Niyama 4 - Astikya, Faith

Bodhinatha speaks on the niyama of astikya, faith. In Hinduism experience develops faith. Faith starts out as a belief in what we have not yet experienced. This leads to experience and deepens faith. Visions and events such as the Ganesha milk miracle increase faith. There are three stages of faithbelief, philosophical understanding and personal experience, which is advanced faith.

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Questions? Bodhinatha is the successor of "Gurudeva," Satguru Sivaya Subramuniyaswami. If you have questions on subjects about spiritual life you will find answers in Gurudeva's books and teachings. Learn about ways to study these teachings by visiting The Master Course site or writing to mastercourse@hindu.org.

Unedited Transcript:

Good Morning, everyone! Happy to have Jiva with us this morning. Welcome, Jiva.

Continuing our series on 'Good Conduct', up to niyama four today.

Today's lesson on 'Good Conduct' is on the fourth niyama of Astikya, which is to cultivate an unshakable faith. Believe firmly in God, Gods and Guru and your path to enlightenment. Trust in the words of the Masters, the scriptures and the 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.

Let us look at some examples illustrating the practice of this niyama.

The first example - As a child, we attended the temple with our parents but never thought much about Hindu beliefs and practices. However, when we were a teenager we read a number of books about holy men and women, the stories of their lives and their wise sayings. Reading about the experiences of these great souls noticeably deepened our conviction in the truths of Hinduism.

Second example - As a young adult, we attend a lecture of a visiting Swami. His presence is radiant with spiritual light and his talk increases our faith in the Hindu path and inspires us to intensify our religious practices.

Third example - When on pilgrimage to India, while worshipping at an ancient shrine of Lord Ganesha, we have a brief vision of Ganesha. He walks out of the shrine, stands in front of us giving blessings and then walks back into the shrine. This personal experience of Ganesha convinces us through and through of the reality of the Gods.

Fourth example - Though we meditate every morning, we do not go in that deeply. However, one particular morning we find ourselves going in and in and in and staying there a long time. When we come out, we find ourselves in the perspective that God is a consciousness permeating all and that we are that consciousness. The belief that the soul is God takes on new meaning to us.

All of the niyamas focus on expressing the refined soul qualities within each of us. In the case of Astikya, Faith, the divine quality we are expressing is an unshakable belief in the existence of God and the soul and the spiritual path through which the soul matures and achieves eventual realization of its oneness with God and liberation from rebirth on earth.

In Hinduism, faith starts out as a belief in what has yet to be experienced. This eventually leads to the experience which in turn transforms our faith into a belief in what we have experienced.

Gurudeva explains this deeper aspect of faith by referring to an old saying favored by practical, experiential intellectuals, "Seeing is believing." He then states that a more profound adage is, "Believing is seeing." He goes on to explain that the scientists and 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.

Here is a story to further illustrate Astikya. In September 1995, Hindus saw first hand 'The Milk Miracle', where in temples around the world devotees offered milk to the murthi of Lord Ganesha and it was drunk by Him. It all began on September 21st, when one man in New Delhi had a dream that Ganesha craved a little milk. In the early morning, he went to a nearby temple where a skeptical priest allowed him to offer a spoonful of milk to the small stone image. Both watched in astonishment as the milk disappeared, magically consumed by the God. Within hours news has spread across India that Ganesha was accepting milk offerings. Tens of millions of people of all ages flocked to the temples and had the same experience. Hindus in other countries soon heard of this and started offering milk. In Southeast Asia, Europe, North America and else where. The event was reported on Reuters news service, which in their report quoted Anila Premji, "I held the spoon out level, and it just disappeared. To me it was just a miracle. It gave me a sense of feeling that there is a God, a sense of Spirit on this Earth."

Indeed, 'The Milk Miracle' increased the faith of many Hindus in the reality of God and the Gods.

The Tirukural in its Chapter 36, 'Knowledge of Truth' contains a number of verses on faith. In verse 353, the Kural focuses on the centrality to the first stage of developing faith, of ridding oneself of doubt, "Heaven is nearer than earth for those who dispel all doubt and know the truth."

In verse 352, the Kural talks about the blissful experiences that comprise advanced faith. "For those of undimmed perception, free from delusion, darkness departs and rapture rushes in."

In verse 357, the Kural shows that faith includes faith in realization and liberation. "Having thought profoundly and realized fully That which is, one need never think of being born again."

The cultivation of faith can be compared 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 be easily 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 us look more closely at these three stages of the development of Faith.

Faith in its initial stages, 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 companions and avoid worldly and non-religious people. Attending a weekly satsang with like-minded devotees is quite helpful at this stage. 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 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. This is cultivated through the regular practice of devotion and meditation which 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.

In 'Living with Siva', Gurudeva explains that there are two kinds of faith. The first kind he says is, "Faith in those Masters, adepts, yogis and rishis who have had similar experiences and spoken about them in similar ways, unedited by the ignorant. We therefore can have faith that some truth was revealed from within themselves, from some deep inner or higher source."

Gurudeva then states that the second aspect of faith is, "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 philosopher."

Gurudeva stresses that, "These personal revelations create a new superconscious intellect when verified by yogis and rishis and the sadhus have seen and heard and whose explanations, centuries have preserved. These are the old souls being educated from within out, building a new intellect from superconscious insights. Their faith is unshakable, undaunted for it is themself, it is just who they are at this stage of evolution, the maturation of their soul."

In conclusion, 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 the 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.

Aum Namah Sivaya.