By Visakha Devi Dasi
We all have faith, and deciding where to direct it demands careful consideration.
In one of his Bhagavad-gita purports, Srila Prabhupada makes this startling statement: “It is only by faith that one can advance in Krishna consciousness.” (Gita 9.3) Reading this, I started thinking about faith.
Both the dictionary and our acharyas offer two distinct deﬁnitions of faith. A dictionary deﬁnition of faith is “complete trust or conﬁdence in someone or something.” In the same vein, Krishnadasa Kaviraja Goswami deﬁnes faith as complete conviction that simply by Krishna consciousness one will be elevated to the highest perfection of life. This is spiritual faith.
Another dictionary deﬁnition of faith is “strong belief in the doctrines of a religion.” Srila Prabhupada writes, “Religion conveys the idea of faith, and faith may change. One may have faith in a particular process, and he may change this faith and adopt another.” (Bhagavad-gita As It Is, Introduction) This is material faith.
Prabhupada explains that each one of us inherently has the quality called faith: “Everyone has a particular type of faith, regardless of what he is.” (Gita 17.3, Purport) Faith is originally spiritual, for the origin of faith is the Supreme Spirit, Krishna, who says, “Everything emanates from Me.” (Gita 10.8)
Krishna also says, “There is no truth superior to Me. Everything rests on Me as pearls are strung on a thread,” “I am the source of all spiritual and material worlds,” “Everyone follows My path in all respects,” and “From Me come remembrance, knowledge, and forgetfulness.”
In other words, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Lord Sri Krishna, has complete faith in Himself!
As Krishna’s integral parts, we, as spiritual beings, have spiritual faith that’s meant to repose in Him and His unalloyed devotees. Faith in God and godly persons is an innate quality and natural inclination of the soul. Once our faith is ﬁrmly reposed in these illustrious personalities, then and only then can we legitimately have faith in ourself. Otherwise, faith in ourself is a sham – we are too small, too insigniﬁcant, too beset with ﬂaws (imperfect senses and the tendency to cheat, to make mistakes, and to be illusioned), and too inﬂuenced by time’s devastation (birth, death, disease, and old age) to be worthy of self faith.
Types of Faith
When our original, pure faith is covered by material nature, it becomes material. Srila Prabhupada explains, “As long as one’s faith is not completely in puriﬁed goodness, the faith is subject to contamination by any of the modes of nature. . . . Thus we ﬁnd different types of faith in this world, and there are different types of religions due to different types of faith.” (Gita 17.3, Purport)
In the Srimad-Bhagavatam (11.25.27) Lord Krishna further explains, “Faith directed toward spiritual life is in the mode of goodness, faith rooted in fruitive work is in the mode of passion, faith residing in irreligious activities is in the mode of ignorance, but faith in My devotional service is purely transcendental.”
Faith is an invaluable and sacred quality within each of us. Sraddha, the Sanskrit word for faith, etymologically means “where the heart rests” (shrat – heart; dha – place). Where we place our faith – where we want our heart to rest – is our choice, a choice we can and should make consciously. “One has to consider things carefully, with intelligence, in the association of a bona ﬁde spiritual master. Thus one can change his position to a higher mode of nature.” (Gita 17.2, Purport) In modern life, people misplace their faith in their work, in money, in their family, in sports or sports heroes, in music or musicians, in politicians, in their pets, or in any number of other places where they think they’ll ﬁnd happiness, including atheism or other “isms.” Not surprisingly, faith reposed in these places remains unfulﬁlling. One feels enveloped in a gloomy, insidious vacuousness.
The Results of Spiritual Faith
Once properly reposed, the results of faith are astonishing. From spiritual faith – faith in Krishna and His devotees – come divine blessings: “This process is very simple. One need only be ﬁrmly convinced by the spiritual master that Krishna is the Supreme Personality of Godhead. If one decides this, he can make further progress by thinking of Krishna, chanting of Krishna, and glorifying Him. There is then no doubt that such a fully surrendered devotee will receive the blessings of Lord Krishna.” (Chaitanya-charitamrita, Madhya 11.51, Purport)
From divine faith comes divine knowledge:
“For one who has implicit faith in Krishna and the spiritual master, all the imports of Vedic knowledge are automatically revealed.” (Svetashvatara Upanishad 6.23) From divine faith come wisdom, understanding, detachment, and spiritual progress: “Having some faith in me [as the guru] and in this Krishna consciousness process is the ﬁrst and only requirement for getting actual wisdom. If there is faith, understanding will follow. And as your understanding increases, so will your disgust with the spell of illusory energy. And when you voluntarily give up your entanglements in the material world, then the progress is assured.” (Srila Prabhupada, Perfect Questions, Perfect Answers, Chapter 8)
From divine faith comes divine ability: “O Lord, I am simply praying for Your mercy so that I will be able to convince them about Your message.” (Srila Prabhupada, Markine Bhagavata-dharma )
From divine faith comes incredible courage. Due to his unﬂinching faith, ﬁve-year-old Prahlada deﬁed his father, the greatest demon of the universe. With similar faith sixty-eight-year-old Srila Prabhupada boarded the Jaladuta, leaving his native India for the ﬁrst time, alone, with no resources and without knowing anyone in America, yet with full faith in his spiritual master’s instruction that he should give Krishna consciousness to the English-speaking people of the world.
