by Satyanarayana Dasa
Faith is a very important part of our character and our life. New Oxford American Dictionary defines it as, “Complete trust or confidence in someone or something.”
We cannot move an inch without faith. We have faith in the banks, or we would not deposit our money in them. We have faith in our employer, or we would not work 8 hours a day and wait to get paid at the end of the month. We have faith in our partners, relatives, friends, and neighbors. We have faith in courts, police, army, business corporations, the state government and so on. We have faith in cars, trains, and planes. Life runs on faith, and it is impossible to do anything without it. There are different extents and types of faith, but no one can be completely faithless.
First, we put faith in our parents, especially in our mother. She is like god to her baby because she created the child and keeps the child alive. Gradually, this faith overflows into other members of the family and also into one’s own self. The quality of our experience in putting faith in our parents will affect the experience we can have placing faith in anyone or anything else.
Perhaps the most elevated or evolved form of faith is faith in God. It is relatively easy to have faith in our parents, relatives, friends, neighbors, and employers, because they are tangible people we can directly experience; but to have faith in God, about whom we have no experience at all, is not as easy. Although it is not easy, it is the best thing that can happen to a human being.
To have faith only in tangible things is not so wonderful and will not serve any higher purpose because the world is ephemeral. To have faith in oneself but not in God is also incomplete because without considering God, we do not fully comprehend ourselves.
Atheists have faith in material things, or even in themselves, but such faith is incomplete. For example, Hiraṇyakaśipu was the most powerful demon in the history of the universe. He could defeat anyone and everyone, yet he had little faith in his safety and security and was fearful of his own little boy, Prahlāda. His boy, however, was completely fearless, because he had faith in God.
Modern people hardly even think of God, and have faith only in material things or in incomplete notions of themselves. This is why the world is very insecure and are full of fear.
We are eternal, but the world is always changing. For an eternal being to invest faith only in temporary objects or associations cannot bring substantial prosperity. Therefore, all material achievements turn out to be unfulfilling. Only a person who is full of faith in God is full. Everyone else remains empty and lonely.
Faith in God is not a favor to God. It is a favor to ourselves. God does not benefit from our faith in Him, but we do. We become calm, peaceful, balanced, centered, grounded, anxiety-free, secure, kind, tolerant, respectful, happy, and loving. Who would not like to have these qualities? People go on retreats, attend seminars, and pay a lot of money to life coaches and therapists just to get some of these qualities, and often fail or have only temporary success. But the little boy Prahlāda was so calm and peaceful even when his life was put into so much danger.
Faith is the greatest blessing. It is the only thing that brings real change to our life. Therefore, Ṣrī Rūpa Gosvāmī says that faith is the beginning of bhakti. Faith is the foundation of every spiritual path, but it has special importance in bhakti. Therefore, it must be acquired at any cost. If we do not have it, we should pray for it. It comes easily by the grace of devotees. Therefore, if we want it, we should associate with them, listen to their talks and serve them. Faith in God also means having faith in śāstra, and that comes by hearing it from those who have faith in it.
After all this talk about faith, what does it really mean, at a practical level, for a modern-day devotee? How can we determine if we have faith in God, truly speaking? And, how can we tell how much faith we have?
We may think we have more faith than we really do. A good test is to assess our faith in our guru, a living embodiment of Śrī Kṛṣṇa Himself. Guru is the litmus test of our faith. Guru may sometimes purposefully act in a way that forces us to evaluate our faith in him or her and thus ultimately in God. Under such situations we need to introspect and ask ourselves honestly if we are harbouring any doubt in him. Are we doubting his words, his instructions, or some decision he made? Or maybe our lack of faith is subtler than that. Do we feel we know better than him? Do we become upset or feel uneasy when he is showing some favour to another devotee, and think that this devotee does not deserve it? Do we criticize his behaviour, or have to restrain ourselves from doing so?
If we are really full of faith, then our heart will match the guru’s heart, just like the heart of two lovers. As much as our heart is aligned with the heart of our guru, we are aligned with God. Guru is the testing ground. But if we are unable to match our heart with his, then the least we can do, is not be envious of him. Otherwise, we are doomed.
What is written in the sastra is one thing. And what you have as your own personal experience may not be exactly the same. Everything cannot be put into words. By practice and experience, you will learn the true meaning of sastra.
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