The Path to Freedom: Mastering the Art of Total Perception
by Swami Krishnananda

Chapter 14: The Importance of Faith

When seeking the guidance of a Guru or a Master, a very important instruction to the spiritual aspirant is that we should have adequate faith in our own self. There should be no doubt in regard to the very objective we are seeking.

Often doubts assail the mind, even in respect of the existence of God Himself. A large number of students approach Masters for guidance with a doubt in regard to the very existence of that which is supposed to be sought through the aspiration.

It is true that the world is torn asunder with the ravaging tempest of thoughts which run in different directions. It is on account of uncontrolled thoughts that we begin to doubt that there is meaning in the world. Our problems and difficulties of daily life seem to be enough argument against the existence of God. The usual question everywhere in the world is, “If pain can be, how can God be?” as these two are contradictory in nature.

The viveka and vairagya shakti of a student, which perhaps appear to rise in the initial stages on account of the fructification of the meritorious deeds performed in previous life, get stifled at some point in time. Anyone can be in a state of doubt at some time. Pains come in an intensified form, almost to the point of death; such sufferings are not impossible in this world. When they come upon a person, it is then that the mind begins to doubt the existence of meaning in life. The psychology of history will be ample proof to tell us how many people the world has produced who thought in this manner, and suffered as a consequence thereof.

The student should not approach a Guru or Master with this attitude: God may be, or God may not be; I may be successful or I may not be successful; the achievement may be of value or not be of value at all. With these debatable attitudes, the student should not approach the master. Faith, shraddha, is regarded as a very important quality or qualification of a seeking student. The student has to convince himself of the meaning of his aspiration.

Our aspiration should not be a meaningless pursuit. We are not trying to experiment with God or to put the meaning of life on trial: “Let me see if there is some meaning or not.” If we try to put Nature on a trial to see if there is any meaning or significance behind it, we will find that there is no meaning at all. It has no significance. Then we will return with a complaint that we have seen nothing because the doubts that arise on account of an apparent meaninglessness of our actions and modes of living life are due to untrained thinking. Our present-day way of thinking is incapable of seeing through the meaning of things—the reason being that to realise or visualise the meaning of an object, the mind which seeks this meaning in the object should be set in tune with it. If the object and the mind which tries to understand the object run in different directions, as poles apart, there will be no union between the two, and the mind cannot understand the object.

Whether God exists or not is a question which the mind raises. This question arises because of the mind’s observation of Nature through the activities of the senses. We must be aware that such doubts can come upon any person; we can get these doubts even though we are apparently acquainted with the primary modes of spiritual life.

All faith can be shaken by the winds of suffering when suffering comes in a form which cannot be tolerated by the frailties of the body. It is faith which can stand us in good stead, which can follow us even to our doom. If the turmoils of life can shake our faith, then it would mean that the faith has not been born of conviction.

There is a faith which is prior to conviction, and a faith which is posterior to conviction. The faith which comes to us early in life, due to having been born under certain circumstances—for example, in a religious family, a good society, etc.—is one kind of faith. From our childhood our parents might have been telling us that God is. It is quite possible that our parents are religious persons, temple goers, believers in the presence of an omnipotent Creator of the world. As such, it is quite possible that we, children of such parents, are taught to believe in the existence of a Supreme Sovereign of all creation, and due to this instruction that has been given to us since childhood, we develop a kind of faith in the existence of a kind of Supernatural Being. This faith has not come to us due to conviction, understanding, analysis, observation or study.

We have been told that something is; therefore, we believe that something has to be, merely because we have been told so. This is one kind of faith—the faith of the majority of the people, we may say. But the mind grows, evolves and develops an independent attitude as it evolves in the process of its evolution.

When the mind begins to assert independence in its way of thinking, it seeks a satisfaction of the ways in which it is constituted. The mind is a logically constructed principle. It is not chaotic substance. It is not a bundle of blind beliefs. Though such faith and beliefs form part of its constitution, they are not the essence of the mind. The mind has perhaps many a layer forming its body, and while we try to uncover the mind layer after layer, we will begin to see that the mind is essentially constituted of a certain methodology of thinking. The mind is a name that we give to the total structure of the different ways in which we can think. The mind is constituted of thinking. Thought is mind. And, if we would like to understand mind as a kind of substance, which it really is not, we may tentatively agree that the mind is the sum total of certain given processes of thinking which are precisely logical, by which we mean that thoughts proceed in an order.

