Faith is not bhakti but is a very important part of bhakti. The Cambridge dictionary defines ‘faith’ as, “a great trust or confidence in something or someone.” Srila Prabhupada has explained that “faith means unflinching trust in something sublime” (Bhagavad-gita 2.41, purport). He further explained, “Faith means firm conviction that if I become transcendentally engaged in the service of the Lord, then my life becomes successful. This is called faith. And that conviction must be firm, not tottering faith” (Initiation of Bali-mardana Dasa — Montreal, July 29, 1968).
Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu instructed Sanatana Goswami (Caitanya Caritamrta,. Madhya-lila 22.62) as follows:
‘sraddha’-sabde—visvasa kahe sudrdha niscaya krsne bhakti kaile sarva-karma krta haya
“Sraddha is confident, firm faith that by rendering transcendental loving service to Krsna one automatically performs all subsidiary activities. Such faith is favorable to the discharge of devotional service.”
Did you hear a famous story from Orissa, about the story of a daughter-in-law and her mother- in-law? We can see from the story how our faith defines our every action.
Once, a mother-in-law along with her daughter-in-law, who was quite young of around 16 years old, had gone to hear Bhagavatam katha in a nearby village. On the way they had to cross a tidal river. During their onward journey, the river was shallow. They then reached the venue and attended the katha. The daughter-in-law listened very faithfully and attentively. The speaker had said, “Anande bolo hari hari, hari koribe bhava pari”, ‘joyfully chant the names of Lord Hari, and Lord Hari will get you to cross over this material world.’ The daughter-in-law immediately put her faith in the strength of the holy name because of her being simple at heart. Later, the duo started back towards home, but this time they found the same river to be full of water. The daughter-in-law had firm faith that by the strength of the holy name she could cross over this material world, what to speak of that tidal river. She crossed the river calling out the names of Hari. But unfortunately, her mother-in-law started to drown and she shouted, “Bahu bahu (daughter-in-law)! Help me!” The daughter-in-law replied, “Chant the names of the Lord Hari, Mother…” The mother-in-law became furious, “How dare you instruct me!” The mother-in-law thus awaited her destiny. How did the young daughter-in-law pass the exam while the mother-in-law didn’t? Why? Because the daughter-in-law had strong faith in God while her mother-in-law didn’t.
Bhakti means being simple; you just accept things as a young child does before his parents.The little boy asks, “Daddy, what is this?” The father replies, “My dear child, this is a tree. You don’t know? Oh, you are such a fool,” and the child accepts. He accepts because he has full faith in his father and mother and knows that they are his real well-wishers. And whatever they inform or instruct, the child follows at once. But we see that the moment one grows up and associates with others outside the family, he loses this quality of keeping faith; then a different type of consciousness develops. “Oh, my dad is old-fashioned; it is better to be with my friends.” The problem is that one’s friends may not be one’s well-wishers. This is the difference. Who can be a greater well-wisher than Krishna? Nobody! We may or may not believe it to be so, but it’s true.
SrIla Prabhupada has said, “The same thing, the child has no knowledge, but he has faith in his parents, and he believes what his parents says. Then he is making progress.(Morning Walk, July 21, 1975, San Francisco)
According to one’s faith, one makes advancement. When one comes to Krishna Consciousness, if he again brings along all those unwanted qualities which he had gained from his bad association, then he may not get the desired result (of bhakti).
How to develop this firm faith?
Faith is a very important part of bhakti. Only theoretical knowledge will not help. Conviction is something different.
Faith–it’s written in the scriptures the way to increase faith in God. It’s as follows:
Purity; one who controls his senses and maintains purity will have greater faith in the Lord.
Association of advanced Vaishnavas; faith increases when one serves and associates with a devotee having stronger faith in the Lord.
Voluntary service; faith in Krishna Consciousness increases with our voluntary increase of service to Krishna.
SrIla Prabhupada has said, “The faith increases in Krishna Consciousness by our voluntary increase of serving Krishna. Serving Krishna is unlimited and He can accept our unlimited service and award us unlimited transcendental pleasure in the unlimited service of the Lord. (SPL to Brahmananda Swami, February 20, 1968, Los Angeles). Like, for example, if one takes risks for Krishna by doing book distribution, preaching, then realizations will come. These realizations strengthen a devotee’s faith.
