The Importance of Faith

Swami Niranjanananda Saraswati

What is the greatest achievement of human life? Some scriptures say it is the attainment of a body, others that intelligence makes us unique from other life forms. There are diverse opinions as to what the greatest attainment of human life is, and maybe from their particular perspective all are correct. However, from another perspective the greatest attainment one can have in life is faith, because faith keeps the mind and emotions balanced. Faith does not allow one to undergo either emotional or intellectual infidelity. This is one of the most important points about faith.

Faith is the original expression of the human heart. When we are born, we function through the heart, not the mind. When we start our formal education, the mind takes over and the heart component is relegated to the background, so that in the course of our life we function through the intellect, through logic. We ask, “Why?” “How?” and all these questions relate to intellectual expressions and understanding. But certain things cannot be understood or even analysed by the faculty of intelligence, and that is the strength of the heart. The heart is always looking for support, security, compassion, love and affection – all the goodness and beauty in life. The mind can think about and aspire for good things, but it is always diverted from them. The desire remains a desire, the thought remains a thought and the aspirations can never be implemented.

Look at the importance of faith in your life. There are different mentalities, different samskaras, or impressions, belonging to each civilization, each group in society. The mentality of each society depends on the social environment. If the social environment has no balance between the material drive and the spiritual aspirations, then we disconnect from the heart forces and energies. When there is disconnection from the heart forces, the mind transforms itself, becoming more gross, materialistic and sensual, more full of cravings and desires. All these cravings, desires and ambitions lead us to seek fulfilment outside, but when we are unable to find pleasure, happiness and fulfilment in the world, we go into a depressive cycle or an insecure cycle, an aggressive cycle or a fearful cycle, which then controls our behaviour. Our psychological and emotional imbalances disturb the family and then society becomes disturbed. Then, in order to avoid that frustration, we becomes addicted to something, which takes the mind away from that depression.

This is where faith comes in. Faith is the quality that balances the psychological and emotional disturbances. For example, there is a big psychological difference between a beggar and a thief who has a knife or a gun to rob you of your valuables, and, if you resist, will possibly harm you. If a beggar in India does not get five rupees and goes hungry, at night before going to sleep he will say, “God didn’t want me to eat today. I accept God’s will. Maybe tomorrow will be a better day.” He will remain content with that feeling. Faith will give some peace, solace, comfort and security, an awareness that he is being guided by his creator. But for a thief, their fulfilment is more important than another’s life.

Faith is a quality that is ingrained in a cultural mentality, and it has always been there. But when logic comes in, faith is relegated to the background, and one becomes more material in nature and loses that inner balance and harmony.

Navaratri and faith

In India, from ancient times, Navaratri has been a celebration and an experience of going deep into one’s own faith. That faith is an expression of the positive and uplifting sentiments in one’s life. What in Christianity is known as the dark night of the soul is known in India as Navaratri, the nine dark nights of the soul. Navaratri represents the identification of the individual with the protective, motherly nature of the universe, the shakti, the power and the strength which removes the state of helplessness from life. During the nine month period in the womb, the mother nourishes and protects you, ensuring that you are born healthy. In the same manner, the cosmic Shakti is the container of the individual soul. There is a heart connection. The original form of realization was identification with the mother aspect. When we connect with the cosmic energy, we find happiness and peace, and overcome helplessness and anxiety. Therefore, Navaratri is an expression of one’s faith. People connect with the transcendental energy, the transcendental reality in a symbolic celebration of faith.

Faith and religion

Many people identify faith with religion, but faith should be seen in a different context because faith predates religion. Faith has given birth to the philosophy of Adwaita Vedanta, which today is adhered to by the sannyasins in India. When we first appeared on the planet, we came endowed with faith, not with intellect. When we were hungry, how did we know which fruit to eat or which animal to kill to satisfy our hunger? It was not due to a logical analysis or an intellectual decision, rather it was faith that propelled us to eat something about which we had absolutely no knowledge. It was faith that propelled us to take the risk between life and death.

When humans began to ask, “Who am I? What is this body? Am I alone in this universe?” it was faith which connected us to the cosmos, to the universe. It was faith which made a human being see the spark of divinity in a stone, a tree, a river, a mountain, in the sun, moon and stars.

Religions like Shintoism in Japan and the ancient Indian traditions honour nature, creation, and have respect for the divinity that exists within it. When we perceive the identity of the divine essence in everything – in material objects, in stones, trees, animals and humans, it gives birth to the Adwaita Vedanta philosophy – that God is in everything, everything exists in God.

Adwaita Vedanta was the first philosophy of humanity, and it is not a religion. The Adwaita Vedanta philosophy was the outcome of faith in a higher reality, a higher existence, and it predates every kind of religious belief. There was no Christianity 2,000 years ago. There was no Islam 1,500 years ago. What was the role of faith before these religions existed? What was the role of faith 10,000 or 20,000 years ago? It was pure. It had nothing to do with individual aspirations to realize the transcendental reality.

This faith, this heart connection, was dimmed with the advent of civilization and identification with sources of comfort and luxury. With trends to manipulate nature to suit our needs, this faith was overshadowed by the greed of materialistic attitudes. Greed gave birth to what we can call emotional infidelity and intellectual infidelity. We disconnected from the heart at that point. Today all the heart experiences that we expect, desire and express are not pure experiences of the heart, they are tainted, coloured and conditioned experiences. Even compassion, faith, belief and love are all conditioned. All that people worry about are associations and relationships, desires and aspirations. There is no place for faith in today’s life; we have lost faith in nature and in ourselves because of our own folly and shortcomings.