There is a system in the development of our ideas. We do not think at random. It is not that we think something now, and something else immediately afterwards, without any correlation between thoughts. When we delve deeper into the system of our thinking, we realise that there is a method, and the mind wants to subject its objects to this methodology of thinking. We may call this the strength or the weakness of the mind.

It is impossible for the mind to take anything for granted. It has to cast everything into the moulds of its own logic, and by the logic of the mind, we understand the way in which the mind deduces one thing from another. Everything has to be deduced; otherwise, the mind does not get satisfied. This logic is even applied to the existence of that which originally has been accepted as an article of faith. And so it is that we demand arguments of proof for the existence of God, because God has to be deduced.

If logic is the way of thinking, if logic is the law of thought, then every object of thought has to be subjected to the modes of logic. When this attempt is made by the mind to scrutinise everything logically, then everything, even the concept of God, becomes a question which has to be analysed, argued about and deduced from certain premises. The existence of God no more becomes an article of faith but is summoned to the court of reason and analysed threadbare, and proofs are called for; and if no proofs come forth, the existence of God is dismissed from the universe of thinking.

Here is the great argument of the mind: God does not exist because of the ill-logicality that we observe in the world. The mind becomes unhappy whenever it cannot apply its way of thinking to the world and to the objects of its thought, and the Providence that seems to be operating in the world with no intelligible system behind its working makes the mind unhappy.

Therefore, we begin to doubt anything and everything when it cannot be deduced from premises that are acceptable. This is the usual way in which the mind thinks. We are told, generally, that logic is the law of human thinking. If the human mind is to think of God, if it has to accept God as the content of its thought, then there can be no other way than to subject God to the test of logic. This has been done in the past, and is being done even now.

But in this effort to analyse the nature of God, the mind forgets that this peculiar nature called God, which it is trying to understand, is not capable of an analysis along the lines of logic because while we may accept God as a kind of object, and may even call Him the Supreme Object, He is not an object of the mind.

It is on account of this difficulty involved in the thought of God that proofs have failed to establish His existence. Unfortunately, God is the presupposition of all logical proofs. But the mind of the seeker is a human mind, so whatever be the decision of an initial enthusiasm on the path of yoga, it is likely to be disturbed by the obtrusive logical moods that arise in the mind occasionally, and we are prone to put a ‘why’ before anything that is presented before us. Why should it be like this? Why should God create the world? Why did God create a meaningless, painful, chaotic, material world? And why should there be this distinction of high and low, gross and subtle, in a world of equality created by God? These are some of the ‘whys’ that occur to our minds, questions which cannot be easily answered because who is to answer them? Before whom are we posing these queries? We cannot put these questions to other human beings because they too think like us. Whatever be the question, it is a human question, and no human being can answer these ultimate human questions. We are all human beings with common frailties.

Hence, conviction lacks while faith begins to argue in its own way that something has to be, something ought to be, because we have been told that something is.

When we approach a Guru for initiation into the mysteries of yoga, we are asked to be thoroughly convinced as to the nature of the objective that we are seeking. If it is God, we should be convinced that God is. Now, how are we to be convinced that God is? Another person cannot convince us, because all persons are made in the same way. Our own observations should convince us. As certain observations in the world seem to have created a doubt in our minds regarding the existence of God, certain other observations may prove the existence of God.

Pain and suffering are not the only things that exist in this world. The world does not contain only ugliness and defects, poverty and sickness, death, transformation and change. It contains something else also, together with these unfortunate things with which the mind is dissatisfied. While we seem to be unfortunate to have been born in this mundane world of perpetual suffering, we seem at the same time to be fortunate that we have been born in a world of this kind which, simultaneously with all this suffering, also hints at the existence of something positive as an answer to all the questions that the mind can raise. All the questions arise from the negative side of things, and the answers have to come from the positive side.

The world has two sides, the positive and the negative. When we look at the negative side of things, we begin to weep, and when we see the positive side, we begin to laugh. The world contains both these things, so there are people in this world who weep, and there are also people who smile and laugh because of the different observations that they make.

