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Concept of Shraddha In Various Hindu Scriptures

‘Etymologically, the word shraddha is derived from shrat, a root noun probably cognate with the English word ‘heart’, and dha to place; it would thus mean: “to put one’s heart on something”. ’ Though generally the English word ‘faith’ is used to translate ‘shraddha’, it does not convey the same meaning. Explaining the uniqueness of this word, Swami Vivekananda says: ‘I would not translate this word Shraddha to you, it would be a mistake; it is a wonderful word to understand, and much depends on it.’

In the Rig Veda we come across the ‘Shraddha Sukta’ (Rig Veda, 10.151). Its seer is a woman whose name is also Shraddha. Here shraddha is deified and conceived of as a deity who is to be worshipped thrice a day. The hymn states that shraddha is to be attained through heartfelt devotion, and that by this shraddha everything can be achieved.

In the Brahmanas, shraddha signifies ‘the aspiration for the sacrificial goal — namely, svarga, heaven — and a confidence in the efficacy of the sacrifice to achieve it; it also implies trust in the priests who officiate at the sacrifice. It is predominantly magical, ritualistic and formal.’

‘The concept of Shraddha in the “earlier” Upanishads manifests the following tendencies and implications: i) it is an aspiration for the knowledge and realization of Brahman; ii) it is a confidence inbrahmacarya, upāsanā, etc., as appropriate means to Brahman; iii) it is predominantly intellectual; iv) it is subjective and psychological’.

In Upanishads such as Katha, Mundaka, Shvetashvatara, Isha, and Maitri we find that tapas is increasingly important and even one of the dominant elements in the concept of shraddha. ‘Shraddha in the “later Upanishads” while continuing to express mystical, intellectual and eschatological implications, at the same time, reveals realistic, dualistic and theistic tendencies’.

Shraddha in the Bhagavad Gita implies: i) duality between the worshipper and the worshipped; ii) the utter transcendence of God; iii) the incarnation inspiring personal trust and love; iv) the utter humility of the devotee and his total surrender to Him trusting that He is not only the goal but also the way; v) a moral relationship as of a person to a person, a finite person to Infinite Person; vi) negatively, it precludes insincerity, ill-will and the desire for worldly, narrow or selfish goals’.

Yaskacharya comments: shrat means that which bears truth’. In other words, shraddha is an attitude having truth as its base.

Shankaracharya defines shraddha in three ways:

Shraddha is meditation on Hiranyagarbha and others, (Shankaracharya’s commentary on Mundaka

Upanishad, 1.2.11)

Shraddha is mental tranquility and belief in the truth of things (taught by the scriptures and the teacher), which is a precondition for the application of the means that are productive of human objectives. (Shankaracharya’s commentary on Mundaka Upanishad, 2.1.7|)

Shraddha is acceptance by firm judgement as true what the scriptures and the guru instruct, is called by sages shraddha or faith, by means of which the Reality is perceived. (Shankaracharya, Vivekachudamani, trans. Swami Madhavananda (Kolkata: Advaita Ashrama, 2005), 9.)

Vyasa defines shraddha as clarity and tranquility of mind.’ (Vyasa’s commentary on Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra, 1.20.)

Swami Vivekananda has stressed shraddha as faith in one’s own strength, faith in the divinity of one’s own self. (Complete Works, 2.301.)

To sum up, we can affirm that shraddha is self-confidence arising out of faith in one’s own divinity. It is uncommon strength that overcomes mountain-high difficulties in no time and with little effort — a strength gained by the palpable feeling of God’s presence and grace, which translates in total surrender to him. Shraddha is the childlike faith of a devotee who tells that through God’s grace, which can subdue the inscrutable maya, this ocean of worldliness can be crossed over. It is faith beyond doubt in the teachings of the guru and the scriptures. It is the perfect and wholesome understanding of an ideal which makes the whole personality goal-oriented for ever and the mind steady, one-pointed, even amid temptations. Shraddha is that which makes spiritual practice the second nature of the seeker. It is that infinite patience which gives endurance to wait for years, lives even, without break — a process that helps to perfect the means, however minor they be, for the attainment of the goal. Shraddha is the lamp of hope ever burning, even when there are no signs of victory.

Source excerpts from article titled ‘Shraddha’ by Swami Utsargananda published in Prabuddha Bharata January 2010 issue.