Volume XII - The Divinity of the Human Soul
Part I: The Vision of God and Man and other Lectures
THE MEANING OF FAITH
OFTEN people use the word 'faith' in the sense of the particular religion they follow, whether they belong to the Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, or another religion. And in this way they obscure the real meaning of faith, which is light itself. Faith is not necessarily a belief, but faith is the culmination of belief. Belief is a conception; a conception which one has formed oneself or a conception of a certain idea arrived at by reading something. A person will hold this belief as long as his reason is not strong enough to root it out, or as long as he does not meet someone who will dig it out, or as long as he has not had an experience which entirely destroys it. How many does one see in the world around, counting spiritual words on their rosary, sitting in churches with eyes closed, worshipping every Sunday; and yet when someone who is more intellectual and whose reasoning is more powerful meets them he is able to change them completely. From being orthodox such a person has become a practical man, from a dreamer he has become wide-awake!
No doubt one belief can be stronger than another. A sheep-like belief is a belief, which everyone holds without admitting it. People think that they have a reason for believing that which they believe, but this is not always so. Often a person thinks that he has a reason for something, but he may be wrong. Religious questions apart, when one comes to political matters, a man may be raised up by one person's influence and the whole country follows him; he becomes the man of the day. Everyone follows him with his eyes shut. But then he may be despised by someone else and the crowd despises him too. That is crowd psychology. At the same time everyone says, 'I am an intellectual. I always tell the truth for I know what I am speaking about.' But is it so? It is not. When I went to Russia I saw pictures of the Czar and the Czarina in every little shop. Do you think the people did not have a feeling of adherence to the Czar? Was it all hypocrisy? It could not have been. And what happened the next day? They broke the crowns in the street with hammers and carried them in their processions. Where had that belief gone, which one day was so great that they thought that the portrait of their Czar was sacred? Next day the belief was changed; it took no time. You may think, 'This happened in Russia'; but you will see it in every country just by studying the psychology of the crowd.
Therefore wise people have never depended upon the praise of the crowd. They have always known that it was worth nothing. Buddha, with all the worship and praise given to him did not even look at it. He kept his work before his eyes, his service to humanity, and so did all the sages and prophets and seers and thinkers; they never believed in the praise of mankind, in its love and affection. What is it? The man who has not reached the realm of faith is not living; he does not yet know his mind. One day he believes something, the next he does not. Therefore faith is not only adherence to a certain religion or belonging to a certain church; faith is much greater than that.
The next step on the path of belief is that one does not believe something because the crowd believes it, but because it comes from a certain authority. This is the child's belief, but at the same time this is the way one has to go. The child progresses when the mother says, 'This is called water,' and it repeats, 'Water.' It does not argue and say, 'It is not water, it is bread.' It just listens and believes and that is the way it begins to learn.
Then there is the third step, when the belief has a reason, when one says, 'Why do I believe? Because I have a reason for it. I can explain my belief; therefore I believe it is such and such.' This belief is more dependable. Yet, is reason always dependable? Reason sometimes proves to be so tricky that one day a person may reason out a certain thing, and the next day he has every reason to root out his belief. For is it not reason that makes the evildoer commit evil? No one does anything without reason. One day a person reasons how to do something, and after only a couple of hours he may discover that it was not a good reason.
But there is a fourth belief, which alone can really be called belief, a belief which does not even depend upon reason, a belief which is a natural belief; one cannot help having it. Nothing can root it out, no argument, no reasoning, no study, no practice, nothing can take away from one, for it is a natural belief. This is what faith is. A person who has not reached this belief is still on the way, and he cannot say that he has faith.
Faith is such a great virtue. Even in everyday life one cannot value enough a companion, a relative, a servant, or a friend who is faithful. There is no price for it, it is beyond price to have someone who is faithful, someone in whom one can have confidence, upon whom one can rely with closed eyes, of whom one can say that one is sure that he will never change his affection, his love, his kindness, his right feeling. If one has someone like this one should be most thankful, for it is more precious than any worldly treasure.
