Faith and Śraddha

Faith and Śraddha

What is required to know the śastra? Faith or śraddha? Are they the same?

No. Faith and Śraddha are different as lemon tea and milk tea. Both are teas but their essential ingredient is different. Similarly Faith and Śraddha both have a difference which is very significant in knowing the śastram.

Faith in English dictionary – “Christian Theology. the trust in God and in His promises as made through Christ and the Scriptures by which humans are justified or saved.” “belief in God or in the doctrines or teachings of religion.” “a system of religious belief: the Christian faith; the Jewish faith.” “belief that is not based on proof.” “confidence or trust in a person or thing.”

For the study of the śastram, śastra itself gives the qualifications of the aspiring student. The one who is endowed with the sādhana chatustayam-the group of 4 qualities will gain śastra vidya.

1. Viveka – a discerning capacity to think rationally.

2. Vairagya – Dispassion towards all engagements which bring an ephemeral pleasure.

3.  Shama-Dama-Ādi Shataka sampatti. The wealth of the subset of six qualities, sense control, mind control, endurance, an ability to withdraw the mind wilfully from its preoccupied state, equanimity and  ŚRADDHA.

4. Mumukshatvam – yearning for, a longing for absolute freedom.

There is an oft quote from the Bhagavad Gītā (Ch4, Vs39), “श्रद्धावान् लभते ज्ञानम् ।” “The one who has śraddha gains the knowledge.” श्रद्धावान् śraddhavān – the one who has śraddha; लभते labhate- gains; ज्ञानम् jñanam- knowledge.

Śraddha in Sanskrit-Hindi dictionary – “आस्था, निष्ठा, विश्वास, भरोसा ।” “देवी सन्देशों में विश्वास, धार्मिक निष्ठा ।” “आदर, समान ।” “शान्ति, मन की स्वस्थता ।”

What is that ‘little’ difference between faith and śraddha? By the dictionary meanings they seem alike.

Faith expects you to accept without understanding or questioning. Because it is the truth. Believe in it. Śraddha expects you to understand first and for which question when necessary, but with faith, that the answer must be right, only you cannot see it so. Having that trust in the śastra and the śastra ācharya (teacher), who will painstakingly keep explaining, answering every doubt, till they are removed.

Bhagavad Gītā, in the 4th chapter,verse 34, gives the characteristic of such a śraddhavān student.

तद्विद्धि प्रणिपातेन परिप्रश्नेन सेवया । उपदेक्ष्यन्ति ते ज्ञानं ज्ञानिनस्तत्त्वदर्शिनः ॥३४॥

Tadviddhi pranipaatena pariprashnena sevayaa;

Upadekshyanti te jnaanam jnaaninas tattwadarshinah.34.

“Know that by long prostration, by question and by service, the wise who have realised the Truth will instruct thee in (that) knowledge.”

Know the method of gaining the knowledge. Having approached an ācharya, offering your namaskāra (salutation), through questioning and service to the ācharya, the knower of the truth, will instruct you, for your knowledge.

Namaskāra determines your śraddha. A willingness to be taught. And to learn; what you don’t understand, address it as a question to the teacher. Who will then explain with the help of tarka-logic, and anubhava -your valid experiences, till your doubts have vanished and you also begin to see what the śastram says. It is an engaging method of learning. A conversation with an objective on both ends. The ācharya wants to convey the śastra and the shishya wants to learn the śastra. As the student  continues to dispel his ignorance, this shishya, as an expression of gratitude offers service in place of the generosity in efforts put by the teacher while explaining. Once learnt, the shishya now has a choice to be an ācharya or not. This is a live tradition and very different from ‘sermons’.

Thus, śraddha encapsulates faith. And expands beyond it. Śraddhavān alone gains the śastra vidya. Śraddha is required to know the śastra and to prevent it from becoming dogmatic.

Religions are faith based. And faith can become blind. Such religions defeat the very purpose of a religious life! Yes. Religions are meant that people can live a religious life.

But while religions preach, śastra teaches. And that is no small a difference! And that is also true for faith and śraddha.


Deepti Vishwanath

Iśvara is Bhagavān

Iśvara is Bhagavān

Iśvara comes from the root Isha- ‘to rule’ ‘ईश्-शासने’। The one who governs. Bhagavān is a word which is a गुण वाचक । Guṇa vāchaka means, those words which indicate the inherent qualities of the one it is used for. It is derived as भग + वान ।  All Sanskrit words have a root base from which derivations are formed as per the intention of the usage. In the word ‘Bhagavān‘ the root is ‘bhaga‘ and it has the meanings of six qualities. Bhaga भग – ऐश्वर्य  aiśvarya, वीर्य vīrya, यश yaśa, श्री śrī, वैराग्य vairāgya एवं and मोक्ष mokṣa freedom. ऐश्वर्य aiśvarya means majesty, Lordliness. वीर्य vīrya means strength,  यश yaśa means fame, श्री śrī means wealth, prosperity, वैराग्य vairāgya means detachment and मोक्ष mokṣa means absolute freedom. These are mentioned in various Purāṇas, with a slight change in the list of the six. This specific list mentioned above comes in the Viṣṇu Purāṇa and has been quoted by Śri Ādi Śaṅkarācharya, in the Bhagavad Gītā, Ch4, Vs 37 as –

