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Knowing Supreme Truth Is Impossible Without Proper Shraddha

Any ideal, whether secular or transcendental, cannot be properly grasped in the earlier stages of our effort to attain it. Unless there is some idea about the ideal, all efforts to achieve it are futile. Therefore, before progressing in any path it is necessary to gather some idea about the ideal. For this there are two sources: persons who have realized the ideal and the records left by them. In the spiritual world those records became the vast mass of scriptures and their subsidiaries.

Regarding access to those records, Acharya Shankara advises against seeking the knowledge of Brahman independently, even if one is versed in the scriptures. (Shankaracharya’s commentary on Mundaka Upanishad,1.2.12). Everyone understands the scriptures in one’s own way, and such understanding does not always lead to realization — this is Shankara’s note of caution. Scriptures should be approached in the light of the explanations given by seers. Only the reasoning that is in accordance with Shruti should be followed. (Shankaracharya, Sadhana Panchakam, 3.) And since this is not easy to fulfil, a qualified guru on whom a seeker can depend becomes essential. When one has full faith in such a teacher, then alone does one realize the ideal. The Chandogya Upanishad states:   one who has a teacher knows the Reality.’ (Chandogya Upanishad, 6.14.2).

In the same Upanishad we find Uddalaka, a fully qualified guru, instructing Svetaketu, a seeker of Truth, in various ways; but Svetaketu fails to understand the teachings. Then Uddalaka says, O noble one [Svetaketu], have shraddha’ (6.12.1). Commenting on this, Acharya Shankara says: ‘Though the subject has been established by means of arguments and valid authorities, still people’s minds being entirely taken up with gross external objects, any clear conception of subtle ultimate truths is almost impossible without proper faith. … When there is faith, the mind can be easily concentrated on the subject to be understood; and then the understanding quickly follows.’

Thus we see that shraddha in Vedantic truths as taught by the great teachers is the way to clear understanding. The importance of firm shraddha in spiritual life cannot be overemphasized. While explaining the necessity of shraddha at the beginning of one’s spiritual life, Swami Brahmananda remarked: ‘At first the sadhaka has to pin his faith — it may be “blind faith” — to the precepts of his guru or of some great soul, then only can he advance towards the goal.’

In fact, it is virtually impossible to stay on the right path without faith. For until we have the actual experience of God ourselves we have nothing but faith to sustain us. But notice, this faith is not ‘blind’ … If we but nourish that faith enough, strengthen it, brood upon it, meditate upon it day after day, year after year, one day it will blossom into our own divine realization within. This is the true meaning of the repetition of God’s holy name, the sacred mantra; it is the careful nursing of our faith in God and in the seer of God, which then becomes, with more and more brooding upon it, the faith in the possibility that we ourselves could see God, which then becomes our very own actual seeing of God. (Robert P Utter, ‘The Significance of Faith’, Prabuddha Bharata, 77/1 (January 1972), 33.)

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