates that humans will be out for their own good and not the next guys(greed). So if trust means to be able to forgive or have compassion for a person who has done you wrong or has broken the trust in the relationship, then trust is simply a form of overcoming what happens after the deed of breaking the trust has been commited. ? am i close?

Robwrite profile image

Robwrite 5 years ago from Bay Ridge Brooklyn NY Author

No, that's forgiveness. Trust is about opening yourself up to possible harm in order to reap a possible benefit.

angela gundry profile image

angela gundry 5 years ago from Ventura , Ca

That was a really great hub. I'm not a religious person but if I had to choose, I tend to lean toward Buddhism. Everything I have read about it just makes sense to me. I'm glad that you opened yourself up to people on your path to happiness.

Robwrite profile image

Robwrite 5 years ago from Bay Ridge Brooklyn NY Author

Hi Angela; I'd recommend Buddhism over any other, but I don't like to push religion on people.

Thanks for reading.


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