Monday Morning Greetings 2017 #9 – Faith: A Unique Perspective

February 27th, 2017

The best definition of faith that I have ever heard is a simple one, although I think it is quite profound. It is from Śrīla Prabhupāda: “Faith is unflinching trust in something sublime.”
 
What I like here is that faith is not just defined simply in terms of what one understands is true, but in terms of how one feels about something. Simply put, faith is where one believes his happiness rests. We may say that we have faith in Kṛṣṇa, in the sense that we have faith in a particular religious doctrine, but this richer concept of faith asks us to go further than just a rudimentary belief. It tests the level our conviction. For example, according to this notion, if we spend more time on Facebook than with the holy name, then despite our belief in a specific canon where the glories of the holy name are described, our faith, or perceived sublimity, unfortunately rests elsewhere. It is a humbling introspection.
 
I recently came across a description of Kṛṣṇa that gave me further understanding of this insightful definition of faith. In the fourth canto of the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam Nārada describes Kṛṣṇa as nṛmṇam, [1] transcendentally pleasing in all respects. Various commentators [2] cite an interesting analogy to help deepen our understanding of this term; just as the sun is emanating light, the Lord is emanating spiritual pleasure (nṛmṇam) and thus whoever comes near Him also experiences that sublimity. That occurrence is so deep and inspiring that it becomes our unflinching trust in where sublimity resides.
 
According to Śrī Rūpa Gosvāmī this type of faith has progressive stages beginning with the initial experience that convinces us that serving God is sublime. This progression proceeds as follows:
 
Śraddhā: I appreciate those who serve Kṛṣṇa.

Sādhu-saṅga: It is so good that I want to be with people that exemplify such devotion.

Bhajana-kriyā: It so good that I want to take up the practices that develop devotion.

Anartha-nivṛttiḥ: It is so good that I will give up those things that have no value to them.

Niṣṭhā: It is so good that I will do it all the time.

Ruci: It is so sublime that whenever my mind unintentionally goes someplace else, I immediately pull it back.

Āsakti: It is so sublime that I am addicted to it.

Bhāva: It is so sublime that my heart is melted by it.

Prema: It is so sublime that there is nothing in my consciousness but such devotion to such an extent that I am not even aware of anything else.[3]
 
Śrī Rūpa thus confirms that our faith or conviction in bhakti naturally progresses according to our level of taste for devotion.
 
A few challenges to this definition may arise. I would like to answer them.
 
Why doesn’t everyone who contacts the Lord in His various forms such as the holy name and His devotees develop this unflinching trust?

The soul is covered by false ego and therefore doesn’t experience this spiritual pleasure emanating from God, just as one’s eyes don’t experience the heat radiating from the powerful sun when it is covered by a cloud. When, after our boundless sojourn in the material world, we finally develop the humility that there must be something greater than just what I want, that crack in the false ego leaves a space between our soul and God to feel the Divine, just as a clearing in the cloud allows us to feel the heat of the sun.
 
Why am I not experiencing now the feelings of sublimity that I did when I initially connected with the Divine?

That initial feeling may be a special gift from God to jumpstart us on the path of devotion. This “religious experience” is also not cheap. Once this goal of our practice is instilled in our heart, it may be in our own interest to first earn it. It is thus withdrawn. We also often initially approach God unknowingly and become innocently exposed to God’s mercy, only to later become complacent and close that receptivity to God by careless offense.
 
What is the relationship between knowledge and faith?

Without teachings that give a reasonable explanation of Kṛṣṇa consciousness and a sensible understanding of the world our mind will likely close to devotion after the initial experience of mercy has worn off. Without education we may also lose the conviction to make the sacrifices necessary to advance on the path.
 
Isn’t this just blind faith?

No. One’s conviction is based on experience and knowledge. It is reasonable faith, just as it is reasonable to trust a particular doctor as a medical authority when through our relationship with him we continually experience good health.

I like this definition of faith. Faith is unflinching trust in something sublime. What else can reasonably be the goal of any endeavor but a heart flourishing with sublimity?
 
 


[1] Bhāg. 4.8.26

[2] I heard this analysis from a lecture by Śrīla Rādhā Govinda Swami.

[3] Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu 1.4.15-16
 
 

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