Physiology of Faith

Dr. Swami Karmananda Saraswati, MB, BS (Syd)

At our very core, each one of us lives by our innate capacity for faith. Faith is our greatest natural resource. We differ, one from another, only in the objects or ideals in which we place our faith. The secret of success in both spiritual and material life, and also in maintaining our mental health and physical vitality, is really a matter of where we direct this inborn capacity.

The forms of faith

Faith has different forms, according to how we consciously or unconsciously direct it. Hindus, Moslems and Christians alike direct their faith towards various forms of God, such as Rama, Krishna, Mohammed, Christ, etc., by various rituals and observations. This is one form of faith which is well known to us. But it is not the only kind of faith of which man is capable. It is called blind faith, because you are asked to place your belief in something you have never seen. Nevertheless, it is a very powerful force in some cultures, and it can and does work miracles.

Blind faith

India is riddled with authentic stories of the intercession of higher forces in the lives and destinies of simple but devoted people. They place their trust, their lives and their all at the feet of a stone statue of their ishta devata (personal symbol of the absolute awareness) in a temple, church or similar place of worship. Even up to the present time this type of faith operates directly through the heart of the devotee. It is usually learned in childhood through a traditional religious upbringing.

Rational faith

People of intellectual temperament often scoff at this blind form of faith. It is unthinking, illogical and unevolved, they protest. They are more sensible and well educated than that. For them it is too simplistic to have faith in a piece of stone and mortar. 'Temple worship may have been suitable for our grandparents but we modern people are more sophisticated now.' This is their attitude and point of view. But this is not to say that they do not also possess the same capacity for faith, for that is the life blood of each one of us, but only that they have been trained to direct it in a different manner.

They have learned to have faith in their intellectual and perceptual capacities; to place their trust in their conscious mind to think, feel and interpret for them. In our technological culture, this form of faith predominates, especially amongst the scientists, scholars and researchers. It is this which has generated the scientific and technological revolution of recent centuries and even today, most doctors and medical men belong to this group. Such rational faith operates through the intellectual and thinking mind, and is a product of the education process in school college or university.

Intuitive faith

The third type of faith is on a different plane altogether. It can be termed faith in the intuitive or psychic personality. This is a form of faith which is neither blind nor intellectual. Here the capacity of faith rests in the voice of intuition (or inner tuition) which speaks very loudly to those who have attuned their awareness by evolving their psychic personality. They are able to know and perceive the workings of the deeper mind of themselves and others and respond appropriately. This form of faith transcends the intellectual type of faith which precedes it. It is developed by practices of yoga and meditation, which expand the level of awareness, and it begins to operate as the workings of the subconscious mind are gradually revealed.

Total surrender

The fourth type of faith is the greatest of all. It is faith in the universal intelligence to bring the solution to every problem and difficulty in life. This form of faith rests on nothing beyond the knowledge that a guiding force is operating through the interactions of men. It requires a surrendering up of the sense of personal identification. Here the idea that 'I am doing, thinking, acting or causing anything to occur' is eradicated. There is a total surrender of the unconscious mind as the seat of cosmic intelligence. This is the type of faith which is ultimately acquired in yoga. This is the yoga which is learned at the feet of the guru and in service of the guru.

The magical key

In the beginning this total faith appears to resemble the religious or blind form, and this is why it is sometimes difficult for people who are more intellectual and rational to understand and accept it. However, this preliminary blindness is rapidly dispelled as the unconscious mind is progressively illumined by the guru's grace. In this way a higher faith and a higher awareness flower in the disciple through guru seva. Service of the guru is the magical key which transforms the awareness, redirects the capacity for faith and illumines the previously unconscious mind.

During the process of enlightenment of the unconscious mind by the guru, the disciple's attitude must be one of absolute identification with him. This is the attitude that 'I am powerless; I am doing nothing.' Something may be happening, but I am not instigating it, nor am I responsible for it. I am only serving the guru to the best of my abilities and I have no expectations. It may be that I am being transformed into a channel fit for the transmission of a greater spiritual energy, or it may not be so. I cannot know. Although it is my highest wish and aspiration, nevertheless I am so busy serving my guru that I cannot really care if any change or transformation is occurring at all. Whatever is happening to me is the concern of the guru, it is not my concern. My concern is with my duty to him, that is all.

