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Experiential Faith

Bodhinatha compares faith based on belief with the faith that comes from one's personal experience of God. Three stages in the development of faith are presented and Bodhinatha then gives bhashya on the third stage: "Faith in one's own spiritual, unsought-for, unbidden flashes of intuition, revelations or visions." He describes two kinds of spiritual experiences: the realms of the Deities and the realm of superconsciousness.

Unedited Transcript:

Religious believing is seeing. Goes on to explain that the scientists and the educators of today see with their two eyes and pass judgments based on what they currently believe. The rishis of the past and the rishis of the now and those yet to come in the future, also are seers. This seeing is not with the two eyes, it is with the third eye. The eye of the soul.

An interesting aspect of faith that is important to mention is that it can be systematically increased. To illustrate this point let's compare the cultivation of faith to the development of a large tree. When the tree is just a sapling it can easily be uprooted just as when our faith is based on belief without a sound philosophical knowledge, it can easily be destroyed. Faith based on philosophical knowledge is like a medium sized tree, strong and not easily disturbed. Faith based on personal experience of God and the Gods is like a full grown tree, well established and impervious to the environment.

Let's look more closely at these three stages of the development of faith.

Faith in it's initial stage is simple belief without the support of either knowledge or experience. Keeping our belief strong at this stage depends heavily on the companionship we keep. We need to keep company with spiritual individuals and avoid worldly and non-religious people. Attending a weekly satsang with like minded devotees is quite helpful. Having the darshan of visiting swamis and Hindu religious leaders helps keep our faith strong as we see them as living examples of the beliefs in which we have faith.

Faith in its second stage is belief strengthened by a good understanding of Hindu philosophy. Gurudeva comments on this process in saying that a clear intellectual understanding of the philosophy is the bedrock to sustaining faith. Study Hinduism in a systematic and consistent manner and increase your knowledge about Hindu beliefs and practices. Compare Hinduism to the world's other major religions and see in which ways they are the same and in which ways they are quite different. This not only makes you a knowledgeable Hindu but is also the most effective protection against the efforts of other religions to convert you to their beliefs.

Faith in its third stage is where personal experience supplants belief. Gurudeva refers to this as advanced faith and describes this as faith in one's own spiritual, unsought-for, unbidden flashes of intuition, revelations or visions, which one remembers even stronger as the months go by, more vividly than something read from a book, seen on television or heard from a friend or a philosopher.

Experiential or advanced faith is cultivated through the regular practice of devotion and meditation that leads eventually to personal experiences of the Divine. Pilgrimages, for example, are an effective way of deepening the experiences we have at the temple of the personal Deity as is daily meditation practiced under a qualified teacher.

In conclusion, here is Gurudeva's full definition of Astikya. "Cultivate an unshakable faith. Believe firmly in God, Gods, guru and your path to enlightenment. Trust in the words of the masters, the scriptures and traditions. Practice devotion and sadhana to inspire experiences that build advanced faith. Be loyal to your lineage, one with your satguru. Shun those who try to break your faith by argument and accusation. Avoid doubt and despair."

So that's the basic talk. I have a P.S. So I was giving some thought to this this morning and got inspired by one of Gurudeva's lessons for the day and so the P.S. goes like this:

Let me share some additional thoughts on the third stage of faith which as we mentioned is based on personal experiences of the Divine. Such experiences can also be referred to as spiritual experiences. Spiritual experiences are of two distinct realms: the realms of the Deities and the realm of superconsciousness.

A spiritual experience in the realm of the Deities would be a vision of a Deity such as Lord Ganesha. These visions usually come during a time of intense worship such as at a temple festival or when on pilgrimage. Visions of the Deity can take the form of the stone or bronze murthi moving and smiling at you, (that's always nice, right?) or turning into an animated, human-like figure. Another form is with eyes closed to inwardly see the Deity's face, as real as any living being.

A spiritual experience in the realm of superconsciousness is experiencing in meditation inner realms such as the clear white light. Gurudeva describes one such experience in his writing the "Clear White Light": "Occasionally young aspirants burst into inner experience indicating a balance of intense light at a still-higher rate of vibration of here-and-now awareness than their almost daily experience of a moon-glow of inner light: the dynamic vision of seeing the head, and at times the body, filled with a brilliant clear white light. When this intensity can be attained at will, more than often man will identify himself as actinic force flowing through the odic externalities of the outer mind and identify it as a force of life more real and infinitely more permanent than the external mind itself."

