On “shraddha”:

Vedanta demands “shraddha” from every seeker who is eager to learn or study Advaita philosophy. It’s a basic requirement. But what exactly is shraddha?

Unfortunately, the Sanskrit word ‘shraddha‘ does not have an exact equivalent in the English language.

tattvabodha asks: What is the nature of ‘shraddha‘? And it answers:
“Faith in the words of the Guru and the scriptures is shraddha.”

aparokShAnubhUti, verse 8 also says:  निगमाचार्यवाक्येषु भक्तिः श्रद्धेति विश्रुता । 

(nigama AcArya vakyeShu bhaktiH shraddheti vishrutA)

It means: shraddha is “implicit faith in the word of the scripture and the teacher.”

vivekacUDAmaNi, verse 25 is a bit more elaborate on ‘shraddha.’ One of the translations of this verse reads: “THAT by which one understands the import of the scriptures as well as the pregnant words of the advice of the preceptor is called by the wise as ‘shraddha.’
The word implies an ability to embrace the Truth, explains another of the translators of this verse.

Though the Dictionary meaning of the word is faith, trust, belief etc., “shraddha” in the Vedantic culture does not ask for unquestioning blind belief in the word of the teacher or the scripture. The student is ENCOURAGED to express doubt and question the teacher. But the MOST important demand that “shraddha” makes on the part of the disciple is FULL ATTENTION.

It is not uncommon in India to chastise an inattentive student as one who lacks ‘shraddha (attention).’

So ‘shraddha‘ in its meaning combines trust with unwavering attention to, but with a freedom to question, what is being taught by the teacher.

Shankara explains ‘shraddha’ in ch upa 6.12.2:

अतः श्रद्धत्स्व सोम्य सत एव अणिम्नः स्थूलं नामरूपादिमत्कार्यं जगदुत्पन्नमिति  यद्यपि न्यायागमाभ्यां निर्धारितोऽर्थः तथैवेत्यवगम्यते, तथापि अत्यन्तसूक्ष्मेष्वर्थेषु बाह्यविषयासक्तमनसः स्वभावप्रवृत्तस्यासत्यां गुरुतरायां श्रद्धायां दुरवगमत्वं स्यादित्याह — श्रद्धत्स्वेति  श्रद्धायां तु सत्यां मनसः समाधानं बुभुत्सितेऽर्थे भवेत् , ततश्च तदर्थावगतिःअन्यत्रमना अभूवम्’ (बृ. .     ) इत्यादिश्रुतेः

Meaning:  Have faith my son, when I say that it is from this Subtle Essence of Being that there grows Universe with its names and forms, grows up as the product. Though when a certain fact has been established by reasoning and scriptural authority, it is always understood to be so (and true), yet, in the case of extremely subtle things, a man who has his mind taken up by external things, and follows the natural bent of his activities, could find it difficult to understand if he were not imbued with a large degree of faith ; hence, the father said – ‘Have faith; when there is faith, the mind becomes concentrated on the subject desired to understand, and then the due understanding follows. That this is so is clear from such Vedic texts as, I had my mind elsewhere (1.5.3, brihat).’

chAndogya also talks about ‘shraddha‘ at 7.19.1:

यदा वै श्रद्दधात्यथ मनुते नाश्रद्दधन्मनुते श्रद्दधदेव मनुते श्रद्धा त्वेव विजिज्ञासितव्येति श्रद्धां … ॥  — 7.19.1, chAndogya upa.

Meaning: When one has faith, then he reflects; without faith, one does not reflect; one reflects only when he has faith. But one should seek to understand faith itself.

Shankara in his bhAShya writes:

मन्तव्यविषये आदरः आस्तिक्यबुद्धिः श्रद्धा ॥

Meaning:  Faith is the idea that thing in question really exists. (Translation: Dr. G. N. Jha)

Also 17.3, BG on shraddha: “The faith of each is in accordance with his nature, O’ Bharata. The man is made up of his faith; as a man’s faith is, so is he.”

“shraddhavAn labhata jnAnam” (Self-knowledge is attained by one who has shraddha) says 4.39, Bhagavad-Gita.

The word “shraddha” appears in about 15 verses in Bhagavad-Gita right from the 3rd chapter to the 18th chapter. A close examination of what is being taught there in each verse will give a correct “feel” for the meaning of the word shraddha.

The role ‘faith’ plays in Advaita may be visualized from a day to day example in real-life.  Any transaction that takes place between two individuals requires mutual faith in one another until at least the transaction is completed.  For example, when you go to pick up a can of soup from a store, you have faith that what is described on the can is truly present inside it. As you pick up the can and walk, the shop-keeper has faith in you that you will make a payment.  After that, it is up to you to “experientially realize” whether the claim made on the label of the can (about what the soup is made from and its taste etc.) is true or not.  Neither the can nor the shop-keeper can a priori make you feel the taste without your own effort and experience.  Right?

Similarly, Advaita wants you to have faith in what it and the teacher say only till the transaction of the teaching is completed.  Is it unreasonable to require this sort of faith to complete the transaction?  Can you bundle this faith with the sort of ‘faith’ demanded as a pre-condition by the monotheistic religious philosophies asking you to blindly believe in their savior who is projected to be the only one you can depend on?

I do not see this full implication of shraddha explained in any of the English translations for the word which is of  primary importance in learning Advaita Vedanta.

[Note:  Reference to 7.19.1, chAndogya added later, thanks to Shri Sri Kumar ji.]

8 thoughts on “On “shraddha”:

  1. Great presentation, Ramesam! One point that occurs: I read something recently about shraddhA (although cannot immediately put my finger on it). It is likely to have been either Shankara or Sureshvara, since these are what I have been reading most of. It was to the effect that we may have implicit faith in something that is told to us by a close friend but that what shruti tells us is far more trustworthy. (I think it was in connection with an explanation of apauruSheya.)