“ऐश्वर्यस्य समग्रस्य वीर्यस्य यशसः श्रीयः । वैराग्यस्याथ मोक्षस्य षण्णां भग इतीरणा ।।(विष्णुपु. ६।५।७४)

Aiśvaryasya samagrasya vīryasya yaśsaḥ śrīyaḥ . Vairagyasyātha mokṣasya ṣaṇṇām bhaga itīraṇā . (Viṣṇu Purāṇa 6.5.74) 

The -वान्, vān suffix is used to denote the ‘possessor of’; so Bhagavān means the one who possesses the above mentioned qualities inherently, in wholeness. Like in the example of धनवान dhanavān means the one who possesses wealth in abundance. Buddhimān means one full of Buddhi – discerning thinking.

Idea being, all the qualities which we perceive as wonderful, extraordinary, or even  ultimate ends, the one who has them in full measure, developed fully, and the qualities are there constantly, steadily and not sporadically, such a one is called a Bhagavān.

Iśvara means Bhagavān – with such a definition. Iśvara who is Bhagavān.

If there are two words, Iśvara and Bhagavān can they not mean the two are different?

The difference is this only. Iśvara is used as a noun. And Bhagavān is used as an adjective. Thus when Iśvara has been given a name like Brahmā -the originator; Viṣṇu – the sustainer, or Śiva the destroyer, he is qualified as Bhagavān Viṣṇu etc. which in understanding becomes the Iśvara with all the complete qualties himself is now The Viṣṇu etc.

Difference of usage between Bhagavān and Devatā? None. Since Bhagavān is an adjective, even Devatās are called Bhagavān. In fact, due to the meaning of Bhagavān, it gets used even for someone whom we look upon as great. We do address them in Hindi as ‘Hey Bhagavan!’ हे भगवन्!

Thus, we do see that in the translations of the Vedic thought in English, Bhagavān is also God, Iśvara is also God, Devatā is also God. But in the Vedic thought they are all distinct. This has been one of the major sources of confusion among the seekers of mokṣa born and brought up in the era – “independent India.”

Vedās talk about kārmā – the realms of Vedic actions, upāsanā -the realms of worship and meditations, and jñana – the realm of knowledge of oneself, ātmajñana. This is for the sake of man alone. And not for Iśvara or God. But Iśvara and Devatās are important for those ends to be achieved respectively for which Karma, Upāsana and Jñana are the means, sādhanās.

Deepti Vishwanath

Śāstram is an educational text book. Don’t term it religious.

img_0553The worst occurrence in the abolishing of a cultural identity is to disconnect the present generations from their ancestoral roots, and the easiest way is to change the language. The way the ancestors spoke should no longer be understood to the new generation! How important it is to recognise that language controls the generation! It modifies with time, but to make the child in a family begin to think in an acquired language which his parents or grandparents did not know of! This is sure staple for a gap in thought.

All Vedic śāstram is in Sanskrit language. Actually, there is a Sanskrit specifically devoted to the Vedās, it is referred to as the Vedic Sanskrit or also termed the classical Sanskrit. Almost all the spoken languages in India, and neighbouring countries are rooted in it. (Some say, even far of foreign languages also, like German, but I am not qualified to comment on that). This classical Vedic Sanskrit graduated to the modern spoken Sanskrit whose grammar rule were codified by the great Pānini. Most of the now available śastrās are written in this and thus are still capable of being understood!

But, in the history of India, we find there have been centuries of infiltrations, and in their attempts to know the culture, have eroded it gradually. And in the very recent times, what has completely usurped us from our roots in thought, is the fact that I am writing in it and not in my mother tongue or Sanskrit. Infact I am made to believe it is my primary language. I have an aunt who does not know it! How can this then, be my primary language?  That besides, when our principal texts, our śastrās got translated, here is where the seed for a ‘confused generation hereforth’, in terms of knowing their śāstrās, got sown. Many a word in the Sanskrit language have no parallel word in English, how can they then be translated??

This where Bhagavad Gītā, got or was, falsely or deliberately, covered in a religious robe! Every word in language is nothing but a representation of an idea in thought. Take the example of the word Dharma. Vedās talk of Dharmas. Dharma is a whole concept which has a certain flexibility to its meaning. It adapts its meaning to the context in which it is used! The context automatically gives away the meaning to the one who knows the language completely. But imagine 350 years ago, some Englishman, who saw on the banks of river Gangā, some people performing their early morning sun worship! He is alien to such an action! Worshipping the Sun! And in his attempts to know genuinely, he believes they are praying. And praying is religious to him. And when he asks the person, what are you doing?” That person must have answered “I am only doing my Dharma.” Our Englishman got confirmed that Dharma means religion! And thereafter, till today, in all the translations, whereever word Dharma comes, it is translated as religion! It has got so accepted, that we have forgotten what Dharma means! We can’t pray to the Sun now without being religious! Utter confusion!! How would the dear English soul know, Dharma is a Karma. And Karma is not action. Even praying is a Karma. 🙏  Namaste! …… is also a greeting, not a prayer.

Deepti Vishwanath