Who can be faithful to Krishna? Why do some people have faith in Krishna’s words while others ignore them or become antagonistic to them? Prabhupada explains that those who are pious can have faith: “Only those who have passed their lives in practicing the regulative principles of religion, who have acted piously, and who have conquered sinful reactions can accept devotional service and gradually rise to the pure knowledge of the Supreme Personality of Godhead.” (Gita 7.28, Purport)
But elsewhere it seems piety is not a prerequisite: “Pure devotional service in Krishna consciousness cannot be had even by pious activity in hundreds and thousands of lives. It can be attained only by paying one price – that is, intense greed to obtain it. If it is available somewhere, one must purchase it without delay.” (Chaitanya-charitamrita, Madhya 8.70)
So, is a background of piety necessary or unnecessary for spiritual faith to develop? Just as there are spiritual and material types of faith, so there are spiritual and material types of piety. “Pious activities can be divided into three categories: pious activities that awaken one’s dormant Krishna consciousness are called bhakty-unmukhi sukriti, pious activities that bestow material opulence are called bhogonmukhi sukriti, and pious activities that enable the living entity to merge into the existence of the Supreme are called mokshonmukhi sukriti. These last two awards of pious activity are not actually fortunate. Pious activities are fortunate when they help one become Krishna conscious. The good fortune of bhakty-unmukhi is attainable only when one comes in contact with a devotee. By associating with a devotee willingly or unwillingly, one advances in devotional service, and thus one’s dormant Krishna consciousness is awakened.” (Chaitanya-charitamrita, Madhya 22.45, Purport)
Mundane pious acts can bring one to the mode of goodness but not to devotional service to Krishna. To come to Krishna consciousness one needs spiritual piety; one needs some sort of contact with Krishna’s devotee.
Why Does Faith Wane?
Sometimes those fortunate persons who have associated with Krishna’s devotee and begun the process of Krishna consciousness ﬁnd that their once staunch faith becomes feeble and their determination to execute devotional service founders. Why? one wonders.
A number of things can undermine spiritual faith. For one, just as faith is inspired by contact with a devotee of Krishna, so, conversely, faith is weakened by association with materialistic persons.
Another cause of waning faith is unrealistic expectations. We may think, “After practicing Krishna consciousness for ﬁve years I’ll be a pure devotee.” After that time passes we may be disappointed with our progress and lose faith, especially if we can’t even uphold our basic initiation vows. Or we may think, “Since I’ve given so many years of service to the society of devotees, I should now receive certain beneﬁts from that society.” When we don’t receive the facilities, privileges, or honor we expect, we may be disgruntled and lose faith.
Similarly our faith in the process of devotional service can be shaken if we experience devotees’ being manipulative, personally ambitious, or envious.
If we become proud of what we’ve done, spiritually or materially, we may ﬁnd our taste for and faith in devotional service evaporating.
If we forget that any fame, proﬁt, and adoration we sometimes receive for our attempts at bhakti are due to the kindness of Krishna and our spiritual master, we will ﬁnd our faith whittled away. Opulences that come to the bhakti practitioner are completely due to the mercy of guru and God.
Krishnadasa Kaviraja describes yet other causes of weakened faith: “The readers should relish this wonderful nectar because nothing compares to it. Keeping their faith ﬁrmly ﬁxed within their minds, they should be careful not to fall into the pit of false arguments or the whirlpools of unfortunate situations. If one falls into such positions, he is ﬁnished.” (Chaitanya-charitamrita, Madhya 25.279)
Another major cause of weakened faith is offenses. If we’re not conscientious, we can offend the holy names of Krishna, His devotees, His deities, His dhamas, and His living beings, and lose faith as a result.