  2. Thanks Dennis for your generous words.

    As you are well aware, it is Advaita alone among the darshana-s that accepts all the “six means of knowledge” (pramANa-s) and the shabdapramANa occupies a significant place in Advaita.

    shabda pramANa or verbal authority comes in two flavors. It can be personal (pauruSheya) or impersonal (apauruSheya).

    The testimony of a trustworthy person (a friend, a well-wisher) can be taken as a reliable means to obtain knowledge. The Sanskrit word for a friend or well-wisher is ‘Apta.’ Thus the statement (vAkya) of a friend or well-wisher will be a pauruSheya shabda pramANa.

    vAtsAyana defines ‘Apta’ as one “who has directly realized the topic in discussion.” Such a person’s word, according to him, states the anubhavasiddha viShaya and hence “his statements alone qualify as shabda pramANa.”

    The Vedic statements (veda vAkya) are considered to be apauruSheya and are said to have an intrinsic validity unlike the pauruSheya vAkya (the testimony of a friend).

    Tradition considers the Vedas as equivalent to one’s mother (veda mAta). A mother is one who can never wish for anything other than the best for her progeny. Therefore, the word of the Vedas, which comes with an unquestionable in-built validity forms the best of the possible Apta vAkya-s.

    I do not know if what I spelt out above matches with your readings.


  3. Yes – pretty much as I understood. It is worth pointing out perhaps that, whereas Shankara taught that the Vedas are ‘revealed’ by Ishvara at each new creation, more modern teachers (e.g. Vivekananda) treat them as records of the experiences of RRiShi-s that have to be personally validated by each seeker.

    This is one of the many misconceptions propagated by modern Advaitins. I mentioned some time ago that I would be writing a blog to respond to Venkat’s objections to what I posted on the topic of knowedge versus experience. This exercise has somewhat mushroomed and I am in the process of listing, examining and presenting the ‘official’ (Shankara) view on a number of related topics. It looks like it will have to be a new, though relatively small book rather than a blog!

    Best wishes,

  4. Wow, that will be a very interesting book to watch for from your pen!

    [One is reminded of the book “Misconceptions About Shankara,” Sr. No. 162, by SSSS, 1998.]

  5. Many thanks for that reference! I do have the electronic copy but have just ordered the book itself – highly relevant! (Although the main thrust of my efforts are the confusions propagated by modern teachers – mainly instigated by Vivekananda, I suspect.)

  6. Ramesam
    Very well explained Shraddha vs Faith. After the first component of the transaction where there is trust there are some miserable shocks and frustrations in the second components in case of Phony babas and Gurus.
    So is shraddha an advaitic term where it is almost guaranteed that after trusting shruti and aptavakya one can really not go wrong! .

  7. You make a great point, thank you Vijay.

    As you are well aware, choosing a competent Guru in whom we can repose our total “shraddha” is quite an involved topic and it makes an essay by itself rather than being answered as a comment here.

    But we are perhaps luckier than the older generations because we are in the cyber age! We can compare and choose the teachings and the teachers even remotely, thanks to the enormity of information-base that is available in the present times. Such a luxury was not available to our ancestors when no external storage media existed on Self-knowledge and all the knowledge was kept locked in the mind of a human guru whose method of transmission was essentially oral.

    Strange, though, even in the very ancient times, it looks that there was no shortage of fake, counterfeit and perhaps money-swindling gurus. Possibly they were lot fewer in those days. For, who else, the God of Death himself cautions that a committed seeker should choose the teacher carefully. We have from kaTha Upanishad:

    न नरेणावरेण प्रोक्त एष सुविज्ञेयो बहुधा चिन्त्यमानः ।
    अनन्यप्रोक्ते गतिरत्र नास्ति अणीयान्ह्यतर्क्यमणुप्रमाणात् ॥ — mantra 1.2.8, kaTha upa.

    [Meaning: The Self, if taught by an inferior person, is not easily comprehended, for It is variously thought of. Unless taught by another (who is a perceiver of non-difference) there is no way (of comprehending It), for It is not arguable and is subtler than subtlety. (Translation: V. Panoli).]

    A teacher who by himself had not realized the Self may mislead the seeker and lull him to a false belief that s/he had understood brahman. One should not, therefore, go to all and sundry seeking Self-knowledge. Shankara explains in four different ways in his commentary on the above mantra that true teaching can be given:

    ब्रह्मात्मभूतेनाचार्येण — only by a teacher who has become one with brahman;
    अपृथग्दर्शिनाचार्येण — only by a teacher who is free from the notion of duality;
    आगमवताचार्येण — only by a teacher who is well versed in the scripture (Agama);
    स्वात्मभूते — (only by a teacher who has realized) that brahman is none other than his own Self.

    A real teacher is one who has identified himself with the very thing (brahman) that is being taught.

    As you know, Sage Vasishta goes into a more detailed discussion regarding choosing a teacher in Yogavasishta. Maybe we will take up all of that comprehensively some other time.


  8. (I have been away for a short while) On March 21st, 2019, Dennis noted, “… whereas Shankara taught that the Vedas are ‘revealed’ by Ishvara at each new creation, more modern teachers (e.g. Vivekananda) treat them as records of the experiences of RRiShi-s that have to be personally validated by each seeker”. He added, “This is one of the many misconceptions propagated by modern Advaitins.”

    On the other hand, SSSS’s position was ‘to rely on Vedantic texts not as an authority to be believed in, but to be verified by intuition also supported by Vedantic reasoning’.– Same as Vivekananda?(Sorry, I don’t have the source right at hand).

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