We can’t survive for long on secondhand faith

Secondhand faith refers to the faith we have developed in something because of our faith in those who tell us to do that thing. Such is the normal beginning of our faith-journey in any field, even fields such as science that, some people mistakenly imagine, requires no faith. Science students study certain books and do corresponding experiments because of their secondhand faith in their science teachers.

Similarly, children born to spiritually-minded parents frequently do spiritual activities because they are told to do so by their parents, in whom they have faith. But when they grow up in today’s multi-cultural world, they will soon encounter others whose faith differs from theirs. Such encounters can confuse and delude them. For their faith to survive such challenges, they need to elevate their faith from secondhand to firsthand. That is, they need to make their faith their own –intellectually and experientially.

The Bhagavad-gita calls for such internalization of faith. Recognizing that our journey towards enlightenment begins with faith, it (04.34) urges us to approach spiritual seers and learn from them. This verse stresses that such learning is not the swallowing of received truths, but their assimilation through intelligent inquiry. Arjuna, the Gita’s original student, models the harmonious integration of submissiveness and inquisitiveness when he surrenders to Krishna (02.07) and also asks him probing questions throughout the Gita.

And Krishna too conveys the need for internalization of his message. How? By his concluding call – he doesn’t invoke his divinity for insisting on the acceptance of his words, but instead urges that they be deliberated (18.63), thereby making them intellectually firsthand. And he has already stated (09.02) that the process of bhakti-yoga gives experiential realization of higher spiritual realities.

The faith that is thus made firsthand both intellectually and experientially can pass the sternest of tests.

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