How to Acquire Faith
Question: What is faith, and how does one acquire it?
Answer: Faith, first of all, is not blind belief. Faith is a way of knowing, or is a way of knowledge. Faith is a way of knowledge, not through the five senses, not through the intellect, but through the avenue of higher intuition. Faith is knowledge through the avenue of higher intuition, and this comes through the purification of the mind, and more important, the purification of the heart. How do we purify the heart?
The most important thing to purify in order to bring about faith is to purify the heart. How do we purify the heart? In yoga we learn this. We say we purify the heart by the practice of Karma Yoga, selfless service to all fellow beings. The method is very simple. We have to start to serve others; simple. We have to stop thinking that we are the most important people in this universe. We are not. In Karma Yoga, the most important person is our fellow being. My fellow being is the most important person. This idea that “I, I, I; me, me, me” has to go gradually.
Usually, if you notice it, when we come to a place, we think, “What can I get out of it?” Rarely do we think, “What can I give to it?” This is how our psyche works. In Karma Yoga, the ego-centric tendency is replaced by this love to our fellow beings and this desire to alleviate, to remove the suffering of our fellow beings, to improve their well- being, to cheer them. And it can take many forms. Every moment, we have an opportunity to serve. Also, it is not just a quantity issue—how much did I serve? Even small service is important. I will tell you a story. Examples are always the best.
In the Bahamas, we met a person, who, in my opinion, is a saint. I have known him for many years. Swami Vishnudevananda also knew him. He is Christian, and he is—like the Mother Teresa of the Bahamas. He is a saint. He is 90 years old now. One day I asked him, “What is your secret?” We like to know the secrets. “What is your secret?” He said, “It is very simple. Every day,” he says, “do one good deed and that is it. Every day, do one good deed. Simple.” I meditated upon it, and I found it is profound, and it is also true.
When we come to Karma Yoga, it is not the quantity, but it is the persistence. We have to persevere. That tendency, that ego-centric tendency has to go. Who will benefit the most from the practice of Karma Yoga? The karma yogi himself will benefit the most! People are asking how to be happy. It is very simple. Make another person happy; that is the easiest way. Cheer another person. It is easy. The whole day, be egotistic. And once a day make another person happy. Just one act of Karma Yoga a day is enough. It does not have to be a lot.
The reason I am bringing it up is because Karma Yoga purifies the heart, and when the heart is pure, faith is coming—to the degree that the heart is pure, more faith. Faith is not blindness. Faith is not what people think. It is not blind belief. Faith is knowledge. I remember reading from the New Testament, when Jesus was saying, “Can’t you believe” — talking to his disciples — “Can’t you believe without seeing?” Can you not believe without seeing? It is easy to believe after seeing. Everyone can do it. Can you believe without seeing? That is more difficult. Faith is like this.
Faith is knowledge, but not through the senses. Not through the intellect – through a higher faculty—much higher. There is a practical way to it, and it is also a good way which definitely would benefit everyone. The way to faith is through Karma Yoga — selfless service to our fellow beings.
Swami Swaroopananda is a senior disciple of Swami Vishnudevananda. A practicing yogi from a very young age, Swami Swaroopananda has dedicated his life to the practice and teaching of yoga. He taught in Yoga Teacher Training Courses around the world and is currently teaching advanced yoga philosophy courses and lectures internationally. He is Director of the Sivananda Ashram Yoga Retreat and acharya (spiritual director) for the Sivananda centers and ashrams in the Bahamas and the Middle East. He is a member of the Board of Directors of the International Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Centres.