So I found an interesting point in Gurudeva's lesson of the day from "Dancing with Siva" I'll just, I'll read it, it's not too long and then make the comment. "Parasiva, the Self God, must be realized to be known, does not exist, yet seems to exist; yet existence itself and all states of mind, being and experiential patterns could not exist but for this ultimate reality of God. Such is the great mystery that yogis, rishis, saints and sages have realized through the ages. To discover Parasiva, the yogi penetrates deep into contemplation. As thoughts arise in his mind, mental concepts of the world or of the God he seeks, he silently repeats, 'Neti, neti--it is not this; it is not that.' His quieted consciousness expands into Satchidananda. He is everywhere, permeating all form in this blissful state. He remembers his goal, which lies beyond bliss, and holds firmly to 'Neti, neti--this is not that for which I seek.' Through pranayama, through mantra, through tantra, wielding an indomitable will, the last forces of form, time and space subside, as the yogi, deep in nirvikalpa samadhi, merges into Parasiva."

So the point that stuck me in the middle of that is this concept. "As thoughts arise in his mind, mental concepts of the world or of the God he seeks, he silently repeats, 'Neti, neti--it is not this; it is not that.'"

So the idea is that we need to distinguish between our thought about an inner experience, and the inner experience itself. In other words, sitting in meditation and thinking about the experience of inner light is quite distinct from the actual experience of inner light.

If we cannot experience an area of the inner mind through thinking about it, how do we experience it? Any idea? The answer, of course, is through our ability to feel as well as our ability to see. Easier one is to feel. So here's an example of using our ability to feel from Gurudeva's "Preparation for Meditation" description.

So Gurudeva says: "The third step takes us deeper inside as we become dynamically aware in the spine. Feel the power within the spine, the powerhouse of energy that feeds out to the external nerves and muscles. Visualize the spine in your mind's eye. See it as a hollow tube or channel through which life energies flow. Feel it with your inner feelings. It's there--subtle and silent, yet totally intense. It is a simple feeling. As you feel this hollow spine filled with energy, realize that you are more that energy than you are the physical body through which it flows, more that pure energy than the emotions, than the thought force. Identify yourself with this energy and begin to live your true spiritual heritage on this Earth. As you dive deeper into that energy, you will find that this great power, your sense of awareness and your willpower are all one and the same thing."

So this is a theme we'll be developing in some of my talks during Gurudeva's Mahasamadhi in a few weeks, concept of feeling something rather than thinking about it. Cause it's a, it's not necessarily that clear to someone who's trying to practice meditation, the difference. You get hung up in thinking about it. So you're sitting down and you're thinking about the power of the spine. Well it must be somewhere and you know you're thinking about it but you're not feeling it. So it's an ability that we don't necessarily develop automatically. You know and unfortunately school is rather lopsided usually and just focusses on thinking. You know we learn how to think but certain skills don't work that way like painting, for example. You can't create a painting or appreciate a painting by thinking about it. You know we have to feel it, we have to transcend the thinking process. Even to appreciate nature, you go out in nature, you can't think about a flower; you have to look at it, you have to see it and appreciate it. So, so often we're caught up in our thoughts about things we don't really see them or feel them.

And Gurudeva would give an example, a humorous example, which means you're supposed to laugh when I say it. He's teaching basic meditation which has to do with you know, the energy in the body. basic pranayama and he would say: "Feel your right foot." And about three quarters of those present would look down to see where their right foot was. Cause they weren't used to feeling their right foot. You know it was a new experience. That you're feeling something. So anyway it's a very important distinction and to summarize it; the idea is that in our form of meditation we're not trying to think about something, we're trying to actually feel it or see it. We're not simply trying to think about it. So that's the idea.

Do we have Ayudha Puja. We just wander out their is that the idea? What time is it? 7:15. O.K. Well we're on schedule for 7:30. So if anyone doesn't know what a Ayudha Puja is, tool blessing. So it's a wonderful Hindu practice that once a year the tools you use in your occupation or if you're a student in, you're being a student, you bless them. Do a puja to them. You bless them in some way and it's a good symbol that there's no difference between our secular life and our religious life. We're blessing the tools we use in our secular life. So if you've ever been in India that day for example, the taxicab drivers their taxis look like temples because they have banana trees tied on the side and, you know, three stripes all over over them and pottus and chandanam and looked like a temple on wheels. Elevators... even elevators you know were all marked up. So all the tools get blessed in, in at least South India, I'm not sure how they do it in North India but this is Tamil Nadu in Karnataka where I've seen it, it's just amazing. So you take the tools of your profession and in this case the silpis will take their chisels and other tools, and blessing them through puja. And in that way we're bringing their religious fully into our daily activities.

[End of transcript]

Photo of  Gurudeva
There is no intrinsic evil. God Siva has created the principle of opposites, which are the means for the soul's maturation--beauty and deformity, light and darkness, love and hate, joy and sorrow.