Faithlessness, Doubt, and Faithfulness
People who have no faith in God but who place their faith in themselves and in material objectives have distinguishing characteristics. For one, they are often envious of and angry with Krishna and disrespect His devotees. They are also dissatisﬁed, unhappy, and without peace of mind. And they adamantly ignore scriptural knowledge and establish their own beliefs. For such people, Krishna remains hidden, for, as He says to Arjuna, He makes Himself known to the non-envious: “Because you are not envious of Me, I shall impart to you knowledge and realization.” (Gita 9.1)
Sishupala, an exemplar of faithlessness, voiced his envious and disturbed nature when, on hearing of Krishna’s transcendental qualities, he became infuriated and said, “How does this cowherd boy, the disgrace of His family, deserve your worship, any more than a crow deserves to eat the sacred purodasha rice cake?” (Bhagavatam 10.74.34) And Hiranyakashipu, the demonic father of devoted Prahlada, showed his disturbed and disrespectful nature when he angrily said to faultless Prahlada, “O most impudent, unintelligent disruptor of the family, O lowest of mankind . . . you are an obstinate fool.” (Bhagavatam 7.8.5)
Although we ordinarily think of doubt as undesirable, when atheists doubt their atheism their doubt is beneﬁcial. Srila Prabhupada explains, “Doubt is one of the important functions of intelligence; blind acceptance of something does not give evidence of intelligence. In order to cultivate intelligence, one should be doubtful in the beginning.” (Bhagavatam 3.26.30, Purport) Often, atheists are faithless not because they’ve thought through and weighed all evidence and arguments about God’s existence, but because they’ve imbibed the faithlessness of their circumstances or have been exposed to only part of the evidence and arguments about God’s existence. Their faithlessness is circumstantial. As Prabhupada didn’t want his followers to be blind in their faithfulness, so he calls upon materialists not to be blind in their faithlessness. Rather, all of us are enjoined to consider things carefully, with intelligence, in the association of a clear-headed person.
Prabhupada continues, “Doubting is not very favorable when information is received from the proper source. . . . The study to determine whether one’s identity is spiritual or material begins in doubt.” We should doubt until we hear from the bona ﬁde scriptures and sages. Then we use our intelligence to grasp and realize their transcendental words.
As the faithless have certain characteristics, so faithful persons have their singular characteristics. For one, they execute the orders of their spiritual master despite all inconveniences and sacriﬁces. Srila Prabhupada personiﬁed this quality.
The faithful know they will never be defeated, for Krishna tells Arjuna, “Declare it boldly that My devotee never perishes.” (Gita 9.31)
Those who are faithful are satisﬁed, knowing they’ve obtained their position through their past activities, and they see God’s hand behind everything, even suffering.
“My dear Lord, one who earnestly waits for You to bestow Your causeless mercy upon him, all the while patiently suffering the reactions of his past misdeeds and offering You respectful obeisances with his heart, words, and body, is surely eligible for liberation, for it has become his rightful claim.” (Bhagavatam 10.14.8)
Persons convinced of Krishna’s position and opulences accept Him with great faith and without any doubt and engage in serving Him with devotion. As a result, they become uninterested in material affairs, are always in a favorable mood, and are joyful. They feel privileged to serve Krishna, and do so with great hope and gratitude.
Full Faith in Krishna
Divine faith – unﬂinching trust in Krishna – is present within us but covered. We uncover it by connecting with one who has it (Krishna’s devotee) and following that person’s directives. We cover it by committing offenses. When we achieve spiritual faith, we’ll experience Krishna consciousness and, along with it, complete happiness.
The practical application of faith is surrender, as exempliﬁed by Arjuna when he said at the end of Bhagavad-gita (18.73): “My dear Krishna, O infallible one, my illusion is now gone. I have regained my memory by Your mercy. I am now ﬁrm and free from doubt and am prepared to act according to Your instructions.”
Prabhupada’s learned godbrother Sridhara Swami expressed the importance of faith in this way: “Just as the eyes see color and the ear perceives sound, only by faith can we perceive that [spiritual] world. Only faith can see and feel it. The Supreme Reality cannot be perceived with any other senses. Faith is the real function of the soul, and that is awakened by the agents of Vaikuntha, the saints. By faith one’s association with saints increases, and by this transaction the culture of reality takes place. . . . Perceiving spiritual reality is the function of the soul.” (Subjective Evolution of Consciousness, Chapter 4)
The heart yearns to know why there is creation and life. Mundane reason cannot penetrate these mysteries. But faith can. Therefore divine faith is the necessity of human life. Krishna Himself indirectly establishes this when He declares, “For the doubting soul there is happiness neither in this world nor in the next.” (Gita 4.40) Spiritual faith is the animating principle of spiritual life, while doubt suspends spiritual life. Thus Prabhupada writes, “It is only by faith that one can advance in Krishna consciousness.”