A Positive Attitude
What do we need most in order to succeed in life—mundane and spiritual? Possibly, there are many answers that can be enlisted. But according to Swami Vivekananda, the most vital and essential quality needed to succeed in life is Shraddha.
What is Shraddha? What is its English translation? Says Swami Vivekananda, while narrating the story of Nachiketa in the Kathopanishad:
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; we will see how it works, for immediately we find Nachiketa telling himself, ‘I am superior to many, I am inferior to few, but nowhere am I the last, I can also do something.’ And this boldness increased, and the boy wanted to solve the problem which was in his mind, the problem of death. The solution could only be got by going to the house of Death, and the boy went. There he was, brave Nachiketa, waiting at the house of Death for three days, and you know how he obtained what he desired. What we want is this Shraddha.
Nachiketa had both—faith in himself and boldness. Hence Shraddha is faith plus boldness. Not only that. Shraddha has many shades of meaning and includes many ‘higher values’. It is considered a cardinal virtue in the Indian Tradition. Says one of the monks of the Ramakrishna Order:
Shraddha is a mental attitude constituted primarily of sincerity of purpose, humility, reverence and faith. You have Shraddha for your Guru—it is a sincere reverence. You have Shraddha for the Gita—it is admiration for those of its teachings you understand and faith in those that you do not. You give alms to a beggar with Shraddha—it is a sense of humility, combined with the hope that what you give will be acceptable and serviceable.
Purpose, humility, reverence and faith—all these together constitute Shraddha. So if one has Shraddha, one is endowed with all these qualities. And the Gita says, shraddhavan, one endowed with Shraddha, attains the highest knowledge (both mundane and spiritual). Let us contemplate on the four aspects of Shraddha stated above. All the four aspects, let us remember, are interrelated:
Purpose: Or prayojanam in Sanskrit, purpose means the force or the power of motivation with which one does something. According to the Gita [17.3] there are three types of forces that influence us in whatever we do or think. Called Gunas (sattva, rajas tamas), these forces are the basic building blocks of the universe. So, one’s purpose may be laced with either sattva or rajas or tamas Guna. One with a sattvik intent will be inclined towards pure and higher things in life. And those who are rajasik or tamasik, will have their Shraddha towards worldly things or wicked objectives. Purpose means the motive with which we seek, and here it means, seeking with faith and not doubt and suspicion.
Humility: It is the quality of receptivity and willingness to learn and to undergo all that is involved in learning. Humility is not an attitude of servility but it is the ability to let go one’s ego and bend oneself to receive something. Sri Ramakrishna used to say that rain water always flows downwards. Similarly knowledge and all higher things in life go towards a receiver who is opened with humility. You cannot pour milk into a cup already filled! Nor can knowledge be imparted to one who is filled with a sense of pride that he already knows everything.
Reverence: Shraddha and reverence always go together. One should have a sense of respect and adoration as opposed to casualness and carelessness. It is respect for something that endows one with continuity and stability. Sage Patanjali (1.14) includes respect (satkara) as one of the vital components for the practice of mind-controlling. Respect is called also Bhava, the emotional disposition. Swamiji says,
When in ancient times this knowledge (Jnana) and this feeling (Bhava) thus blossomed forth simultaneously in the heart of the Rishi, then the Highest Truth become poetic, and then the Vedas and other scriptures were composed.
At the core of respectfulness lies admiration and appreciation. We admire and admire, and that becomes frozen into a respectful attitude. Respect is also described as an attitude of non-exploitation—one is honest and devoted and does not behave with calculation.
Faith: Faith is the very basis of normal life. One cannot be normal if one doubts everything. Faith means being firmly rooted in the presence of something. In fact, the term Shraddha primarily conveys the idea of faith. Swami Vivekananda too mostly uses the term to mean faith. He says:
The . . . qualification required is Shraddha, faith. One must have tremendous faith in religion and God. . . . A great sage once told me that not one in twenty millions in this world believed in God. I asked him why, and he told me, ‘Suppose there is a thief in this room, and he gets to know that there is a mass of gold in the next room, and only a very thin partition between the two rooms; what will be the condition of that thief?’ I answered, ‘He will not be able to sleep at all; his brain will be actively thinking of some means of getting at the gold, and he will think of nothing else.’ Then he replied, ‘Do you believe that a man could believe in God and not go mad to get Him? If a man sincerely believes that there is that immense, infinite mine of Bliss, and that It can be reached, would not that man go mad in his struggle to reach It?’ Strong faith in God and the consequent eagerness to reach Him constitute Shraddha.
Purpose, humility, reverence and faith, thus, together are called Shraddha.
The Capacity ‘to Hold Truth’
In its etymological sense, Shraddha means our inherent capacity to hold the truth (shrat dharane). And indeed so. Here is some truth. How do you know it? By holding it to be true. That holding-ness is called Shraddha. It is an inherent power like we have the inherent power to digest food without which we cannot live.
Let us look at Shraddha further. Adi Shankara says in his Viveka-chudamani ;
Shastrasya guru-vakyasya satyabuddhi-avadharanam;
Sa shraddha kathita shadbhir-yaya vastu-upalabhyate
Acceptance by firm judgement as true of what the scriptures and the guru instruct, is called by sages shraddha or faith, by means of which the Reality is perceived.