We may take the standpoint of the common man that everything is subject to destruction. Everything dies, everything perishes. Every person has to leave this world one day or the other. This is a world of transformation—change. One question is: Can there be a God in a world which is in perpetual change? This is one of the doubts that may occur in the minds of people: If everything is impermanent, can there be permanence anywhere?

The question itself is pregnant with the answer: Because everything is impermanent, something has to be permanent. The question carries the answer together with it. The very fact that we observe change and destruction everywhere, we have answered our own question. Who can see impermanence, if there is nothing permanent? Who can be conscious of the fact of death if there is nothing presupposing the process of death? Who can be conscious that there is a finite object if there is not something exceeding the finite? Who can be aware that something is an effect if there is no cause behind it? And how can we seek redress from sorrow? How can there be a standard of moral values if there is no such thing as positive goodness? If everything is bad, we cannot know that there is such a thing as bad. The very fact that we say that there is something bad shows that there is something good. It looks that all of our questions have their own answers inside them.

We cannot say that everything is dead wrong. The very fact that we make such a statement shows that there is something that is not wrong; something is all right. If we are not subtly and at the background conscious of a standard of judgement with which we compare the vicissitudes, pains and shortcoming of the world, our judgements themselves would not be. All judgement is comparison. There is a standard with which we compare things and then say it is this or it is that. When we say we do not like this, it means to say that we like something. It is not that we do not like anything.

All expressions of thought carry with them two sides—the positive and the negative. While the world with all its deficiencies and shortcomings may be said to be the negative side of experience, God is its positive side.

If God cannot be, the world also cannot be. If we accept the existence of the world, we have to accept the existence of God because we cannot accept one side and cancel the other side. Our aspirations are enough proof for the existence of a permanent value in life. Everyone asks for something which is enduring. We ask for perfection and happiness for a very long time, not for a few years; we want it perennially. This is the tendency to eternity that we have in our own minds.

We would like to have things for all times to come, and we would like to have as many things as possible. These are the two sides of our longings—as many things as possible and for as long a time as possible. Quantitatively and qualitatively, we seek perfection. But these subtle hints behind our longings get smothered by the ravaging, clamouring voice of the senses. The senses shout so much that these subtle whispers of the inner Reality within us get drowned and we begin to doubt and ask questions in terms of the senses, not knowing that we have also the answers behind these questions.

This is the reason why the sadhana-chatustaya, particularly in its aspect as satsampat, wants us to cultivate the qualities of kshama, dhama and uparati. The mind should be calm in order that we may be conscious of the existence of a meaning in life first and foremost, and in this subdued attitude realise that there is a permanent value which we seek in the world. It is said that we should develop a faith which will not be shaken by the logic of the world. It is with this faith that we have to approach a preceptor. The arguments should no more be in a position to shake us. We ought to have thoroughly argued everything for ourselves, considering the pros and cons. We must be such good logicians that other logics cannot shake us. If someone can say something else and disturb our thoughts, it means our conviction has not been good, that we are not a logical thinker. We have not sifted the problems properly before coming to conclusions. We should weigh our thoughts thoroughly, argue them, sift them and come to a definite conclusion, so definite that there should be no sublimation of these thoughts, no necessity to change our ideas. With this conviction it is that the student should approach the preceptor. We must be sure as to what we want. We should not go and ask the Guru, “I do not know what I want, please tell me!” Many students today put these questions: “I am not all right; I do not know what I want; please tell me.”

Conviction is the first thing—a faith born of conviction. A faith born of conviction is unshakeable. Faith is supposed to be threefold, or sometimes fourfold. Faith in the existence of God, who is the supreme objective of our seeking, is one thing. Once we are convinced about this, we are not to put further questions. We have only to be initiated into the mysteries of the meditation on God, for which we go to the Guru. That is one aspect of the matter.

The other aspect of faith is said to be faith in the Guru himself. We should not doubt his methods of instruction and initiation. The importance of the Guru in spiritual life cannot be overestimated. Suffice it to say that the path of the Spirit cannot be trodden independently by a person merely with a logical attitude. Naiṣā tarkeṇa matir āpaneyā, proktānyenaiva sujñānāya preṣṭha (Katha 1.2.9), says the Kathopanishad. Naiṣā tarkeṇa matir āpaneyā: With logic we cannot achieve this goal. Proktānyenaiva sujñānāya preṣṭha: There is no way at all unless we are taught by another who is competent.