SrIla Prabhupada: “Sevonmukhe hi jihvadau [Brs. 1.2.234]. By service only. You can understand God simply by service. There is no other way. And the faith begins from the tongue. You see? Therefore it is advised that you chant and take prasada. Then faith will come.” (Morning Walk, July 21, 1975, San Francisco)
Bhakti (devotion) and scholarship are different
A scholar may have scriptural knowledge but he may not have strong faith. Theoretical knowledge and realized knowledge are different. Many professors may say many things but it doesn’t mean they understand God. God is ‘aprakrta.’ He is different from material knowledge. Lord Krishna says that the knowledge of bhakti is a secret; it is very confidential. For one who worship the Lord with faith, the Lord reveals to him all the secrets from within. That is why Lord Krishna says, “bhaktya mam abhijanati.” One can understand Krishna only through devotional service. Lord Brahma says in the Brahma samhita, “vedesu durlabham adurlabham atmabhaktau”, “such eternal, blissful, all-knowing forms of the Lord are usually not understood by even the best Vedic scholars, but they are always manifest to pure, unalloyed devotees.”
One may be studying and explaining many scriptures, including the Vedas, Vedanta, but he cannot understand the Lord by that. One who loves Krishna, he can know him. Krishna rewards all the devotees equally, according to their different intensities of love for Him. Just because you read books, scriptures, that does not mean that you have faith in them. Your actions will show how much faith you possess.
Srila Prabhupada, “Now you are coming in this Krsna consciousness movement. This is called sraddha, a little faith. And if you increase that faith… How it can be increased? By association with devotees. Adau sraddha tatah sadhu-sanga [Cc. Madhya 23.14-15]. Sadhu means devotees.(Pandal Lecture at Cross Maidan, Bombay, March 26, 1971)
One who has faith will associate with a sadhu. By sadhu sanga, by serving a sadhu, you will develop faith. The sadhu has firm faith in the scriptures and in the Lord, and you will get his mood by serving him. According to the Brhan Naradiya Purana 4.33, it is said ‘bhaktya tu bhagavat bhakta sangena parijayate’, which means ‘the inclination to bhakti is awakened by association with the Lord’s devotees.’ And in Caitanya Caritamrta (Madhya-lila 19.151), Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu instructs, ‘guru krsna prasade paya bhakti lata bija‘, that is, by Guru’s mercy and a Vaishnava’s mercy, you’ll get faith. Who is a guru? A sadhu is guru, guru is a sadhu. Associate with him.
We are in a trap of Maya; it’s very difficult to get rid of this trap. We are bound by three ropes of sattva, raja and tamo gunas. It’s very difficult to cut this rope, but if guru comes, he is heavy; he will scold the disciple, “Why do you do like this? Do this! Do that!” And if the disciple follows, then he will become gradually free from these ropes; otherwise, if he follows his own dictates of the mind and cheats his guru, then Krishna will cheat him. Guru brings a heavy, sharp axe and, ‘cachaak‘, will cut the big heavy rope binding him.
Remember the story of a famous violin school in Vienna? Srila Prabhupada mentioned it in his lectures. Students went to enroll in that institute. All the students were asked to fill a form, which also asked if they had any experience of playing the violin. To everybody’s surprise, a student who had never learned the violin, for him, the fees were the lowest, and as much as one had learned to play the violin before, proportionately he had to pay more. Habit is second nature. It’s very difficult to change old habits. Everybody is sick, but an expert physician knows the right prescription based on the individual’s symptoms. The spiritual master’s job is like this.
Another famous story of a brahmin and a cobbler was told by Srila Prabhupada. The brahmin was very learned and had many followers but had no faith, whereas the cobbler, although uneducated, was simple at heart and had firm faith in the Lord, and thereby knew the conclusion of all the scriptures. The story goes like this.
