“Faith to the religious is like sand to an ostrich.” I saw this quote recently on Facebook and it raised the question in my head, what is faith and is it always bad?
Even science is based on faith. Every scientist has certain beliefs that allow him to work in science. These include faith in the scientific process, belief that scientific laws are objective and they are uniform across the universe and are invariant with respect to time. But the faith that scientists have in science is different from religious and spiritual faith. Religious faith and spiritual faith are also different from one another but are usually mixed up. Religious faith is a somewhat “blind” faith. We believe because we are told so. “This is the way it is,” we are told. Religious belief in many ways does not brook questions or allow criticism. Spiritual faith is more experiential. It comes from within. It happens because of personal experience and is not something that is imposed from outside.
The difference between science and spirituality is that while science is objective, spirituality is subjective. The common notion is that the spiritual experience cannot be replicated through an objective process. The spiritual spark spontaneously ignites in some people and not in others. It is felt that there is no reliable process by which we can make it happen in a replicable manner to everybody. That is why spirituality is not considered as scientific.
So what is the role of religion? Religion provides a safe place for spirituality to flourish. Just like faith in science allows scientists to explore the world and make sense of it, faith in religious systems allows adherents to have spiritual experiences and explore the spiritual world. Sadly religious systems tend to become more about power and control and move away from their central mission. But that should not be reason for us to run away from our religion, rather it should be a reason for us to reform it.
This brings us to Yoga. This is a system that seeks to make spirituality scientific. It allows the subjective spiritual experience to be had in a replicable and objective manner. Just like science requires faith, even Yoga requires faith. But just like the scientific process is objective and replicable, so is the process in Yoga.
Yoga says, “If you follow these steps then you will have a spiritual experience.” You need not be a “blind believer” prior to starting the process, only committed to it and open to it. The spiritual experience will happen inside you and will be a subjective experience. You cannot show it to others but you can know the truth of it by your own direct experience.
Those who practice yoga as an exercise may be somewhat confused by these assertions but the exercise part of the Yoga system (known as hatha yoga) is only one part of the full system of Yoga. The full system of Yoga has eight different aspects that have to be practiced simultaneously. These are known as the “limbs” of the Yoga tree. Just like a scientist has to calibrate and tune his scientific instruments, in Yoga we have to view our mind-body as a scientific instrument. The system of Yoga shows us how to tune our mind-body and prepare it for the spiritual experience.
Faith then is something that holds our life together. It allows us to commit our life to act in some manner. Without faith we would not trust that we would wake up the next morning or safely cross the road. Without faith there can be no life nor any meaningful action:
“To have faith is to trust yourself to the water. When you swim you don’t grab hold of the water, because if you do you will sink and drown. Instead you relax, and float.” – Alan Watts.
Related: Are You A Believer?