Today we associate faith with religion because when religions came, much later in human history, and organized themselves as sects, as traditions, as groups of followers and believers, then the spiritual awareness went out of religion and what remained was a blind ritualistic process which had to be adhered to by the believers and followers of that religion. Organized religions created a set of disciplines in order to maintain and retain control. Faith ceased to be a reality in our lives.

Cultivating faith

The cultivation of faith is an important component of yogic and spiritual life. Patanjali incorporated the concept of belief in a higher reality at the beginning of the Yoga Sutras, which is an indication that yoga can be attained only when faith is again re-established in life. Faith makes one complete and heals because it is the pure essence of life. Just as logic has become the essence of life in our society today, previously the main trait of humanity was faith.

Faith can be cultivated, not by thinking about it, not by reading different books and changing our views and ideas, but by following certain disciplines which can help us to realign the distracting energies and provide them with a focus. The same energies that we expend in our daily life can all be diverted, whether it is mental, emotional or physical energy. This is the basic precept in tantra. Tantra says not to suppress anything, because the more we suppress something, the more powerful it becomes. This is also the trend of modern psychology now.

Previously, people used to hide from their negativities and if they surfaced tried to suppress them and present a good front. That was the social etiquette. If a boy cried his parents would say, “Why are you crying? Boys don’t cry.” Suppression became the social etiquette. Only very recently have psychologists, psychoanalysts and psychiatrists said that we should not suppress but release negativities to remove emotional blocks. Tantra has always said that everything should be released, but the release has to be a process of restraint. If a horse is galloping full force in one direction, you have to turn the horse gradually, not instantaneously. That gradual turning of a speeding vehicle is known as awareness and restraint. While turning you should be in full control, aware of everything. If you make a blind turn without considering the speed, brake, accelerator, clutch and gears, the car will turn over. So carefulness in action is known as restraint.

Restraint – sanyam

The two founding ideas of tantra are acceptance and release, on the one hand, and restraint, on the other. Many people have different ideas. They say, “If tantra says not to negate anything, then we are free to do everything.” But you can’t have night-time during the day, you can’t have sunrise at midnight. There are laws that control creation, that control the human being. These are the laws of nature and the laws of consciousness. We can talk about the laws of nature, but we do not know what consciousness is. We can discuss it, but we do not know what it is. How do we know what is happening in the unconscious realm? How do we know what is happening in the subconscious realm? Are we aware of the subconscious processes and activities that are generated there? We are hardly aware of twenty percent of the conscious faculties. Ninety-eight percent of the time we identify with ‘me’, ‘mine’, my happiness, my pleasure, my comfort, my satisfaction, my fulfilment. So if our attention is held by the idea of ‘mine’ ninety-eight percent of the time, how is it possible to experience different dimensions of existence and consciousness?

One has to disassociate from the idea of ‘mine’ at some point, and that is where vairagya comes in, the third principle of yoga and tantra. First cultivate vairagya, non-attachment, objective association, based on a clear-cut discriminative relationship.

Faith and the guru-disciple relationship

To develop faith there must be a focus. It should be directed towards someone with whom you have a very balanced relationship. Originally people used to have very balanced and harmonious relationships with the guru, without expectations. Nowadays, however, the guru has become a dumping ground for the disciple’s personal problems. Most people project what they want onto the guru. The attitude is that all the good things are due to their own efforts and all the bad things are done by the guru to test the disciple. Nobody says that the good things have been due to the grace of guru and the bad things due to their own faults. The basis of the guru-disciple relationship should be trust, not dependency because the guru wants each person to be able to manage their life with dignity and clarity.

Ask yourself what your relationship is with me, after an association of many years. What kind of association have you cultivated in your mind? Friend, or guide, or guru, or associate, or lover, or whatever? Think about it, and then think whether you live that relationship. You will find that you have not done so until now because you were not clear about how to cultivate your own spiritual life, how to incorporate your own spiritual attitudes.

Thinking about cultivating compassion, love and sympathy is secondary; first the ground has to be prepared before you plant the seed. So despite an association of many years, the relationship is not clearly identified, because first you need clarity, viveka, which leads to vairagya, which than leads to restraint, sanyam, controlled movement of the senses, the mind, the emotions and feelings.


The necessary adjustments have to be made. If you decide not to eat chocolate for four months, but every night you go to sleep in a chocolate factory, how much restraint will you be able to maintain? You have to change your location, otherwise the smell, sight and taste will entice you, and you will be fighting with yourself. An external adjustment must also happen, and that is discipline, anushasana. Anushasana does not mean an imposed system or discipline, but a fine-tuning of the subtle nature and personality. In this manner the mind is gradually freed from self-association, ‘I’-identification. The freer you are from ‘I’-identification, the more faith is generated.

Faith will only appear when ‘I’ does not exist. Faith will disappear when ‘I’ comes into existence because ‘I’ always represents the intellect, the logical dimension, whereas faith represents the universal dimension which connects a human being with the transcendental Self, without the imposition of any religious ideology, dogma or ritual. Faith is your spontaneous connection, your remembrance.

A mother is always aware of her child’s movements. She doesn’t sit staring at the child all day to express her love and affection. She just has spontaneous awareness. It is that kind of remembrance which is cultivated as faith in the philosophy of Adwaita Vedanta, based on the connection of the individual soul and the transcendental Self. Faith is the doorway between the room of individuality and the room of universality. That is the door which has to be opened.

Ganga Darshan, October 2004