For the disciple, service of the guru becomes the sole nectar of life. Of course, he sleeps, eats and works, because these are the necessities of a healthy life, but he neither needs nor wants any more than that. His mind is actually always preoccupied with the guru, his nature, his form, his words and instructions, the sound of his voice, the nature of his work and mission. This is how an intelligent disciple lives and thinks and in this way his awareness quickly evolves.

Fall of the rational mind and the ego

As the guru overhauls the disciple's whole personality, the disciple has an important lesson to learn. He has to renounce the intellectual and argumentative mind. The intellect may resist or oppose the guru, but the wise disciple overcomes this barrier not by fighting the intellect, but simply by surrendering the workings and responsibility for its function to the guru. It is natural that the intellect will protest as faith is progressively withdrawn from it and redirected towards a higher source. Does the shopkeeper not offer some protest when his best customer begins to withdraw his patronage and closes his account? Thus the disciple learns not to resist the operation of the guru by listening to the endless squabble of the intellect.

In the same way, the ego, which is fuelled by the intellect, has to go as well. This must be carried out intelligently. Death of the ego should not be like the political assassination of the hated tyrant. Blood should not be spilt in the process. Rather, it should resemble the gradual fall from favour by a superseded leader. Ultimately, the ego should be totally surrendered as a motivating principle in life. Then the guru takes over the reins.

The guiding light

This is the peculiar attitude of a yogi's faith. Certainly in the beginning it rests in the unconscious mind, because the disciple places his faith in the guru. He accepts the workings of a higher intelligence guiding his life, even while he yet remains unaware of how it operates, or for what purpose. It is enough for him to trust the guru, and know that a higher vision and understanding will also come in the future, if it is meant to. Beyond earnestly serving his guru, the disciple can do nothing to accelerate or retard the working of the unconscious higher force to which he has surrendered. His only guide and his only light is the guru, and his only purpose is to serve him. All other forms of rational argument, egocentric entertainment, personal conceptions and outlooks should be dismantled, as these serve as barriers to the growth of the guru's consciousness within the disciple.

There is no other light in his life than the guru. Not even the sun itself. There is no attraction and no aversion, no beauty and no ugliness, no pleasure and no pain, no joy and no sorrow, no life and no death. These are all renounced because they rest upon the workings and judgements of the ego and only prolong and preserve its existence. There has to be only the guru alone, as the sole centre of higher intelligence and guiding wisdom within the disciple's awareness.

Illumining the disciple's vision

The next step is the gradual enlightenment of the previously unconscious mind, like turning on the spotlights in a sporting arena at night. Where there was previously only darkness, suddenly a whole vista is revealed. This is the process of illumination of the disciple's vision and elevation of his awareness to encompass the cosmic vision in all its immensity. This is performed by the guru progressively and serially, as the relationship between guru and disciple flowers, at a rate which the disciple can successfully integrate into his being.

This is the gradual illumination of the unconscious mind to reveal the super-conscious mind, the universal plan and the complete evolutionary spectacle. As it is unveiled, the part which the disciple is destined to play becomes clear to him, together with the role which each and every individual is playing, whether consciously or unconsciously. This is the fruition of the guru's consciousness in the disciple which occurs spontaneously in the process of guru seva and ashram life, but which cannot be actively sought after.

A true disciple knows and accepts that if it is destined to be, then it will be. If not, then he can do nothing to alter that either. The disciple is in a situation where he need not desire anything in order to bring it about. Because he has renounced the working of his personal mind, including its desires and aversions, there is no longer any individuating consciousness in his life. His behaviour is not in his hands, it is in his guru's. His motivation is the guru's will and his only task is to remain ever alert and attentive to it. In order to solve the mystery of faith the first and last instruction for a disciple is to trust the guru and seek to serve him.