The weaknesses of the mind will prevent it from taking an independent stand in matters such as this. Moreover, it is difficult for the student to know his own mind. The mind has many layers of manifestation and while in one layer it may appear to be longing for God, in another it may be secretly working for the satisfaction in the world of sense. It is only the Guru who can know this turmoil in the mind of the disciple. We may be in a state of conflict even while we are approaching a Guru, while for all practical purposes it may look from outside that we are well off in spiritual sadhana.

Conflicts again are conscious or subconscious. If there is a conscious conflict, perhaps we may be aware of what our difficulties are. But there are subconscious tensions, and these become obstacles in our study, as well as in our meditations. The unconscious tensions are the results of past desires which have not been fulfilled, desires which might have arisen many years ago, perhaps in childhood, which we could not satisfy and had to thrust inside by force due to the taboo of society or some such reason. Such desires which wanted an expression, an outlet or an avenue for satisfaction, and which were forced inside, cause tension in the subconscious mind. It is these tensions that disturb us in our meditations.

Many a time our meditations are not successful though we have been honest in our approach, the reason being that we have subtle tensions in our minds. Most of us have conscious tensions in our mind, and yet we cannot express them due to private reasons. Our minds are very complex, and each mind is unique. The way out cannot be known by our own selves, as a sick person cannot treat himself when he is really ill. All sick people go to doctors; to study some medical text and treat oneself is not possible. Likewise, a spiritual student of yoga approaches a Master, an adept who acts like a spiritual physician to heal the illness of samsara.

No one should be complaisant enough to imagine that one is well off in spiritual life and that one has the strength to stand on one’s own legs. There are difficulties which one cannot foresee, difficulties coming from mostly within, and in the lives of spiritual seekers it will be seen that many a time they are suddenly brought face to face with certain experiences which they themselves cannot explain.

Desires of an intense nature may suddenly arise in the mind, in spite of years of effort to the contrary. We may be surprised how these desires have arisen in the mind when we have been doing so much japa and pilgrimage, tirta yatra, etc.

The reason is that we have not treated our mind in a scientific manner. The tensions of the mind are the illnesses of the mind. Psychoanalysts call these the conflicts, and so on, by various names. The conflict is really the disagreement between the inner condition of the mind and the outer circumstances in which it is placed. When the two do not agree, there is tension. We have to loosen this cord, and the mind should be able to move in a straight direction. The knots of the heart which yoga speaks of are nothing but the knots of these tensions and desires.

Either we have to untie these knots carefully, or we have to cut them like the Gordian knot. Both these methods will be difficult. We cannot untie them, nor can we easily cut them, as Alexander is said to have cut the Gordian knot. They are hard enough.

Under these circumstances, a very good spiritual adept who knows the psychology of the human mind is necessary; such is a Guru. You should not doubt the competency of the Guru. After faith in God comes faith in Guru. If you doubt the existence of God, you know the consequences, and if you doubt the existence of the Guru, perhaps you will be worse. The Guru exists for you.

Some people say that there is no Guru at all. One British lady wrote a book by the name of Hunting the Guru in India. She went back very sadly disappointed because she hunted the Guru and found none. Nowhere could she find the Guru. She had gone to almost every ashram in India and wrote the book with very damaging criticisms. So we should not approach a Guru with a carping attitude. Just as we should not test the existence of God with our logic, we should not test the competency of the Guru.

Once we have taken him as our Master, he is our Master forever. There is no such thing as changing the Guru. I need not dilate upon the necessity for a Guru, what a Guru means in spiritual life, and why we have to be initiated by the Guru into the mysteries of yoga. The initiation is necessary not only to learn the techniques of meditation which are not possible to gather from textbooks, but also because there is a particular meaning in the very process of initiation.

One thing is that we cannot know how to meditate, whatever be the number of books that we may read. The secret of meditation is very simple; unfortunately, we cannot find it in books. This is why we have to go to a person who knows this, and who has lived this life.

