Bhakti is the development of faith and jnana is the development of bhakti. Faith leads to the final experience. Whatever a person strongly believes in, that he experiences and that he becomes. Faith is the fundamental necessity for spiritual sadhana. Not an iota of progress is ever possible on the path of spirituality without faith. No faith, no devotion. No faith, no jnana.
Faith is one of the important items in the shad-sampat or six-fold virtues, one of the four means of salvation or sadhana chatushtaya on the path of realization. Even Patanjali Maharishi, the exponent of the raja yoga, lays much stress on faith. He says, Shraddha veerya smriti samadhi prajna-purvaka itaresham, To others this samadhi comes through faith, energy, memory, concentration and discrimination of the real. He has placed faith at the very beginning of this verse. If a person has faith, then energy and memory come by themselves. He will collect all his energies and remember the ultimate essence and exert to realize the basic reality. The shrutis emphatically declare: Shraddha bhakti dhyana yogadvai hi, Know Him by faith, devotion and meditation. Faith comes first. Without faith you cannot practise either concentration or meditation.
The faith must be living and unwavering. You cannot achieve anything sublime with a weak faith. You cannot reach the goal with a faith that flickers at every step. Your faith must be as firm as the Himalayas. It must be as steady as the lamp that burns in a windless place.
Though you are not able to see the sun on account of clouds, yet the sun exists. Though you are not able to see the mind that is hidden in the brain, the electricity in the wires, the child in the womb, butter in milk, fire in wood, yet the mind, electricity, child, butter and fire respectively do exist. Even so, though you are not able to see God who lies concealed in these forms on account of the impurities in the mind, yet God does exist. Weak reason is defeated by strong reason. Reason is impotent. Faith is omnipotent.
One cannot reason on things in which one has no faith. Even the highest rationality has faith as its background and the greatest philosopher has faith as his stronghold. No intellectualism can prove good if it is not supported by faith. The whole world stands on faith and is guided by it. Do you not take for granted many things in geometry? The teacher says: A line has length but no breadth. A point has position (space) but no magnitude. Is this really correct? Do you argue these points in any way? You simply take them for granted. Then again, how do you know that this man is your father? Only the mother knows your real father. When she points out your father, you accept it. Is this not blind faith?
Blind faith should be turned into rational faith through understanding. The whole world is a product of faithful imagination. If you have no faith in the world, the world does not exist. If you have no faith in sensual objects, they will not give you pleasure. If you have no faith in God, you will never reach perfection. Wrong faith turns even existence into non-existence. One who thinks that Brahman does not exist, he himself becomes non-existent, states the Taittiriya Upanishad.
Sometime you are in a peculiar dilemma or pressing pecuniary difficulty. Help comes to you in a mysterious manner. You get the money just in time. Every one of you might have experienced this. You exclaim at that moment in joy: Gods ways are mysterious indeed. I have full faith in God now. Up to this time I had no faith.
Brahman, the Self or the immanent God cannot be demonstrated, as He is beyond the reach of the senses and the mind, but His existence can be inferred by certain empirical facts or common experiences in daily life. A certain lady had a fall from the third storey. Underneath there was a bed of sharp angular stones. She would have received serious injuries, but she was miraculously saved. She herself expressed: I felt the warm embrace of some invisible hands. Some mysterious power saved me. Instances like this are not uncommon.
When Namadev was a child, his father would visit the temple of Vittoba or Sri Krishna at Pandarpur and offer worship with fruits, rice, etc. One day, he had to visit a neighbouring village on some urgent business and could not attend to the worship. Namadevs mother gave the offerings to Namadev and asked him to go and offer them to Vittoba. The boy took the articles of worship and placed them before the image and requested Him to eat the same. When he found that the image was silent, he started weeping bitterly in acute agony. Then Vittal appeared before him in human form and actually ate the offering in order to please his child devotee. Faith and devotion can work wonders. The Lord becomes a slave of devotee.
