Ideals and Values/Faith (Shraddhā)
What is Shraddhā
Shraddhā means that we should believe that Bhagavān takes care of us and can always see us. When we get into trouble, we should not get scared or start crying. We should think that Bhagavān will make our troubles go away because he is watching us and because he wants us to be happy.
Brahman is our Friend & the Final Refuge: A refuge is a place of safety where we seek shelter whenever we are in trouble or danger. There is a difference between a house and a shelter. For example, we are comfortable inside our home but within our larger home, we have a 'tornado shelter' where we find refuge when there is a tornado siren. God is the supreme refuge that we should seek when we are in deep trouble and when all other means to overcome our problems have failed. In addition, if we wish to attain Mokṣa, then we should give up all other refuges and seek refuge in God alone. All other refuges are temporary and have limitations, but God is that refuge that is permanent and unfailing.
A true friend always helps us when we are in need of help without expecting anything in return even if he himself is inconvenient. He helps in a way that we do not feel uncomfortable and indebted to him. He stands up for us and supports us against bullies. A friend always tries to show the right path to his friend taking him away from evil things and turning him towards the good. God is also our friend. In fact, God is our truest friend. All of our other friends may leave us behind one day or betray us or refuse to help us when we need it the most. But God looks after us unselfishly and is constantly guiding all humanity to the right path always through saints, through scriptures and through our conscience. He has no need and yet he takes Divine Incarnations (Avatāras) or appears Himself on this earth many times to re-establish Dharma, to defeat evil and to set a good example for us. We only have to listen to his guidance, acknowledge it, follow it and extend our own hand back to him in friendship.
Having Bhagavān as our refuge and friend does not mean that we do not do our duty or that we do not put in our best effort. Rather, it means we should not worry about the results too much. We should instead focus on doing our studies and other tasks well and then just leave the results in His hands. Bhagavān is loving and fair and whatever he will give to us will be in accordance of our past karma. Therefore, we should not worry and instead we should keep a positive attitude in our life at all times. The stories below from the Hindu tradition illustrate how faith is practiced and what its results are.
Story: The Faith of Arjuna When the Pāndavas were exiled in a forest, there rule was that they never ate any food that day till Arjuna had worshiped Shiva. One day as they were roaming in the forest, they could not find any Shivalinga to worship. Bhīma was feeling really hungry. Therefore, he just took a bowl, filled it with black soil and then inverted the heap of the soil on the ground. Calling Arjuna he said, "Brother, here is your Shivalinga. Now worship it so that we can eat our food.?
Arjuna sat there on the ground and started worshiping Shiva with great devotion. He offered flowers and Bilva leaves and covered the Shivalinga with them. After some time, his worship was over. Bhīma laughed and said, "What you worshiped was merely a heap of black soil, not a Shivalinga." Saying this, he removed the leaves and flowers with his hands. But a great surprise awaited him! Underneath the heap of the offerings, he found a stone Shivalinga. Bhīma understood what had happened, the faith and devotion of his brother Arjuna had transformed the heap of black soil into a black stone Shivalinga! This Shivalinga is today worshiped in the Bhīmanātha Mahādeva temple in India.
Story: Faith in the Face of Death Namadeva's Steadfastness in Dharma Saint Namadeva was a Shudra, a cotton printer by caste, who lived in the Indian state of Maharashtra about 700 years ago. Once, he was forced to convert to Islam by the Muslim ruler Muhammad bin Tughlaq who invaded the area in which Namadeva lived.
But Namadeva would not stop singing the names of Lord Vishnu. The Sultan was greatly enraged. He had a cow slaughtered and brought in front of Namadeva and asked him to bring back the cow to life or risk his own throat get slit. Namadeva protested and said that no one can bring a dead creature back to life.
The Sultan got infuriated and had a mad elephant attack Namadeva. But when the elephant hit Namadeva's forehead with its trunk, it felt a great pain instead and fled away from Namadeva. The Saint was miraculously unhurt by the attack of the elephant. But the Sultan would not relent and had Namadeva tied in chains and tortured. Yet, Namadeva would still not stop singing the names of Lord Vishnu. Namadeva's mother begged Namadeva to save his life by switching from singing the names of Lord Vishnu to reciting Islamic prayers. But Namadeva would not relent and stood steadfast in his devotion to Lord Vishnu. After several hours, the chained and tortured Namadeva saw a vision of Lord Vishnu approaching him seated on the Garuda.
