Recently, we came across a discussion on the internet regarding sraddha - the importance of faith. Is it essential or only a necessity for the beginner? It is an area of siddhanta that is little understood by a vast majority of the Gaudiya Vaishnavas residing in western countries. I say amongst those Vaishnavas residing in western countries because, at least among the followers of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta in India I have never found any lacking of understanding in that area. To the contrary - whatever meager reference I have to that sublime topic has been gained by their association.
We have seen in the works of Srila Bhaktivinode Thakura that sraddha has been described as the "halo of Srimati Radharani" and I have heard this also from Srila Sridhar Maharaja. Amongst the Gaudiyas the Supreme Goddess of Fortune, Srimati Radharani, is called sraddha-devi or the predominating deity of faith. She is faith personified. She has more faith and deeper faith in Krsna than any other entity. Therefore, faith must be given the highest position. Surely it is not simply an abstract concept for beginners with no essential purpose for advanced souls.
There is a nice analogy in this respect, that Krishna is like a dark rain cloud on the dark moon night (He is indistinguishable, unknown, and unknowable). In other words we can not see or distinguish the cloud from the night sky. However, when there is lightening, a flash of light in the night sky, at that time we are given the capacity to see the cloud. By light we can thus distinguish the cloud. Similarly, Srimati Radharani is the only agency by which we can know or realize Krishna. She alone has the capacity to reveal Krishna to the fallen conditioned souls and that capacity is Her investment in all living beings which appears in the heart as faith, sraddha. Thus "Sraddha Devi".
In Gaudiya-siddhanta the higher position is given to faith as opposed to knowledge. In fact the verse yasya-devi-para-bhaktir confirms this point of Gaudiya-siddhanta;
yasya deve para bhaktir, yatha-deve tatha gurau
tasyaite kathita hy arthah, prakasante mahatmanah
"Only unto those great souls who have implicit faith in both the Lord and the spiritual master are all the imports of Vedic knowledge automatically revealed." (Svetasvatara Up. 6.38)
Our Guru Maharaja, Srila Prabhupada, was very fond of this verse. If one does not have proper faith in Hari, Guru, and Vaishnava then one’s progress in Krishna consciousness will be next to nil. Knowledge, even the study of the Vedas, will be to no avail unless one has sraddha in Guru and Krishna.
It is a fact that sraddha is often confused with the blind faith of various mundane religionists and others. The faith/belief that there are many Gods or that Durga, Indra, Ganesh, or Jesus is God is not actually sraddha anymore than having a university degree means that one is a brahmana. Brahmana means one who knows what is brahman/parabrahman. Similarly, sraddha means conviction that by serving Krishna all other purposes are served. We are not interested in mere credulity.
Sraddha, faith proper, is the instrument to understand and to know the higher subjective realm. Knowledge, jnana, is useful only in as much as it destroys ignorance and increases our sraddha. Only sraddha which takes us to surrender, saranagati, can fulfill the hearts’ innermost hankering and aspiration. There is a nice quote from Srila Sridhar Maharaja in regards to the limitations of knowledge:
"The innermost hankering of every living soul is for beauty, love, affection, and harmony; not for power, knowledge, or anything else. This is the diagnosis of the whole creation in time and space: their common cause is one. But it is rare for a soul to reach such a clear stage of hankering for reality as to understand this point. Few souls are to be found in this world who are really conscious of their innermost necessity, who realize, "We want Krsna! We want Vrndavana!" Such sincere souls are not easily found.
An intellectual understanding of Krsna consciousness is impossible. Just as a bee cannot taste honey by licking the outside of a glass jar, one cannot enter the domain of higher spirit through the intellect.
Only by service will Krsna be satisfied and come down, only then will we be able to understand the nature of higher plane. This is Vedic knowledge.
We are tatastha-sakti, marginal potency, and if we want to know any truth about higher reality, we must realize that it is more subtle than our existence, it is super-subjective: It can touch us, but we cannot climb up to that domain out of our own sweet will. Only if we are given the grace which can take us up can we go.
One who has this understanding will be able to combat all the existing intellectualists. The intellect has no capacity to enter into the higher subjective area. That supreme truth is atindriya-manasagocarah: beyond the plane of the senses, mind, and intellect. This expression manaso vapuso vaco vaibhavam tava gocarah by Brahma, admitting to Krsna that He was beyond the reach of his body, mind, and words, was not only a lip-deep statement of the mouth. If we want to know the absolute truth, the only condition for realizing Him is a submissive attitude. In that way, He may be satisfied with our attempt and reveal Himself to us. Divine revelation is not a matter of research within this world–we should have a sincere heart to serve."
Srimad Bhagavatam (7.5.30) it is written:
matir na krsne paratah svato va
mitho bhipadyeta grha-vratanam
punah punas carvita-carvananam
"Srimad-Bhagavatam tells us that we can try to enter the world of higher reality through intellectualism, but we will again come back, baffled in our attempts. If we try to press with our intelligence to enter into that domain, we will come back dissatisfied in despair and will wander here within this mortal world again and again.
sreyah srtim bhaktim udasya te vibho
klisyanti ye kevala-bodha-labdhaye
tesam asau klesala eva sisyate
nanyad yatha sthula-tusavaghatinam
"O Lord, those who want to have a clear conception of You through their intellect find their attempts useless. Their endeavors end only in frustration, like those who try to beat rice from an empty husk." (Bhag. 10.14.4)
"So jnana, knowledge, is like an empty husk. Energy and knowledge are only outer aspects. The real substance, the rice, is devotion–love. That is the tasteful thing within. Other things are covers (jnana-karmady-anavrtam). But what is within the cover is tasteful, eternal, auspicious, and beautiful: satyam, sivam, sundaram. Beauty is reality, ecstasy is reality; everything else is only an outer cover - with the cover, we cannot get the substance within. Then our life becomes a disappointment:." (Srila Sridhar Maharaja)
So the conclusion is that if we neglect the importance of sraddha we will ultimately not be successful.