Faith forms the basis for a life devoted to walking the spiritual path. Without faith we cannot continue. We start walking the path based initially on belief or trust, but later it is faith that makes it possible for us to keep going. Faith arises in us when our initial belief is reinforced and becomes firm.
You can picture this process in a down-to-earth way by comparing it with starting to use a pressure cooker to cook potatoes because a friend recommends it. Based on her own experience she advises you to use this tool instead of a regular pan since it is much more efficient. She has no reason to mislead you as she is an experienced cook, so you trust her advice; you believe her. It is not that you have faith in using the pressure cooker yet. You just believe and trust your friend. Besides, her explanation is so clear that you believe that you can learn to use the pressure cooker by yourself.
So you buy a pressure cooker and take it home. You put in the water, add the salt and the potatoes, and close the lid and follow the instructions. During the process you do not look inside the pressure cooker. You trust all is fine. Then, after about seven minutes of boiling, you open the lid and see that the potatoes are done. The next time you use the same tool, the same method and the same instructions, you will have faith in them and in your own capacity to use them.
This mechanism of acting upon initial trust and having faith – or not – based on the outcome is a common and useful process in life. However, on the spiritual path, it can also create obstacles.
Maharaj Sawan Singh explains in the book My Submission:
When a person realizes that despite his best efforts all his plans and endeavours have failed, he gets disheartened and gives up trying.
We cannot blame ourselves for the tendency to give up in the face of failure. From a practical point of view this world functions through desire and expectation. That’s how we sustain ourselves. If we experience thirst, for instance, we expect that drinking water will quench our thirst. So we start looking for water. It is the expectation of removal of thirst that motivates our action to seek water. But if a desired outcome does not occur – for example, we do not find the water we need – we start to doubt that our method of finding water was correct. On the spiritual path, this feature of the mind can work against us, especially when we seek results in meditation.
Before we asked for initiation, we believed in something. We had some trust in the Master; maybe we had some true knowledge that gave us faith in the teachings. That was the foundation of approaching the path and asking for initiation. After initiation we started to meditate. We started to apply the method with ourselves. And what happened with many of us? Not much. At least that is what we thought, which was a disappointing experience for us. In such circumstances, when our expectations are not met, there is the danger that we conclude that the action of meditation makes no sense.
It is at this moment that our mind provides us with a sneaky and seemingly effective solution to the situation: we lower our expectation by meditating less or stopping altogether. If we meditate little or not at all, we do not have much expectation regarding the effects of our meditation, and as a consequence, we do not feel frustrated by the results. That seems a good way to stay comfortable, indeed.
Many of us have used this method of dealing with apparent lack of results in meditation, at least at certain points in our lives. But there is a term for dealing with expectations that way: giving up.
Sometimes there is nothing wrong with giving up – except when you give up something very precious. And that is the position we are in. We have been given an extremely precious opportunity, so it makes much more sense to at least start remoulding our expectations of meditation, instead of giving up our trust in the teacher and his teachings.
Whether we choose to walk this precious path or not, we still have the natural need for reinforcement of our belief based on the outcome of our actions to make our belief firm. Besides, are our expectations not raised after reading Sant Mat books and attending satsangs? Yes, they are. We have to keep in mind that these books and satsangs have just one goal: to inspire us to put ourselves under the influence of the Master and to meditate.
The problem is that our mind seeks reinforcement of belief and trust in a conventional way. We use the teachings to create expectations based on what we can understand. But the path is beyond what can be understood with our intellect. Our mind does not like a state of not understanding, but that is what we have to bear.
The eighth-century Zen Master Yongjia said, “Great Enlightenment comes from great doubt.” Doubt pushes us to seek new and deeper understanding of our path. It is for this reason that the sixteenth- century Korean master Xishan said in A Paragon of Zen House:
There are three essential things in the practice of the path. The first is great faith. The second great will, and the third great doubt. If any one of these is missing, practice becomes useless like a cauldron, a kettle, with a broken leg.
What this implies is that we should have great faith in the method and the Master, and in ourselves. We have no reason not to. The only thing we have to learn is to give up clinging to our conventional understanding, to learn to expect nothing and to allow the “great doubt” master Xishan refers to. We are like a bird that arrives at the high cliff of understanding and expectation by flapping his wings. To travel further we have to let go of this cliff and jump into the unknown while just spreading our wings by meditation. The Master will carry us with his uplifting atmosphere and take us back to our true home. Until that time, the only thing we have to do is simply not give up. That is our path.