During Navaratri, Swami Niranjanananda talked about faith. He said that faith was the essential characteristic of human beings and that it referred to our connection with the universe. To me, it was a completely new approach to the concept of faith, and after reflecting on it, a very revealing one. Until then, my understanding of faith was linked either to the religious context, to denote adherence to the dogmas and principles of a religion, or in a more general sense to express a kind of blind acceptance of something not understood or not well known, based on trust or the authority of someone or something, rather than on a rational process of thought.
In the religious context having faith, believing, is of paramount importance. The very existence of religions as systems of doctrines and rituals requires that an important number of people find truth and meaning in those doctrines, enough to maintain their adherence to the system and to make them want to transmit it to their children. However, in spite of the crucial role of faith in religions, they do not provide the means to develop and cultivate the feeling of faith. Someone whose faith is dubious is encouraged to ignore his or her doubts and to force upon themselves an acceptance that does not come from the heart, that cant come from the heart, when there is no way of reconciling the doubts of the mind.
On the other hand, it is generally said that the element that differentiates human beings from other creatures is our ability for rational thought, the capacity to think and understand. Therefore, if faith as generally understood means to accept something you do not comprehend, it implies, in a way, negating the very essence of a human being. To have faith would be to suppress a fundamental characteristic of our being.
However, according to Swamijis insight on faith, it is the other way around. Faith is not the negation of reason, and therefore of humanness, but the affirmation of what is uniquely human: the aspiration to transcend, the consciousness of being part of a cosmic reality beyond rational thought and understanding. Faith is that inner certainty in the primordial force present underneath everything that exists, and that certainly is unique to human beings. It does not imply the negation of reason, but rather the intuition, the inner conviction, that there is something beyond reason a primordial form of existence, with which we need to connect.
Religions are an expression of this aspiration, but it is also present in non-religious contexts. It has been a universal aspiration present in all cultures throughout history, and this same universality confirms that it is an innate force or drive in human beings.
From this perspective, it becomes possible to cultivate faith, to develop the sense of connection with that primordial force within, which is the same primal principle of the universe. And yoga provides a system, a body of principles and practices aimed at the development of that same connection. The purpose of yoga is to develop our awareness of the different dimensions of our being. The tools provided by yoga lead to an understanding of our body, mind and emotions that allows us to control our behaviour and attitudes, and to direct them with a sense of purpose.
It is from this balance in our existence that we can feel harmony with the inner self and therefore with the cosmos. Our rationality, our emotions and our actions can then be directed towards the realization of the fundamentally human aspiration of finding the source of our existence. The intellect is no longer suppressed but channelled to follow an instinctive impulse from our heart. Faith is not blind obedience, but the quality that gives us the intent and motivation to cultivate our sense of union with the source of existence. In other words, through faith we can realize yoga.