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 तदर्थावगतिः, ‘अन्यत्रमना अभूवम्’ (बृ. उ. १ । ५ । ३) 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.]