If I had to describe the meaning of faith I would say that faith means self-confidence. The secret of faith is that it can be used as a medicine and better than medicine, as wealth and greater than wealth; it can be religion and greater than religion, happiness and greater than happiness. For nothing can buy or sell faith. If there is anything that can be called the grace of God it is faith and self-confidence. It is something one can neither teach nor develop; it must be in one, and it can only be strengthened by loving it, by enjoying it. It develops by itself. If a person comes to me and says, 'I believe in you so much that I will believe anything you say; but I do not believe in myself,' I will say, 'Thank you, I will not believe in you either. You had better believe in yourself first; then I can depend upon you.' What kind of belief is this? If a man does not believe in himself he will say one day, 'I believe in you,' and the next day, 'I do not believe in you.' Besides, faith is inspiring, faith causes a man to be brave, courageous, successful, and faith makes life wonderful.
Faith can be observed in five different aspects: faith in one's impulses, faith in one's reason, faith in one's principle, faith in one's ideal, and faith in God.
It is the mystical temperament that causes a person to have faith in his impulse. When a mystic thinks, 'I must go to the North,' he goes there. He does not ask himself why; he accepts the divine impulse, and he goes toward the North to meet whatever he may. If an impulse arises to do this business, to enter this profession, accomplish this or that, and a person does it there is something wonderful about it. Columbus is an example of this. He had the impulse to go and seek for India, and indeed he found a continent. The outer form of the impulse was wrong, but the inner right.
The mystics of all ages have believed in this. They cannot help it; it is the mystical temperament. If a thousand people say, 'No, it is not right,' they say. 'Yes, it is right, I must do it.' It is not necessary for everybody to become a mystic in order to have these impulses and listen to them. Listening to one's impulses is a question of temperament. There may be one man who has it, and another, perhaps a very intellectual man, thinks, 'Is it right or wrong? Shall I do it or shall I not do it?' And the time passes and the chance is lost. Out of a hundred people only one will follow his impulse, and ninety-nine will wait to see if something is right or wrong, light or heavy.
The second aspect is faith in reason. The success of great inventors such as Edison depends upon faith in reason. If they had not had this faith they would not have been able to create successfully, but by having it they made wonderful inventions.
The third aspect of faith is faith in one's principle. Principle makes one strong, if only one has faith in it. There is a story of the young Prophet, who was taking care of the cows on a farm. When some young men of his own age came and said, 'Muhammad, come along, we are going to town to have a good time!' Muhammad answered, 'No, I will take care of your cows and you go and have a good time, I won't leave my cows.'
With this principle the Prophet began; and eventually the same principle made him what he was, so that thousands and millions of people for fourteen centuries have held the name of the Prophet as their strength and power.
And then there is faith in the ideal. Those who had a high ideal for the welfare of their nation, or their race, of humanity, held their lives cheap. To give their life was nothing to them; their ideal was always greater. Not every man has faith in his ideal, but it gives great power and uplift, and raises a man from earth to heaven.
Finally there is faith in God. People may say, 'Is it not imagination to have faith in God?' But he who really has faith in God can work wonders. Someone said to a Brahmin, 'How foolish, O Brahmin, to worship an idol, calling it God!' The Brahmin answered, 'If you have no faith and you worship the God who is in heaven He will not hear you. But if I have faith I will make this God of stone speak to me.'
A preacher once told his audience, 'When you speak the Name of God with true faith you can walk on the waters.' There was a farmer standing there who was very pleased to hear this. He went home pondering upon it. Next day he went to the preacher and said, 'I could not understand all the dogmas and morals you preached, but one thing impressed me very much. Will you do me the great honor of having dinner with me? The preacher accepted, and the farmer said he would come to fetch him the next day. This, the farmer did, and on their way they came to a river which they had to cross. So the preacher said, 'Where is the boat?' The farmer said, 'Boat?' You taught me that if we pronounced the name of God we could walk on the water! Therefore I did not take my boat but walked on the water, as you said.' The preacher was very much afraid that he would have to walk on water, too, for he had never tried this. He said, 'Will you do it, please? And the farmer did; but the preacher could not.
Such is the phenomenon of faith. We may say, 'We have so much to do, so much to think about.' But to have faith is beyond all this; it is something which words cannot explain, something which springs up from the heart and which elevates man, raising him from the earth to the sky.