Says Swami Ranganathananda, the 13th President of the Ramakrishna Math and Mission:
Here we have a precise definition of the term shraddha. Understanding as true the words of guru and scriptures is shraddha or faith (shastrasya guru-vakyasya satyabuddhi-avadharanam). What we usually understand as faith is mere static belief (visvasa). Such a static believer simply swallows what others say. He does not subject it to evidential tests. But shraddha here means faith with a view to investigating the truth of what is told. Deep rational thinking forms the basis of such faith. Satya-buddhi-
Whether it is physical science or science of spirituality, as sciences they tell us their respective truths. We must have faith that the teachers of these sciences are telling the truth, and when this faith makes us forge ahead to experience the truth, it is shraddha. It is not merely believing, but believing that the teachings of the scriptures and the words of guru are true, and struggling to reach that truth-level. Shraddha is that by which the truth is realized (sa shraddha kathita sadbhir-yaya vastu-palabhyate).
Sri Ramakrishna gives a beautiful illustration. When we go to fish in a lake, we take a fishing rod and line, with bait fixed to it. We cast the line and bait into the lake and wait patiently. We may not have seen fishes in that lake. We have only heard from others who have fished there. Our shraddha in their words makes us go to the lake and verify the truth of their statement. We sit for a long time and yet fail to catch a fish. But by this alone we do not conclude that there is no fish in the lake. We come again the next day and keep striving. What is the basis of this unremitting effort? It is the dynamic faith that there is fish in the lake. All great discoveries in the fields of science and religion are the result of such a positive attitude and the action based on such an attitude. Finally when we catch a fish, our belief turns into a verified truth. Similarly, there is a divine truth hidden in all of us. Our guru tells us about it and so do the scriptures. We have not seen it. But we believe in their words and struggle to make that belief true by realization. That’s why Thomas Huxley, a collaborator of Darwin, said in the last century (quoted by J. Arthur Thompson in his Introduction to Science, p. 22):
‘The longer I live, the more obvious it is to me that the most sacred act of a man’s life is to say and feel, “I believe such and such to be true.” All the greatest rewards and all the heaviest penalties of existence cling about that act.’
It is not enough to say, ‘I believe’. Any fool can say that. But a man who says, ‘I believe such and such to be true’ and carries his life to that truth-level has transformed his belief into truth. He possessesShraddha. It is a capacity to convert belief into truth and conviction. What does Shraddha mean in physical sciences? It means a faith in the meaningfulness of the universe. A scientist cannot investigate into the mysteries of nature unless he has a prior feeling that nature is worth investigating, that there is some meaning behind all the confusing mass of data before him. Without that prior faith, he cannot get even the impulse to undertake his scientific inquiry.
That is why in another place Shankara defines Shraddha as astikya buddhih, which, precisely translated, will mean ‘the positive-attitude-oriented reason’. There is tremendous dynamism in such an attitude, which transforms itself into truth and conviction through direct experience.
Shraddha is an important tool without which no success can be had in our inner and outer lives. Shraddha is the basis of all healthy and stable human relationships and dealings as well.
Shraddha: Swamiji’s Mission
The following two statements of Swami Vivekananda aptly illustrate how deeply Swamiji valued cultivation of Shraddha. He says,
To preach the doctrine of Shraddha or genuine faith is the mission of my life. Let me repeat to you that this faith is one of the potent factors of humanity and of all religions. First, have faith in yourselves. Know that though one may be a little bubble and another may be a mountain-high wave, yet behind both the bubble and the wave there is the infinite ocean.
What makes the difference between man and man is the difference in this Shraddha and nothing else. What makes one man great and another weak and low is this Shraddha. . . . this Shraddha is what I want, and what all of us here want, this faith in ourselves, and before you is the great task to get that faith. Give up the awful disease that is creeping into our national blood, that idea of ridiculing everything, that loss of seriousness. Give that up. Be strong and have this Shraddha, and everything else is bound to follow.
Indeed, Shraddha in oneself, Shraddha in God who has created us, and Shraddha in the divinity of man—this is what gives meaning to life. It is the power of Shraddha that makes everything possible. Swami Vivekananda said that the history of the world is the history of those people who had this Shraddha. It is power behind all powers, a power that empowers life and is the signal cause of all success, growth and strength. Let us invoke the power of Shraddha in our lives, as the Shraddha Suktam from the Rig Veda does:
We invite the Goddess Shraddha in the morning. We invite Goddess Shraddha at noon and at sunset. O Goddess Shraddha, bless us that we may have Shraddha in this life, at this time, and in this place.
1. CW, 3: 319
2. Swami Swarupananda, The Bhagavad Gita, Advaita Ashrama, Kolkata, p.80
3. CW, 5. 409-22
5. The Message of Vivekachudamani by Swami Ranganathananda, Advaita Ashrma, Kolkata, pp.82-85
6. CW, 3:445
7. CW, 3.320
8. Rig Veda, 10-151, Shraddha Suktam, 5
~ As published in The Vedanta Kesary issue