By Suma Varughese
Faith is the sole sustaining power of those who walk the spiritual path. It is faith that gives them the courage and strength to take risks and follow hunches, the trust that they will be looked after, the power to do the impossible and the willingness to surrender.
It was one of the more stormy passages of my spiritual journey. I had just understood that there could be no alignment between the value system I embraced and that of the magazine I then edited. And I had given in my resignation that morning. I was firmly set against ever working for mainstream media, which I discerned to be an instrument of capitalism, relentlessly promoting a materialistic lifestyle. My intuition had counselled me to opt for freelancing and resist moving into some other department of the publishing house I worked for. However, clear though I had been at that time, doubts now assailed me as I considered the perilous insecurity of the line I had chosen. I had, after all, a mother to take care of. Yet through it all, I clung to faith.
That evening, as I broke the news to my startled and dismayed mother, the phone rang. Parveen Chopra, the former editor of Life Positive, was on the line from Delhi. He was starting a new age magazine and needed someone from Mumbai…
I still remember the huge deep gasps of relief and gratitude that wrung out my lungs and kept me awake all night. I was saved. I was going to be looked after. I was to have a regular salary without compromise to my values. If I had walked out of a precipice and found heavenly wings spread out to carry me to safety, I could not have been more grateful or surer that faith had redeemed me.
Although faith has been the main plank of the path I walk, from that day onward it grew deeper, stronger, absolute. It gave me the courage and strength to take the decisions I needed for my further growth, no matter how risky. It taught me to trust my inner voice implicitly. It opened me up to the magic of the unknown, that domain of power and possibilities. Above all, it taught me to believe in miracles.
The path of those who walk in faith are strewn with miracles. Nandini M, a music impresario based in Mumbai, recalls her experience of the July 26 floods vividly. Says she, ‘When water entered my ground floor apartment in Vile Parle West, I was shocked. It had never happened before. Instinctively I set out to salvage what I could, which was difficult because most of my furniture is low-slung. I placed the portraits of my gurus, Sathya Sai Baba and Ramakrishna Paramahansa, along with an open katori of vibhuti I had got from Baba, on my bed, which was about 14′ from the ground. Then I left the room to take care of other objects and before I could quite realize it, the water had risen up to my knees. My neighbor forced me to leave the house and I did so fortunately, for the water rose up to 5 ft and I would have drowned had I stayed on.
‘On leaving, I looked back to see my slippers and sandals floating on the filthy water. All night, I was agonized at the thought of my gurus’ portraits floating like that, besmirched and sodden. The next day, my husband and I returned home to a dreadful mess. Everything had fallen to the ground and was submerged in slush and muck. Everything that is, but a 2′ by 2′ space on the bed, holding the portraits and the vibhuti, which was dry and snug, pristine.
‘It was unbelievable. At that moment I felt such a deep sense of being blessed and protected. I told my husband, ‘He is with us, no matter what. Why do we need to fear?’ I feel so blessed that the floods happened to me. Nothing can shake me now.’
What is Faith?
What, after all, is faith? The dictionary calls it rather blandly, trust or confidence. But those who experience it know that it is a living thing, a flame that lives in the heart, a connection with the Source of all life, a certainty of being loved, cherished and taken care of, and a strength that sweeps away all fear and doubt. Those who are robed in faith are unshakable, invulnerable, immovable. No disaster can confound them for their faith tells them that all that comes from the Creator is good. In bad times they stand steady as a rock, nothing daunted. In good times they are miracle workers, alight with energy. In touch with the invisible, they can do the impossible. And as their faith deepens and strengthens, they attract miracles, good fortune and deep impenetrable peace. For faith is akin to surrender and through surrender one penetrates the bastion of Godhead.
The seeker, journeying through unknown territory, experiencing the confusion and disorientation of opposing desires and mindsets, steers by the seat of faith, trusting the urge that has moved him, and learning to recognize the signs that indicate that he is on the right track.
Says Nandini M, ‘Nothing is deeper and stronger than faith. Faith is like love, it is above expectations. Nothing can match the connection that you feel when you experience faith.’
Sages often compare those who live in faith and those who do not to the kitten and the baby monkey. The kitten submits in entirety to its mother who seizes it by the scruff of its neck and takes it where it will. The baby monkey, on the other hand, clings to its mother with all the strength of its tiny paws, unwilling to let go even for a minute.
By their very helplessness and trust, the faithful trigger divine intervention. Just like the parent, who is so moved by the faith and trust of his child in him, that he will either kill or die to protect it, the Divine too will move mountains to respond to the faith reposed in him.
