Found in Sanga, Sanga 1999.

What Is Sraddha?

November 15th, 1999 | No Comments

From a talk by Swami B. V. Tripurari given in San Francisco in July, 1996

Q. I asked my Guru Maharaja how we can increase our sraddha, our faith, and he said sadhu-sanga. I was wondering if you could elaborate on that?

A. For those who are unfamiliar with some of the terminology, I’ll rephrase the question, so that you may enter into a little bit. “Sraddha” means faith, basically. My Guru Maharaja, Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, he used to say that this (Gaudiya Vaisnavism) is not a faith. And my siksa-guru, Srila Sridhara Maharaja, he used to say, “this is all about faith.” So, it takes a thoughtful disciple to sort out these apparently contradictory statements. What Prabhupada meant when we said this is not a faith is that it is not some dogma or belief. “I just believe in this because someone has told me about it.” Prabhupada liked to say that it is a science. What he was teaching was something that could be demonstrated, experienced. Usually what we can experience with our senses, we should not rely upon, because the senses are imperfect. So, if we rely solely upon them, we won’t get the full picture of what we are involved in, what life is about. In human life, we have this means of knowing, direct sense perception. We also have reasoning power, by which we can extend our capacity to know beyond what we can understand with the limits of our senses. Just like, in dog life, when the full moon comes, they howl at the moon and they jump. They’re thinking it is just there to be caught, because they are perceiving with the limits of their senses, without the help of reasoning power. In human life we have the factor of reasoning, and when we factor it in terms of this example, we don’t find the humans jumping up to try to touch the moon, because they know it’s actually very big and very far away. But reasoning power is also limited. We cannot come to conclusive truth by the exercise of our reasoning power alone.

Vedanta Sutra makes a very nice statement in this regard. By logical conjecture, you will not get any standing, any firm ground to stand on. It means all argumentation, logical conjecture, is inconclusive. And if we say, that is also inconclusive, then we agree. It’s true. So by logical conjecture, we will only get so far. We cannot know the soul by that, because the soul is superior in nature to intellect, as intellect is superior to senses. In the hierarchy of material nature, we have objects of the senses, we have the senses, we have the mind, we have intelligence. Categorically different is consciousness, which gives life, so to speak, to these things. So intelligence, reasoning power, cannot guide the soul ultimately because it is inferior to the soul. So we will have to have another means of knowing, beyond sense perception with imperfect senses, and beyond exercise of our rational faculty. It is said that humans are different from animals because they have the capacity to reason. But Caitanya Mahaprabhu wants to say something else to human society. He wants to tell us that human society is best, not because we can reason, but because we can love.

In human society you can love. And love means love of God. And, when we learn to love, that is a statement that requires some explanation, because how can we learn to love? It is not something that we can teach. We can talk about it in so many ways, but it is not something that we can teach. We can talk about it theoretically, but you have to “fall in love,” so to speak, and learn to love. And when we fall in love, then learning is retired. Love knows no reason, it is said. And in loving, there is a kind of knowing that’s automatic. When we love another, then automatically, naturally, and spontaneously, we know what is to be done. So, although love retires reason, it is a kind of knowledge also. Now, in this world, in this plane of experience, it is a problem when our feeling gets the better part of our reasoning. It’s a problem. But in the spiritual dimension, it is the perfection, where feeling and love rises over knowledge. Here, if we let feeling override our reasoning, then we can get in a lot of trouble. But, still we do it anyway. Why? Because the soul is ruled by feeling. Therefore sometimes we say, “Yes, I know, I know, I know, but anyway, this is how I feel.”