Namadeva asked the Muslim ruler to have the calf of the slaughtered cow to be brought in front of the mother for suckling. The Sultan made fun of Namadeva and to prove to Namadeva that his faith in Lord Vishnu was useless, he asked the calf to be brought in front of its dead mother anyway. But a miracle happened. As soon as the calf came near, the cow became alive and milk started flowing out of its teats. The slaves of the Sultan filled an entire bucket with the milk and showed it to the Sultan, to prove that Namadeva had brought the cow back to life.
The Sultan was terrified when he saw the miracle of Namadeva. He asked Namadeva to forgive him. Namadeva asked the Sultan to give up cruelty and arrogance. All the Hindus gathered around Namadeva and praised him with a sigh of relief and said that his glory will last forever. Namadeva is considered a Saint not just by Hindus but also by Sikhs.
The Miracle of Shivarātri in Kashmir Shivaratri is a festival that celebrates the wedding anniversary of Shiva and Parvati. It is the most important festival of Hindus in the valley of Kashmir in northern India. Here, Hindus celebrate the Shivaratri festival for 21 days during the month of Phalgun in February-March. At that time of the year, Kashmir typically has snow and therefore, traditional Kashmiri songs describe Shiva looking like a Prince when he walks through falling flakes of snow to marry Princess Parvati.
Unfortunately, about 200 years ago (i.e., in the early 19th cent.), Kashmir was ruled by an Afghan governor named Jabbar Khan. He was an extremely fanatical Muslim and hated the Kashmiri Hindus. When he learned that Kashmiri Hindus liked to sing songs to Shiva and describe the snowfall during His wedding, he came up with a plan to hurt the Hindus. He ordered that Hindus will no longer celebrate the festival during winter when it snows in Kashmir. Instead, they will celebrate it in June, the warmest month, when there is no snow.
The Hindus were deeply hurt when they heard of the order because it had always snowed on Shivaratri every year. This year however, they would have to celebrate it during summer. But they had no choice. So, they prepared to celebrate the festival in the month of Ashādha. Jabbar Khan thought that the Hindus will not celebrate the festival at all. But a miracle happened! The day in summer when the Kashmiri Hindus were celebrating the festival, there was a sudden blizzard in Kashmir. Snow in June was unheard of in Kashmir. Jabbar Khan was terrified to witness the wrath of Shiva. The blizzard was a miracle and caused utter surprise (Hairat) due to which Shivaratri is even today called by the name "Hairat" in Kashmir. "Hairat" is a word in the Persian language and it means utter surprise.
The unseasonal snow destroyed the summer crops in Kashmir. Due to the misery that the fanaticism of Jabbar Khan had caused, all the people of Kashmir, whether they were Hindus or Muslims, cursed him. After some time, finally fed up of his oppression, a few Hindus went to appeal to Maharaja Ranjit Singh, the Sikh Emperor of Punjab, to invade their land and free them from the Afghan rule. With their help, the Sikh forces drove out the Afghans from Kashmir and Jabbar Khan himself barely fled with his life in tattered rags.
Story: When the Mūrti of Nandi ate Grass In the city of Jaffna in Sri Lanka, there is a famous Shiva Mandir called Thanthondreesvara. Like all Shiva Mandirs, a stone Mūrti of Nandi is at the entrance, facing the Shivalinga. Several hundred years ago, European invaders occupied Jaffna. The Europeans sometimes forced Hindus to convert to Christianity. They also destroyed many Hindu Mandirs and built Churches in their place.
One day, a European army commander entered the Shiva Mandir with his shoes on. He asked the priest rudely, "Why do you have a stone bull sitting in your Mandir?" The priest replied, "This is no ordinary bull. It is Nandi, the bull of Shiva. It is here to guard the Mandir."