But how does faith begin? Says Father Lancy Pereira, educationist and author of The Enchanted Universe and The Enchanted Darkness, ‘Faith begins in the family. If you have a trusting childhood, it is easier for you to extend that faith to others and to God. If you have not developed trust as a child, it is very difficult to cultivate it later.’
Paulo Coelho tells the story of a village struck with terrible drought. Finally, the vicar gathered everyone together for a pilgrimage to the mountain, where they would pray together and ask for the rain to return. At the mountain top his eye fell on a young boy, clad in a raincoat. ‘You foolish boy,’ he chided, ‘don’t you know that we have not seen a drop of rain for years?’ The boy replied, ‘I have a cold, father. If we are going to ask God for rain, can you imagine the way back from the mountain? It’s going to be such a downpour that I need to be prepared.’ At that moment, a great crash was heard in the sky and the first drops began to fall. Oh, for the absoluteness of childlike faith.
Faith may come more easily for those whose childhood experiences have afforded a positive world view. But even for those whose lives have been overshadowed by doubt and despair, there comes a time when faith breaks out like the sun from behind dark clouds and irradiates the life. Mostly, this happens through a direct experience of God or when a prayer uttered from the very depths of our heart is answered beyond our wildest dreams. Then we cannot but believe.
Here, for instance, is such an experience culled from The Varieties of Religious Experiences by William James narrated by one S.H. Hadley, a former alcoholic who became a rescuer of drunkards in New York ‘I halted but a moment, and then, with a breaking heart, I said, ‘Dear Jesus, can you help me?’ Never with mortal tongue can I describe that moment. Although up to that moment my soul had been filled with indescribable gloom, I felt the glorious brightness of the noonday shine into my heart. I felt I was a free man. Oh, the precious feeling of safety, of freedom, of resting on Jesus. I felt that Christ with all his brightness and power had come into my life; that indeed, old things had passed away and all things had become new.’
The moment that faith enters into lives formerly ignorant of it is a glorious one, and with transformational potential.
But how do we distinguish between blind faith and the true faith that burnishes our lives and supports and strengthens us? Perhaps the single most defining characteristic is that true faith is based on personal experience, while blind faith arises from a belief system, or through various ego-based convictions. The belief that God is only on our side and not on that of those from differing faiths is an example of blind faith.
Observes Swami Kriyananda, founder of Ananda Sangha, ‘True faith is quite different from reason. But is it different in the sense that it is unreasonable? No. True faith is simply experience; it rests on one’s experience of reality. To be able merely to define a truth, is not to know that truth, really. One must experience it. Only by such experience may one say that he has achieved true faith. Certainly, reason is above blind faith. But enlightened faith, like any experimental test, is far, far above ordinary reason.’
It is only when we are willing to leave behind the comforting security of blind faith and take a step into the unknown that real faith dawns.
Dr Rajan Bhonsle, a relationship counselor and passionate follower of Osho, talks of his own somersault into faith.
‘From childhood I yearned for an experience that would give me an experience of faith. But being a rational logical individual, blind faith did not appeal. Although I went to temples and pilgrimages, I was not drawn to the idea of having faith in an idol simply because I was meant to. I wanted an authentic experience. That happened when I got in touch with Osho through his books and tapes. His words started doing something to me. I was questioning many things in my life, and whatever I read seemed to be directed right at me. Moreover, he spoke so much about faith that it gave me faith in faith. His passages from Ek Omkar Satnam or Shanilya’s Bhakti Darshan moved me so much that I would literally cry. And I had always longed to cry with genuine feeling.’
For Chennai-based IIT professor, Devdas Menon, a personal experience triggered off his baptism into true faith.’Faith in a deep sense entered my life around the age of 25, when I had a glimpse of a firsthand realisation that the core of my being was indeed a quiet and imperturbable peace, a ‘coolness’ that had a joyous warmth about it, and a sense of absolute harmony with everything in the universe. That first mystical experience, reinforced by several others in rapid succession, completely transformed me in a kind of irreversible way. Not that I was always at peace and harmony; my interactions with the real world would disturb me now and then… But there has always been an abiding faith ever since that this is just the illusory dirt of a phantom ego-self covering up the true Self.’
Once we step into the path of faith life changes dramatically. We sense what has so far seemed impossible to us, that we live in a friendly world, that our lives are overseen by a benevolent force and that there is a purpose to life. For those of us who have grown with the old materialist and fragmentary worldview, this is a paradigm shift of profound dimensions.
I, for instance, was an agnostic who nevertheless pined for the absolute faith I saw in the lives of my mother and a close friend. However, I was unable to access it until a spiritual awakening showed me that true happiness lay in focusing on the happiness of others. Only cresting the ego with its self-centred needs and thoughts would bring us to that zone of harmony and peace. It was then that I discerned the design of life, which meant that there was a divine designer. This insight opened my path to God once again and I rejoiced in the safety and security, the joy and faith, it gave me.