The other aspect is that there is a vital contact that is established in the process of initiation, on account of which initiation is regarded as compulsory and necessary. The thought of the Guru influences the mind of the disciple to a large extent. This is called shakti-patha in common parlance. Generally, shakti-patha is a term which is used to designate the way by which the power of the mind of the Guru influences or descends into the weaker mind of the disciple and works in the mind of the disciple. It charges the mind of the disciple, like a battery, infuses electric energy, as it were, into the mind of the disciple by the act of concentration, by the methodology of initiation, by means of the mantra or the formula or the technique into which the mind of the disciple is initiated. Such is the importance of the Guru and the initiation into the method of yoga.

Also, we are supposed to have sufficient faith in the words of the scripture. The need for faith in the scripture arises on account of our logical reason being incompetent to ascertain the nature of Reality.

A famous aphorism of the Brahma Sutras says sastrayonitvat (B.S. 1.1.3): God can only be known through the scripture. It is not that books can reveal God; this is not the implication of the sutra. The meaning is that revelation is the only criterion in super-mundane matters. It is not logic, intellect, argumentation or reason that can be an aid in the ascertainment of Truth; only revelation, insight, and intuition can comprehend the nature of Reality. As Truth is all-comprehending, the method of knowing Truth should also be all-comprehending, integral. The methods of logic are defective in the sense that they separate the two terms of the argument into the subject and the object, whereas in insight there is no such bifurcation of thought from its object. God is Unitary Being, the Sole Existence, which means that in God the seen and the seer are blended together.

God is the seen, as well as the seer. As such, the methods of logic will not work there, where the seer and the seen are not different. To the processes of induction and deduction in logic, the seer is different from the seen, the subject is different from the predicate. But in God or in anything concerning God, Who is Unitary Existence, the Sole Reality, in Whom the seer and the seen come together into a fraternal embrace, logic is of no use.

Hence, scripture is the only aid. To realise the miracle of God, we have to pass through the process of initiation through a Guru and get the aid of the subtle teaching of the scripture. By scripture we mean the records of spiritual revelation. A scripture is not a book written by any person. It is not an intellectual work or a premeditated treatise. It is just a manifestation of Reality in the consciousness of a seer in the light of meditation. We have scriptures in all religions, all holding their scripture as a sacred revelation of God Himself. In our own country we have the famous scriptures known as the Vedas and the Upanishads, which are often regarded as the expiration of God.

Sa yathārdra-edhāgner abhyāhitāt pṛthag dhūmā viniścaranti, evaṁ vā are'sya mahato bhūtasya niḥsvasitam, etad yad ṛgvedo yajurvedaḥ sāmavedo'tharvāṅgirasa itihāsaḥ purāṇam vidyā upaniṣadaḥ ślokāḥ sūtrāny anuvyākhyānāni vyākhyānāni: asyaivaitāni sarvāṇi niḥśvasitāni. (Bri. Up. 2.4.10), says the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad. It is apaurushaya, superhuman, in its content. The scripture is regarded as superhuman because it pertains to matters which are super-mundane. The existence of heaven, etc., for example, is not to be deduced by logical argument, whatever be its intensity. However much we may argue, we cannot prove the existence of heaven, etc.

These are realms transcending human perception. The existence of such planes of being, the ways in which the law of action and reaction work—the law of karma, for example, and the process of transmigration—such things and many other topics akin to these are not to be discussed in a scientific way because science is an outcome of thinking in terms of sense, while these subjects pertain to matters which are super-sensible. Hence, the sutra says sastrayonitvat—God is known only through the revelations of the seer. These revelations embodied are called the scriptures—shastras.

Therefore, the student has to be full of this ardour, this faith, this longing which arises on account of the conviction of the existence of God and the competency of the Guru, as well as the veracity of the scripture. But there is another kind of faith which is mentioned in our text apart from faith in God, faith in Guru, and faith in our scriptures: faith in one’s own purified conscience. This is also a kind of faith. We must listen to the voice of our conscience, and not turn a deaf ear to it. Our conscience many times tells us what we ought to do. In the famous Manu Smriti the author discusses the roots or the sources of dharma: The sources of dharma—the ways in which we can ascertain what righteousness is—are the Vedas, then comes the Smritis, next comes the conduct of the wise, and then finally our own conscience.

Now, the conscience of a person is likely to get blunted by habitual misuse, and the blunt conscience which is not purified may not be able to manifest or express properly the deep intentions of the spirit within us. Hence, when we speak of the voice of conscience, we mean thereby the indications given by something which we are in our own selves, apart from what we have made of ourselves by way of circumstances, etc. We are something in our own selves—a very important thing that we are likely to forget.

