Monday Morning Greetings 2019 #7 – A Simple and Creative Definition of Faith

February 18th, 2019

Faith is what you value the most. Defined in this way, faith is not an intellectual choice, as in “I believe this or don’t believe this”. It is based on an experience of happiness that determines what one cherishes or has faith in.

 

Of course, one can’t make up his own definitions. The problem here is that I am trying to communicate what the Sanskrit word śraddhā means in English, but it doesn’t exactly translate into the English word “faith”. I have therefore taken leeway with its translation to try to better express its import. My explanation is actually based on Śrīla Prabhupāda’s definition of śraddhā as “unflinching trust in something sublime”. Sublimity is not a person’s decision intellectually. It is a choice one makes based on what one is spontaneously attracted to. By defining faith in this way, as what one values or is attracted to the most, I hope to enhance our understanding of śraddhā, and maybe even challenge our faith in a healthy way. I hope you will see what I am getting at as I apply this understanding first to devotion.

 

A devotee’s faith is that the highest pleasure, what they value most, is sevā, loving service to God or Krishna. Now, according to our definition, let’s test our faith. If given a choice, would you rather chant and serve the holy name of Krishna or surf the web? In other words, what do you really value most from the heart? If it’s the web, then by this definition, that’s your faith.

 

Naturally what I am writing early in the morning comes into my mind throughout the day. When I was chanting during maṅgala-ārati in the Krishna Balarama Mandir, I listened carefully to the quality of my entreaty. It hit me. The degree to which I enjoy chanting is my level of faith. It can’t be bluffed.

 

I like the definition of bhakti as the mood of being available for service. How much are you in that mood and how much do you enjoy serving? That is your level of faith, regardless of how much you think you believe in Krishna. When there is a big feast do you enjoy serving it or eating it more? Which is your faith?

 

Śrī Rūpa Gosvāmī was referring to this experiential definition of faith when he described the first stage of bhakti as ādau śraddhā, beginning with faith. The path of devotion usually starts with innocent contact with the holy name of Krishna that awakens a sublimity exceeding any previous type of joy. That encounter engenders such a strong trust in devotion that despite challenges on the path of devotion it remains our most valued objective, even if we have failed to recapture that initial sublimity, or “religious experience”.

 

The question naturally arises of how to maintain and increase our faith, for if an experience is not renewed it will gradually recede within the consciousness. Faith is rekindled by engaging with it by practice, which means four things: concentration, done over a prolonged period time, without interruption, and in the right mood. Except for some special mercy, such prolonged and uninterrupted attention is the basis of any profound renewed spiritual experience, which is the foundation of faith.

 

To translate practically what this faith generating practice implies for us, it means at least a period of time during the day reserved exclusively for our meditation on Krishna. Without that type of concentrated effort daily, the intensity of devotion that kindled our initial faith will not be strongly felt, just as the heat reflected through a magnifying glass by the light of the sun only becomes fire if focused or concentrated on a piece of paper without interruption over some time.

 

As usual, and I hope you don’t get bored of me saying it, this topic goes far beyond the limited scope of the present paper. There is so much more to discuss about faith. For example, in devotional service people become absorbed and awaken faith in bhakti in various ways according to their taste. That’s certainly worth a discussion. Also, no discussion of faith is complete without understanding the role of sacred texts in increasing our devotional aspirations and consequently our faith. There is also no time to discuss that here, but I will leave you with just one more point about faith that I think is relevant to everyone.

 

The greatest tragedy is to have the wrong objective in life and to realize that your attainment is unsatisfactory and ephemeral. Intelligent people therefore strive to awaken their eternal nature, the substantive and eternal happiness of devotion. That is the real definition of śraddhā. My simple faith:

 

Chant and be happy!

 

 

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