Living by Faith
The life of one who lives in faith is extraordinarily different from one who tries to control her life through planning, cast-iron guarantees, astrological forecasts or through the external security of money, status, power and control of others. Says Dr Rajan Bhonsle, ‘Faith makes you less critical and more accepting. I liken the life of faith to a video game where you have to make the moves that guarantees success or failure, but you know that all these moves are pre-planned. Someone out there has already created the program, which we are expressing through our actions. Secondly, one is no longer insistent that life should work according to fixed ideas. While you act as vigorously as you can to achieve your goals, you surrender the outcome.’
Observes Cyrus Khambatta, a Mumbai-based trainer and close devotee of Meher Baba, ‘After coming in contact with Meher Baba, I have never seen anything as a problem. I have gone through trying situations, but I tell Baba, ‘I know that you are there in the problem too, hence the solution must be an integral part of the problem’. So I let Him search it out like a search engine.’
Living in this fluid open-ended way, one experiences being part of a flow that operates with mysterious purpose. The people and opportunities we need for our greater growth, materialize; coincidences abound. You call someone and they say they were thinking of you; you express an idle wish for an opportunity and behold, it comes to you. Your path is paved for you before your eyes and all you need to do is to walk on it unfalteringly. It is thrilling to be in such close contact with and in co-operation with a Higher Power that seems to delight in giving us what we need, sometimes even pampering us silly. Dr Rajan Bhonsle narrates an experience that all those who live in faith will resonate with.
Says he, ‘I often used to long to write a book, but did not want to chase publishers. I always felt that if I wrote a book that was worthwhile and deserved to be read, then it ought to find its publishing avenue. Sure enough, one day a patient came to meet me. It turned out that he was a publisher and he told me that he would publish anything that I wrote. I asked him how he could have such faith in a perfect stranger and he said that my conversation with him convinced him that I could write. So I wrote a book in Marathi which was a best-seller for the next three years. Then a Gujarati newspaper decided to reproduce my book chapter by chapter. When the entire book was translated I mused that it would be wonderful if the book could be published in Gujarati. But I didn’t know any Gujarati publishers, all of who are in Ahmedabad. Again, the scenario repeated itself. A publisher met me and said that he wanted to publish it in Gujarati and the book got published.’
Cyrus Khambatta has a similar experience to narrate. Says he, ‘ In 1983, I wanted to go to the Meher Spiritual Center at Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. But I didn’t have the money to go. At that time, I worked with the Central Bank and suddenly they decided to send someone to London. Although in all honesty I didn’t have the merit to go, I was chosen and sent. From there it was easier to go to Myrtle Beach, but the whole journey continued to be riddled with signs and coincidences that showed me I was being led. For instance, someone told me that I should go to Washington too in addition to Myrtle Beach. ‘If Baba wishes it, I will go,’ I replied. When I boarded the plane to South Carolina, it turned out to be overbooked, so the authorities announced that anyone who chooses to get down and take a later flight will get a free ticket to anywhere in the US. I didn’t get up because I felt it was the devil tempting me. A man got up and went. Then I felt as if a kick had been administered to me, as if Baba was saying, ‘Idiot, here I am trying to arrange your Washington trip, and you are not cooperating.’ Contritely, I begged Baba for a second chance and sure enough, they made the announcement for a second time. But before I could get up, another lady got up and left. I felt really cast down by this, but you know what, the lady returned. You can be sure I was out in a jiffy.’
How does it happen that God takes such good care of the faithful? Is he guilty of partisanship? It may look that way but the truth is that God is the constant, it is we who move closer or more distant, depending on our relationship with Him. The closer we are, the more powerfully do we feel the Divine presence and guidance in all that we do. Just as the sun remains constant but the earth swings closer to it in summer and therefore basks in its warmth, and moves away in winter and therefore endures bitter cold, it is our movement that determines the proportion of God’s presence in our lives. Those who live in faith, move ever closer and consequently find their lives more blessed. Says Swami Kriyananda, ‘To live by faith is the most practical thing a person can do. Most people, in the name of being ‘practical,’ put God last in their lives. They wonder, then, why nothing ever goes quite right for them. The devotee, on the other hand, and also in the name of practicality (since his dedication is to truth), puts God first in his life. He attains fulfillment on every level of his existence. To his continued amazement, he finds himself protected in adversity, saved from the jaws of disaster, and guided in every crisis in ways that often leave his worldly friends shaking their heads in wonder and muttering, ‘Fools’ luck!”
At the same time, the devotee is no fair-weather friend. His love of God is not based o
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