Faith in Sastra, Guru and Sadhu

If we look closely we find that some persons’ faith is really doubt. Faith is inherently virtuous. However, according to the Gita, it is nonetheless of three kinds, sattva, rajas, or tamas. Sattvic faith is that faith that is informed by sastrasastriya sraddha. This is faith that optimally readily enables one to understand the scriptural conclusions. Tamasic faith on the other hand doubts the scriptural conclusions. In extreme forms it rejects the sastra altogether. In less extreme forms it accepts the scripture but imagines what its conclusions are and often fights with these conclusions.

In the Bhagavata Krsna speaks of transcendental faith, faith in himself. However, Sri Rupa speaks of this faith as threefold. These divisions are determined by the measure of ones’ understanding of sastra. The highest faith is informed by taste that enables one to engage in sastra-yukti, effective and conclusive reasoning as to the import of sastra on any given topic. It involves readily understanding the spirit of sastra.

On the other end of the threefold spectrum we find komala sradhha (tender faith). This faith is not well informed by sastra, and unto itself it can result in misunderstanding of its conclusions. Perhaps the most prominent example of such misunderstanding is a distrust of sadhus. Intermediate faith by contrast has an essential understanding of sastra that manifests in understanding the importance of sadhu sanga. Moving from tender faith to intermediate faith is accomplished through sadhu sanga. Such intermediate faith is focused more on the Vaisnava than it is on Krsna. It prefers hearing from the Vaisnavas more than seeing the Deity of Krsna.

Similarly this faith translates into faith in the advanced disciples of ones’ guru, as opposed to faith only in the guru and distrust of his or her dear ones. And if some of the guru’s dear most prove less than worthy, we must still consider the measure of our guru’s trust in them that he or she has consistently expressed. We may have to distance ourselves from them for some time and “wait and see.” But in the meantime in good faith we should seek out the association of others who the guru also indicated were advanced enough to warrant his or her trust in their ability to understand explain the conclusions of sastra.

Faith and Scripture

In one sense the stages of bhakti are all developments of faith (sraddha) culminating in entering the “planets of faith,” as Pujyapada Sridhar Maharaja sometimes referred to as the paravyoma. Sri Jiva Goswamis writes that without ruci one cannot effectively engage in sasta-yukti, or properly reasoning about the import of scripture. He is saying the same thing as the Chandogya Upanisad but using the word ruci instead of sraddha: svalpapi rucir eva syad bhakti-tattvavabodhika. The implication of such statements is that logic alone will not unlock the door to understanding sastra‘s import.

So why are so many devotees unable to think clearly about the import of sastra? Is it lack of faith/ruci? I would say it is due to weak faith (komala sraddha) because sraddha implies faith in sastrasastriya sraddha and the stronger one’s faith the greater one’s ability is to understand sastra. But other issues may also be at hand, such as aparadha.

I think the real test is not so much one’s ability or lack of ability to understand what one reads but one’s ability to change one’s thinking upon hearing the correct conclusions from a sadhu.

On the one hand you have those who can change their thinking with sadhu sanga and on the other you have those who are adamantly against the proper conclusion found in the context of sadhu sanga. Many fall somewhere in between these two extremes.

Faith in sastra really leads to faith in sadhus because sastra stresses this over and over again. Bhakti comes from bhakti in the context of sadhu sanga. Yet we find many with great faith in sastra (Prabhupada’s books only) and no faith in sadhus, but rather strong distrust of them. This is most unfortunate and a sign of weak faith in a dynamic sense of the term. Faith is understanding that removes doubt and confusion. To the extent that we don’t understand sastra‘s import we are not standing on a planet of faith.