Finding Faith

I was brought up on what can be best described as vague ideas of absolute good and evil. The ways of an all pervasive, omnipotent, omniscient power could not always be explained. Usually ‘good deeds were rewarded,’ but the fine print had disclaimers. The accounts of these good deeds could be settled in the next birth and that one may at any point have to pay for the bad karma of past births. The ability to accept these teachings without doubt, I was told, constituted faith.

    Furthermore, there were heart-warming stories about miracles.  Mythological stories, fairy tales and fables reinstated my faith in divine justice. It made me often expect an immediate and startling solution to my problems if I continued to believe. In the absence of such life altering blessings, especially when I needed them the most, I felt an acute disappointment, a silent erosion of faith, till one day I woke up with the realization that I felt anchorless, rudderless and somewhat hopeless.

     Entirely by chance, and not because I was looking for an answer to my dilemma, I picked up Swami Chinmayananda’s Prasnoupanishad, and came upon a paragraph that made me pause:

    “Faith,” it says, “in its spiritual context does not mean an intellectual surrender or any unquestioned sentimental and emotional tribute at the altar of a symbol or idea, which the innocent devotees do not understand. Faith here means only that psychological and intellectual understanding and balance without which not even our common day-to-day business of life could, in fact, be efficiently transacted. A faith in ourselves and in our own capacities is the nucleus of all achievements, and without this initial capital none of us can build up either a career or a pattern of existence.” The verse goes on to explain that a person endowed with austerity, celibacy and faith easily attains greatness. The explanation for austerity does not imply unnecessary self-denial but a constant output of intelligent effort. Celibacy means more than the act of controlling carnal desire; it is exercising mental control over eruptions of thought.

   There I was, for the better part of my life, expecting dramatic changes but they were in turn dependent on me. I can’t embrace wholly the idea that I am responsible for everything that happens to me because, as my experience suggests, unpredictability and uncertainty are a constant.  I’m sure there will be days when I think nothing works no matter how hard I try and maybe I’ll be right. Except now I know that holding onto faith means nurturing inner reserves of strength to deal with it.

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