So, we are really moving by feeling. We need only to come in touch with that feeling, which, when expressed, will not get us into difficulty. It will retire knowledge and knowing, but it won’t be a problem. And that is Krishna. That is the idea of Krishna. And sadhu, saintly persons, means who represents Krishna. So from such a person we can learn about Krishna. We can learn about loving. What does it mean? Such a person hears and chants about Krishna. Such a person is always chanting. Krishna has described this kind of people in Bhagavad-gita, where he asks, who are my devotees, how do they conduct themselves? He says, they’re taking pleasure in singing about me always, talking about me. The Gosvamis in our lineage, the great teachers, they like one verse very much from Srimad-Bhagavatam. This verse was spoken by Kapiladeva to his mother: satam prasangan mamavirya samvido. It is said that in the satam prasanga, the association of truthful people. A devotee is called satam, honest, truthful. This is fundamental to spiritual life. We have to be honest, truthful. If you’re not truthful, you cannot have a peaceful mind. If you are not honest, you cannot meditate. It is not possible. There is a saying, “Oh, what a web we weave when at first we choose to deceive.” That is our material existence. It is based on deception, it is based on falsity that I am this body. That is a false premise. And then to support that, so much work, effort. We’re busy trying to cover our tracks here and there to support this idea.

Such existence will not endure. When we’re basing our life on such a false premise, it puts us in so much difficulty. We weave a web, a karmic web. How will we get out? It is very difficult. The answer is satam prasangan, by associating with honest people. And honest here means devotees, devotees of Krishna. They must be thoroughly honest. They must be honest with themselves first and foremost, and in all their dealings. In the association of these people, this talk about Krishna is always going on. The virtuous, heroic activities of Krishna are always being discussed. And this talking, this discussion, is like rasayana. Rasayana means not just medicine. If we take medicine, then the disease goes away. In Ayurveda, they have so many rasayanas. And they serve to take away the disease and nourish positively at the same time. Not merely taking away the disease. So this Hari-katha, talk about Krishna, it is rasayana-katha, like rejuvenating elixir.

And through the ear, we hear that, we drink that rasayana, just by being in the proximity of these kinds of people who have some feeling for Krishna and express it regularly, all the time, overflowing with it. It enters in to our ear, we drink it, it goes in to our heart and creates sraddha. It means faith, but it means experience, not just a belief. So when Prabhupada said it’s not a faith, he meant not a belief, but a science. It can be experienced. You talk with someone in a reasonable discussion, and then, at a certain point, they say, “Well, anyway, that’s just you’re faith.” Meaning, “Too bad.” Reason is stopped there, and you have to “descend” to faith. So they would label religion as something that is a faith. You cannot demonstrate that. In modern society, at least before postmodern times, it was considered that the controlled experiment was the standard of knowledge. You get a controlled environment and make an experiment, you demonstrate something, you’ve got “conclusive truth.” They rely upon that rather than on faith only. So, Prabhupada wanted to say that it’s not just faith in that way, but it is demonstrable. You can experience it directly. Sridhara Maharaja used to say it is only faith. Prabhupada would say it is not a faith. Sridhara Maharaja would say it is all faith, meaning it is experience, and when we have this experience by hearing, when it goes in through our ear to our heart and awakens this experience of faith, then we are not the loser, we are very, very lucky.

What does faith do? Faith eradicates doubt, and doubt is our whole problem. We are moving with doubt. But we’re not moving on account of doubt. Suspicion leads to suspension. As much as we are suspicious, we cannot move freely. If you go to a foreign country, even in this country, if you go to the store, you have to look on the label to see what’s in the container. But if you’re in your own house, you don’t have to worry. Your friend, partner, or your mother cooks for you, and you eat, no questions asked. Free life. Not a “proceed with caution” type of existence, always doubting. That kind of doubt-free life we want. So when we get this faith, divine faith, when we get some experience—some experience of our self, to touch that—this will happen. In good company, we’ll get such experience. And then we’ll have a feeling—just by this alone, just by the worship of Krishna alone, all good things will come, everything will come. This is sraddha.

