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Monday, December 12, 2016

Further thoughts on thinking about faith - Part 2

When it comes to faith in the Scriptures, we face a special situation. Vedas are the sacred texts for the Hindus. They are called Sruti which means revealed knowledge. It was revealed to the sages (rishis). Therefore, rishis are called mantra drishta and not mantra karta, which means they saw (rather heard) the mantras and did not create them. In Mahabharatha, there is one discussion between Brighu and Bharadwaja (Book 12; Section 182)in which we are told that several rishis heard the “veda” mantras all at the same time. The question is who or what was the source? The answer is God. But, one can see (or hear) something in one’s mind by intuition or by visualization, and not because someone showed “it”.

We are also told that Hammurabi received his great code from Shamash; Moses got his directly from Yahweh; Mohammed  got his from Gabriel; and Manu from Swayambhu, the Self-Generated First One and so on. Who is the First one? Who has the most authentic Revealed sacred text? Is it not possible (actually most likely) that all of them are Revealed texts, and from the same Primordial Source.  It happens that He/She/It was given different names by people living in different parts of this One planet? Why not take the best from each one of them since they are all from the same one Source? Why do we fight to establish whose is the first revealed, the most original and the most sacred?

It is interesting that both people who go by absolute faith in old texts and follow the teachings literally and those who question and analyze, choose some areas and ignore others. Yet, they criticize each other. The faithful call the “doubters” as infidel and sinners. The open thinkers call the faithful as “die-hards”. Either way, why do we pick some of the teachings and ignore others? Although I agree that when we interpret the texts for ourselves we may get arrogant and self-righteous, that is no reason not to think on your own. In fact, self-discovered meaning may have a better and a more lasting impact.

I wish also to point out that ancient texts from many traditions ask each one of us to think on our own and not follow blindly. Here are some examples:

“Do not stifle the spirit. Do not despise prophecies. Test everything; retain what is good” says The Bible (Thessalonians 3:13)

Sankara said: “Gnaapakam hi shastram na thu kaarakam……”, which translates to “Scriptures are for keeping you informed (of eternal Truths) and not for issuing commands”.

He added: “Na hi prathyakshavirodhey shrutheh pramanaam” which means: “ Veda cannot be an authority as against observed facts” and also that “even if hundred Vedic texts declare that fire is cold they cannot become an authority on this point”. (pages 72-75, Sankara’s Teachings in his own words by Swami Atmananda .  Bhavan’s Book, 1964)

In another context Sankara said: “Scriptural text is only informative. A scriptural passage supplies information of a thing existing as such; it cannot create a thing that does not exist”.( Sankara’s interpretative comments on Taitrriya Upanishad; translated by Swami Gambirananda in Eight Upanishads Volume 1 Page 275. Advaita Ashrama, Calcutta 1972)

Buddha said: “Do not believe in what you have heard; do not believe in doctrines because they have been handed down to you through generations, do not believe in anything because it is followed blindly by many; do not believe because some old sage makes a statement; do not believe in truths to which you have become attached by habit; do not believe merely on the authority of your teachers and elders. Have deliberation and analyze, and when the result agrees with reason and conduces to the good of one and all, accept it and live up to it”. (This passage is a reproduction of advice from Buddha, according to the translation of original Buddhist canons by Paul Carus published in 1894. The Gospel of Buddha by Paul Carus, published by Samata Books of Chennai)

           Section 3:7 of Qur’an starts with “ It is He who has sent this Scripture down to you (to Prophet Mohammed). Some of its verses are definite in meaning – these are the Mothers of the Scriptures. And others are ambiguous. The perverse at heart eagerly pursue the ambiguities in their attempt to make trouble and pin down a meaning of their own; only God knows the true meaning”…….. But, the latter portion of this verse says: “And those firmly rooted in knowledge say: "We believe in it (in the entirety of its verses, both explicit and allegorical); all is from our Lord"; yet none derives admonition except the people of discernment.” 

In each tradition and religion, there are purists, who interpret old texts (faithfully) strictly word-for-word and there are skeptics, who keep asking questions. Faith is easier on our psyche than doubt.That is the nature of human mind, and this schism is seen in every tradition. Here are some examples:                                       
Strict followers                        Questioners
Vedic (Hindu)                            Mimamsa, Tantric                    Caravaka
Buddhism                                  Maadhaythmika                       Yogachara
Christian                                    Several                                       Quakers/United Unitarian
Islam                                            Wahaabi                                    Sufi, Bahai

             Finally, I came across an important point about faith written by a reviewer of books in the website. The review was on a book by Kierkegaard on this subject of faith. The title of the book is Fear and Trembling, a classic. The reviewer points out that an important feature of faith is uncertainty. It is uncertainty that leads one to faith. Therefore, the position one takes based on faith has to be a way-station, not The Final Abode.

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