Feel the help from invisible hands during worldly activities. The Lord is always with you. He is watching all your activities and thoughts. In road accidents and various other catastrophes people are saved in mysterious ways through the timely help from the hidden power. Every one of you might have had this kind of an experience.
Your faith will be tested in various ways. However, even under extreme trials and difficulties, you should not lose your faith, your sheet-anchor.
Kannappa, the hunter of Kalahasti, had true, living faith in Lord Shiva. His daily offering to the Lord was the flesh of wild beasts. One day, Shiva tested the sincerity of Kannappa. Tears fell from his right eye in the Shivalingam. Kannappa was sorely moved. He plucked out his right eye and fixed it in the right eye of the lingam. The next day there were tears in the lingams left eye. Kannappa plucked out his left eye and fixed it in the lingam. At once Lord Shiva appeared before him and blessed him. Kannappa gained new eyes and attained the kingdom of Kailasha, Shivas abode of immortality and eternal bliss. You should possess the same unshakeable living faith which Kannappa had. Then only can you enjoy the everlasting peace of the Eternal.
To purify the mind and make it one-pointed takes a long time. There are various kinds of impurities in the mind due to which the mental patterns fluctuate and the mind will not keep steady on one idea. There is doubt in the mind. There is reality also. A doubt arises as to whether there is a God or not. This is termed samsaya bhavana. Another doubt crops up whether one can realize Brahman or not. Then a third voice says, God or Brahman is real. He is a solid, concrete reality, just like an amalaka fruit in the hand. He is a mass of knowledge and ananda. I can realize Him.
If we have clearly understood something, the ideas of that thing are well-grounded and ingrained. Some ideas are hazy and not firm. They come and go. We will have to cultivate ideas and ground them till they are firmly fixed and implanted. Clarification of ideas will remove perplexity and confusion in the mind.
Lack of faith is a dangerous obstacle on the spiritual path. The student slackens his efforts when these doubts appear. Maya, the illusory power of God, is very powerful. It misleads people through doubt and forgetfulness. The mind is maya. It deludes people through doubts. Sometimes the aspirant gives up his sadhana altogether. This is a serious mistake. Whenever a doubt tries to overpower any student, he should at once take recourse to the company of saints and remain with them for some time under the influence of their spiritual currents. He should clear his doubts by conversing with them.
Generally, an aspirant commences sadhana with the expectation of psychic powers within a short time. When he does not get them, he gets dejected and stops his practices. This is the trouble in almost all cases. He thinks that the kundalini will be awakened within six months and he will have clairvoyance, clairaudience, thought-reading and flying in the air. He entertains so many fantastic and romantic ideas.
Faith can be strengthened through satsang, prayer, self-purification, meditation and study of scriptures. You can ascend the rungs of the spiritual ladder with the help of intense, unflinching faith alone. When a doubt arises, dispel it by means of well-directed, strong suggestions and affirmations such as: I will succeed. There is no doubt of this. In my dictionary there are no such words as cant, impossible and difficult.
Whenever doubts assail you, reject them ruthlessly. Open your heart to the divine light, the source of all knowledge, all light. Become as simple as a child. Pray from the bottom of your heart. The flame will again become brighter and brighter.
Do not argue. You will not gain anything. Sit before your spiritual preceptor or a saint quietly and meditate for an hour. Let the soul speak to the Soul. All your doubts will be cleared by themselves. You will have good experiences. You will enjoy a peculiar peace. There will be a holy thrill of joy in your heart. This is the way for your spiritual growth.
Abandon all sorts of unproductive beliefs, superstitions, weaknesses, wrong notions and ideas of impossibilities. Cling fast to faith in divine possibilities. Have faith in divine life. Aspire fervently and constantly to live in the divine. When you hear discourses that disturb your faith, leave the place at once. Do not keep company with such people till you have grown, till you are established on the rock of divine love. Never budge an inch from your present position. Stand adamant on the bedrock of faith. May you have the intense, living faith of Prahlada!