It is the person who has no faith who is the loser. They live in doubt. There is a land of doubt—no doubt—and we are in it. And there is also a land of faith. Doubt manifests as a whole plane of experience. So why can’t faith manifest as a whole plane of experience, a whole world? And what will that plane of experience be like? We are experiencing a world of doubt, so why not a world of faith? If we get a glimpse of that in good company, this dawning of faith will lead us, anukrama, step by step, from sraddha, to rati, to bhava. Bhava means the world of faith. Premankura, a ray of the sun of prema. So one is saying it is not a faith, the other is saying it is all faith. They are saying the same thing, really.

Now we have little faith, meaning little experience. Some doubts are removed, but not all, if we are not running after this. But, if we can keep good company, sadhu sanga, then faith will grow. And that association should be in a particular way, also. It should be of like types of persons. At first, it means asat sanga tyaga. This is the general sense. What will it mean to keep the association, sanga, of saintly persons such that my faith will be nourished? It will mean, conversely, asat sanga, association with persons who are not interested in that which is real, sat, truthful, that I will give up. Asat sanga tyaga. Worldly people, materialistic people, I will give up their company. So this a very general instruction. I leave the nondevotional sect, and then I keep the company of the devotional group. That will be helpful. But in the context of the devotional group, as I grow, in terms of sraddha, in terms of experience, all these levels of adhikara—kanistha, madhyama, uttama—these three types of devotees, neophyte, intermediate, superlative, they are determined by faith. What is the degree of faith, that will determine one’s degree of adhikara, one’s standing. This is the measuring stick.

From neophyte, beginner, we want go to the highest stage. But we may think, that is so high, let me try to go to the second stage. But if I try to go from the first stage to the second stage, I will remain in the first stage. But if I try to go to the highest stage from the beginning stage, then I will go to the second stage. That means, we have to understand theoretically what is the vision of the superlative devotee, and we have to aspire for that. This should be our ideal. We have to have our eyes on that prize, so to speak. We have to hear about that, make that our ideal, and naturally, we’ll move from beginner to intermediate stage. But if we try to move from beginner to intermediate stage—intermediate stage means proper discrimination. We have to make all types of discriminations at that point. Within the context of devotees and their association, some devotees’ association may not be good, because although they’re devotees, their character is not good. So I cannot keep their company. I have to make discrimination. I will see, my sraddha is coming in a particular way, through a certain guide and guru. We must keep the company of those whose faith is coming in a similar way. That will nourish mine. All these types of discrimination, this is the hallmark of the madhyama-adhikari, the intermediate devotee. The kanistha-adhikari has no discrimination. Uttama-adhikari also has no discrimination. Madhyama-adhikari is always discriminating. Kanistha-adhikari thinks the madhyama-adhikari is finding fault because he’s making discriminations.

The beginning devotees think, we should go everywhere, wherever they’re chanting, we will go there, wherever they’re taking prasada, we will go there. Madhyama-adhikari may say, “Don’t go here, don’t go there,” and the neophyte will think, “Oh, he’s not very advanced!” But there’s a place for proper discrimination. If we don’t understand discrimination properly, then in the name of trying to be a madhyama-adhikari we will make all types of improper discriminations, and then we will spoil our spiritual life. So madhyama-adhikari is for making progress, and we have to use our intelligence. Study of scriptures and so forth, this is paramount. Using reasoning power appropriately to understand scripture and precedents set by previous teachers.

So in one verse, in one line, one pada of one verse, Kapiladeva has said, one advances by hearing in good company from sraddha to rati, through all the steps. And that rati then is the sprout of prema. Rupa Gosvami has explained in Bhakti-rasamrta-sindhu. Like suryamsa, a ray of sun. A ray of the sun of Krishna is coming into our heart. Pure transcendental goodness, suddha-sattva. The plane in which the lila of Krishna takes place. It doesn’t take place in this present plane of experience. A ray of that sun comes into the devotee’s heart. And then what happens? Visesatma, which indicates two things: hladhini-sakti, and samvit-sakti. It is not, anymore, the three modes of nature in our heart, but these two features of the modus operandi of the svarupa-sakti that conducts the affairs of Krishna in transcendence, comes into our heart. And this is the dawning of our real life and the benefit of sadhu-sanga.

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