Narada Muni used to visit Lord Narayana every day. One day, a learned brahmin, who took his bath thrice daily and had many followers, requested Narada to inquire from Lord Narayana as to how long will it take him to attain salvation. A poor cobbler also made the same request to Sri Narada Muni. As Narada Muni met Lord Narayana, he inquired from the Lord about the destinations of the brahmin and the cobbler. Lord Narayana replied that the cobbler would come back to him after this present lifetime whereas the brahmin would have to take many births, the number of which the Lord didn’t know. Narada Muni was surprised and asked the Lord the reason for His mysterious decision. Lord Narayana assured Narada that he will understand the reason on his own. The Lord said, “If they inquire from you about My activities, then tell them that I, the Lord, was passing a big elephant from one side of the eye of a needle to the other side and vice versa.” As Narada Muni met the brahmin, the brahmin immediately asked Narada about the activities of the Lord. Narada Muni gave the same answer as the Lord had instructed. Upon listening to the reply, the brahmana angrily replied, “I dont believe in such nonsense! It’s better not to tell me such things!” Narada Muni could understand that this man had no faith. He simply read books. That’s all. Narada Muni then left and met the cobbler. The cobbler, upon hearing about the Lord’s activities, exclaimed, “My Lord is wonderful!” and started crying. Sri Narada Muni enquired, “How did you believe it?” The cobbler said, “Oh! Why not? The Lord can do anything. Look I am sitting under this banyan tree, from which many fruits are falling daily. Each fruit has got thousands of seeds, and in each seed there lies a big banyan tree. If in a small seed there can be a big tree like this, then why can’t the Lord pass an elephant through an eye of a needle?”. Narada Muni was astonished to hear the words of the cobbler.
Srila Prabhupada said that this is called belief and this was not blind belief. The devotees, like the cobbler, have strong belief in God whereas the non-devotees, like the brahmin, call it all bluff.”
Lord Krishna says, “samsayatma vinasyati.”It may be this, or it may be that; Krishna can do anything and everything. One who is sinful doesn’t have faith; he has a complicated mind. If he associates with a sadhu, then by his association, by serving him, by his blessings, he becomes simple. “Ok son, bring me water,” the guru asks the disciple, and the disciple has to follow. If he follows, then he gets blessings. The disciple becomes simple and the Lord is pleased.
So, in India, a devotee asked his mother on her death bed. She could die anytime. Naturally, every boy likes his mother; so, he also advised his mother, “Mummy, chant ‘Haribol, Hare Krishna!’” That lady does not saying anything. At one point, she got so much annoyed that she shouted (in Bengali), “Ami eto katha bolte parba na!“, which means, “I cannot say so many things (words).” She is saying so many words but not saying ‘Hare Krishna’ because she is not pious. The son is pious, but she is not and doesn’t have faith in Krishna.
An elephant or a horse trying to cross a swift, fast flowing river may get washed away but a small insect can move swiftly against the current. Why? Because he has taken shelter of the water. In the same way, one who takes shelter at the lotus feet of the Lord and his devotees, for him, it is very easy to cross over this material ocean.
One of Srila Prabhupada’s conversation goes like this:
Tamala Krsna: Srila Prabhupada? What is that ingredient or what is that thing which causes faith to develop in one? From someone becoming…
Prabhupada: Purity. Purity. The more you become pure, the faith is firm.
Narayana: So faith comes from previous pious activities?
Prabhupada: No, may not be previous activity. You believe the authority, spiritual master.
Tamala Krsna: That comes from purity, faith.
Tamala Krsna: As purity develops, one becomes more faithful.
Prabhupada: Yes. That purity is said, adau sraddha: “Beginning is faith.” Now tato sadhu-sangah: “You mix with faithful men.” Then it will develop. Otherwise, if you take simply initiation and then sleep, then faith will be lost. That is happening. You see? Therefore it is said, adau sraddha tato sadhu-sangah [Caitanya Caritamrta, Madhya-lila 23.14-15]. You accept faith, maybe blindly. Now you make further progress by mixing with advanced devotees. Then it will remain fixed. Otherwise you will loss.
Bahulasva: Faith is fixed by knowledge?
Prabhupada: No, faith may be blind, but it increases. If you stick to faith and follow the principles, then it will increase. Svayam eva sphuraty adah [Caitanya Caritamrta, Madhya-lila 17.136]. Just like… yasya deve para bhaktih yatha deve tatha gurau [Svetasvatara Upanisad 6.23]. So if you have got faith in spiritual master, then you will advance. If you have no faith, then it will be lost.
Tamala Krsna: And unless one is pure, he will not have faith.
Krsnadasa: Isn’t it also like a child?
Prabhupada: Yes, yes. Everyone is child. So the father says, “Do this. That’s all.” Like “Write ‘A.’ ” He does not know what is A. But the father says, “You write like this.” That will increase his education.
Morning Walk, July 21, 1975, San Francisco
So, the more you are engaged in Krishna Consciousness, the more your future will become brighter and brighter. Haribol!
All glories to Srila Prabhupada!