Belief versus Faith pending understanding

sraddha kidrsi? guruvedantavakyesu visvasaha sraddha

Of what nature is sraddha?  Trust in the words of the teacher and Vedanta is sraddha.

Quoting from Swami Dayananda’s commentary on the above verse from Tattvabodha:

Visvasa is trust, faith, in the words of Vedanta, vedanta-vakyesu.  What is that trust here?  That they are a pramana, a means of knowledge.  You give the status of pramana to the words of Vedanta.  You do not look at them as theory, speculation or philosophy, but take them as words that are an independent means of knowledge.  That is called visvasa.”

Dhanya’s thoughts:

This type of faith is considered to be one of the qualifications for the gain of self-knowledge. There is a beautiful saying in the Bhagavad Gita that Swamiji quotes a lot ‘shraddhavan labhate jnanam.’  (Chapter 4, verse 39).

It means ‘the one who has sraddha (sraddhavan) will gain (labhate) knowledge (jnanam).  We need to have sraddha in the teaching as a pramana (a means of knowledge), and in the acharya (teacher) that he or she knows how to use Vedanta as a pramana to help the student recognize the truth.  Without such sraddha one wouldn’t really benefit from the teaching. But this is not some type of blind belief in something that is unverifiable.  It is conditional belief, or trust, or faith pending understanding, because one eventually recognizes the truth for oneself; and then when one has jnanam, one no longer needs to have faith that is pending, because the purpose for which it was pending has come to fruition.

Therefore, just as one has sraddha or faith in the teaching and teacher when one undertakes the study of any subject matter, such as a scientific discipline, sraddha or faith when studying Vedanta is also a prerequisite for success.

Some religions are referred to as ‘faith based’ religions, meaning that they are based upon certain unverifiable beliefs.  For instance, in Christianity, the religion in which I was raised, one is exhorted to have faith, or belief in Christ as the only son of God, and to further believe that he died for one’s sins.  Finally and most importantly, one is told one must believe or have faith that Christ is one’s personal savior, and that this belief will guarantee one an eternal life in heaven after death.

So that is one type of belief or faith that people have.  Some people would refer to this type of belief as ‘blind belief.’  Blind because one believes or has faith in something that is unverifiable here and now in this life, which hopefully one will realize to be true when one dies.

The Vedas, a portion of which contain the original  teachings of nonduality, are said to contain information that is not available for us to know using our usual means of knowledge.

Thus the first portion of the Vedas—known as the Karma Kanda—contains information about the workings of karma, reincarnation, the existence of heaven and hell realms, as well as describing ideals of moral behavior, along with instructions on how to perform specific rituals and spiritual practices in order to obtain certain desired results.   In general one can believe what this portion of the Vedas says or not.  Perhaps if we perform a certain ritual and obtain a desired result, that might increase our faith in the words of the Karma Kanda.  But things like the existence of heaven realms, the way karma works, or even which rituals will yield which results is a matter of faith because one cannot know without a shadow of a doubt that these things are true, even if we feel they make sense.

The second portion of the Vedas is known as the Jnana Kanda.  This portion of the Vedas contains the Upanisads, those scriptures which inform us that the truth of ourselves and the truth of the entire world of name and form is nondually one.  Further, in the hands of a trained teacher who knows how to employ it, the Upanisads supply the methodology through which the recognition of the nondual nature of existence is gained.

In Sanskrit there is a word ‘sraddha.’  That word is sometimes simply translated as ‘faith.’  In the tradition of Vedanta in which I study the meaning of the word shraddha is further expanded to be ‘faith pending understanding.’

The idea of faith pending understanding is one we are all familiar with.  If we take a course in physics for example we have ‘faith’ that the teacher knows the subject and that the textbook contains correct information.

Similarly if we study Vedanta with a teacher, we have faith that he or she knows the subject matter and also that what the teachings say is correct.

Sraddha itself is considered to be one of the mental qualifications for the gain of self-knowledge.  However sraddha is not blind belief in something or someone, nor is it a belief in a theory or dogma,.  There is a big difference between blind belief and sraddha, i.e. faith pending understanding.

The meaning of the phrase ‘faith pending understanding’ implies that you will yourself one day recognize that what the Upanisads and the teacher and the teachings are pointing out is true.  At that point one doesn’t need sraddha anymore because one has  recognized the truth for oneself.

The above post was submitted by Dhanya, even though – for lack of time – she herself will probably not be able to take part in a discussion.

This entry was posted in Dhanya, Topic of the month by Dhanya. Bookmark the permalink.

About Dhanya

Dhanya developed an interest in Hinduism and Eastern philosophy in the early 1970s. In 1973, she traveled to India in search of a guru to guide her on the spiritual path. While there she encountered disciples of Neem Karoli Baba and his teachings of bhakti and karma yoga which influenced her life from then on. She studied Vipasana meditation for some time with S.N. Goenkaji beginning in 1974. In 1991 she met HWL Poonja, whose words sparked a desire in her to understand the teachings of nonduality. Subsequently she met other advaita teachers, including Jean Klein and Sri Ranjit Maharaj, who were great sources of inspiration to her. In 2002 she met her current teacher, Dr. Carol Whitfield, a traditional teacher of Advaita/Vedanta and a disciple of Swami Dayananda Saraswati. Having found a teaching and a teacher with whom she has a deep resonance and who clearly and effectively elucidate the means for self-knowledge, Dhanya now lives in Northern California, where she studies Vedanta and writes on the topic of nonduality.

2 thoughts on “Belief versus Faith pending understanding

  1. Thanks for the very clear explanation of this topic. Not being a student of Vedanta, I did not know the Upanishads were part of the Vedic legacy.

    It does seem that there must be a drive in oneself to discover truth. This drive seems to burn up many other drives that distract us from this. That fire is a type of mindfulness and one-pointedness that seems to be necessary to take over our life.

    • Namaste Anonymous–Yes, you are correct. In fact, the drive to discover the truth, along with sraddha, is considered to be another one of the qualifications for the gain of self-knowledge. In Sanskrit this drive is known as mumukshutvam, which translates as the desire for liberation. In terms of one-pointedness there is another qualification mentioned, samadhana, which means the ability to focus the mind on one thing.

      I first heard the principles of advaita from HWL Poonja (aka Papaji) in India. He often would say that one must give up all desires in order to be ‘free.’ At the same time he stressed the importance of the desire to be free.

      One day, thinking that I was very clever, I said to him, “But Papaji, the desire to be free is a desire.”

      I still remember all these years later exactly what he said because it impressed me so much. He replied, “The desire to be free is the final desire. It consumes all other desires, and finally consumes itself.”

      So, again, yes, your understanding is correct..

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