The commander laughed, "Can this bull eat grass? If not, then how can it even protect the Mandir?" The priest replied, "Of course, it can eat grass." The commander said, "I will come tomorrow with some cannons. If your bull does not eat grass, then I will blow away your Mandir with my cannons." The priest went home and told about the threat from the European commander to his wife. She said, "Pray to Shiva. He will surely suggest a way out to us." When the priest was sleeping that night, Shiva came to him in a dream and said, "Do not worry. Tomorrow morning when that commander comes, put some grass in front of Nandi and offer it some water."
The next morning, when the commander arrived, he reminded the priest that if the stone bull does not eat grass, then he will destroy the Mandir and force Hindus to become Christians. The priest said a prayer to Shiva. Then, he placed some grass in front of the Nandi Mūrti and offered it some water in a pitcher. A miracle happened. The Nandi Mūrti bent its neck and stretched out its leg to leave a mark on the ground. Then, the stone Mūrti started eating grass and drinking water. When the European commander saw that, he was terrified! He apologized to the priest and to Shiva. He asked the cannons to be taken back. The priest and all the other Hindus present there thanked Shiva and Nandi and sang their praises.
Story: When Krishna appeared as a Witness - the Mandir of Sākshī Gopāl Several centuries ago, in a village in the Indian state of Odisha, there lived a couple Raghavaiyya and Radhabai and their daughter Vasanthi who was in love with Mahendra, a poor but a noble boy from the same village. However, Vasanthi's father wanted her to marry a rich man named Sukaveera. Once, Sukaveera and Raghavaiya went to the city nearby to celebrate a temple festival. But on the way, Raghavaiya caught small-pox, a very contagious disease that can cause death. Sukaveera and other companions left Raghavaiya, saying that they did not want to catch the disease from him.
While Raghavaiya was suffering alone, Mahendra happened to pass that way. When he saw his beloved Vasanthi's father suffering, he decided to stay back and nurse Raghavaiya back to good health. Under his care, Raghavaiya overcame small-pox. He was very impressed by the selfless love of Mahendra and promised to marry Vasanthi to him once he reached his village back.
However, when Raghavaiya returned to the village, a wedding proposal for Vasanthi came from Sukaveera. Raghavaiya forgot all about the selfless love of Mahendra and the fact that he owed his very life to the service and care provided by the latter. He immediately agreed to Sukaveera's wedding proposal. When Mahendra heard about this, he was heartbroken. He called a meeting of the village elders and claimed that Raghavaiya had gone back on his word that he will marry his daughter Vasanthi to Mahendra. The village elders demanded proof for the promise and asked Mahendra to produce witnesses.
Mahendra was now in a fix because the promise had been made when he was alone with Raghavaiya. He went to a Mandir of Krishna and cried his heart out. Very depressed and stressed out, he fell asleep. Bhagavān Krishna appeared to him in his dream and said, "Mahendra, you are a very good man and your love for Vasanthi and her family is pure. Go and tell the village elders that I, Krishna, will come as your witness because I did hear Raghavaiya make this promise to you. I will follow you to the village, but you have to make one promise that you will never look back when I follow you. Trust me that I will come with you and never look back in doubt."
Mahendra woke up very happy and he started walking back towards the village. As he took his steps, he could hear the jingling sound of anklets of a man following him. However, at a little distance from the village, the sound became silent. Mahendra panicked and he turned around, only to discover that in place of Krishna, there was a beautiful and a large mūrti of Him. Mahendra rushed to the village and related what had happened. Everyone rushed to the spot and found that suddenly, a beautiful Mūrti of Krishna had appeared at the spot. Moved by the miracle, Raghavaiya confessed to his guilt and married his daughter to Mahendra.
A beautiful Mandir was constructed to house the Mūrti. Even today, numerous Hindus visit this Mandir of Sākshī Gopāla located between the great religious cities of Puri and Bhuvaneswar. The message of this story is that Bhagavān indeed witnesses whatever we do, even if there is no one else around. Also, Bhagavān goes out of the way to protect his truthful and loving Bhaktas. We only need to have faith in Him.
Notes & References
- He lived in 1325 - 51 CE.
- It falls in the month of June-July.
- Gopāla or Krishna who is Sākshī or witness.
- Bhaktas means devotees.