We have to divest ourselves of all accretions that might have grown over us—for example, the name. Divest yourself of this name: Mr. Natraj, Mahavir, Swami so-and-so, Brahmachari so-and-so. We are so identified with these names that we cannot think except in terms of them. The name is only a fictitious word that has been uttered by some people in respect of us, and it has clung to us so vehemently, like a good friend, that it is not going to leave us till death. So deeply has the name gone into us that when we are addressed by our name even when we are fast asleep, we immediately get up, but if we are addressed by another name, we will not awaken.

The name is not what we are. This is something unnecessary that has grown around us. We have many other unnecessary accretions that have grown around us like fungi—our name, social status, and the language that we speak. We can spoil our life with all these things. We know how friendly we feel towards a person who speaks our own language. What is the meaning behind it? What is the great importance in this language? Well, it is difficult to answer all these questions. Language is a tremendous obstacle to knowing what we really are. The society in which we live and the etiquette that we follow in terms of that society have gone deep into our minds and are another obstacle. Many other things of this nature grow over the surface of our minds and we become psychologically dirty.

A dirty mind cannot reveal the voice of conscience, so it is useless to say, “I act according to my conscience.” We cannot know what our conscience speaks. The conscience speaks in everyone and this conscience has to speak, but we must be able to listen to its voice. We have no ears to hear. When the voice of the conscience passes through the prism of our desires, it gets deflected into various rays of cravings for things of the world. And then we say, this is my conscience speaking: “I want this, I want that.” We may even go and hit someone and say that it is the voice of our conscience. Well, it is the voice of our desires, not the voice of the conscience. So the instruction is that we must depend on the voice of our conscience and trust it fully.

Faith in one’s own conscience is a form of faith. For that we have to be purified by the practice of viveka, vairagya, kshama, dhama, uparati, which have already mentioned. It is a graded series of training. Viveka, vairagya, kshama, dhama, uparati, titiksha are certain stages of training of the mind for the reception of the knowledge of the Spirit from the Guru. And now we have come to shraddha, faith, which is the primary motive force behind concentration of mind, the ideal which the student of yoga seeks in the end.

All yoga is concentration, yoga samadhi, says Sri Vyasa in his commentary on the Yoga Sutras. All yoga is concentration of the mind, finally; and no concentration is possible if the prerequisites are not fulfilled.

Viveka, vairagya, and the other things mentioned culminate in the development of this staunch faith in the existence of God, in the competency of the Guru, in the truth of the words of the scripture, and in the meaning of the voice of one’s own conscience. This faith it is that gives us the strength to concentrate the mind on the Ideal after the initiation from the Guru. Thus, the sadhana-chatustaya is a very systematic method of training.

The concentration of the mind is a very important subject, which I would not like to touch today. We shall discuss it sometime later. It is a very vast subject, perhaps the primary thing in all spiritual seeking. But there is another important factor mentioned in the sadhana-chatustaya together with viveka, vairagya, kshama, dhama, uparati, titiksha and shraddha, namely mumukshuttva, aspiration for the liberation of the spirit.

This is a very difficult thing to find in most students of yoga. They may be discriminating to a large extent, very intelligent, educated, mentally sober, and equipped with an amount of vairagya, but with all that, we will find very few people in the world who really want liberation of the soul. It is all because they cannot understand what it means; and if we tell them, it would confuse their minds.

Very few people seek liberation from the thraldom of samsara. All people, for the matter of that, seek something else. We want something different from us, something outside us, some object of satisfaction. What does it bring? The question would be, “What will I get if I am liberated? What will it bring to me?”

One very ardent, simple and honest student came here and told me, “I will realise God in this very life, and I have come for that only.” I said, “What will you do after realising God? What will be your profession after realising God?” He said, “I will go home, but I will not return until I realise God!”

Everyone connects ends with means and means with ends, and the freedom of the Spirit is regarded as a kind of achievement for some ulterior purpose. This is at the background of the mind: “After freedom, what next? What is afterwards? What am I going to do after I am free?”

Well, this is a fundamental misconception in the very idea of freedom, a topic we shall discuss a little later.