You must have heard people declaring at the top of their voices: ‘We are Christians’ or ‘We are Hindus’ or ‘We are Jews’, etc. Basically, this is all a matter of their belief. Have you ever tried to ponder over what they actually believe in? Generally, we are compelled to believe and, hence, follow whatever we have been granted by our parents and taught right from our birth. We consider ourselves to be Hindus if we are born in a Hindu family, Muslim if born in a Muslim family believing in Prophet Mohammed, Jews if born in a Jewish family, and Christian if born in a family believing in Jesus Christ. However, whatever family you belong to, you cannot be truly religious unless you achieve the direct experience of God, as exhorted by Swami Vivekananda:
Religion is the realization of God.
The aforementioned maxim elucidates the fact that to be a true Hindu or Jew or Mohammedan or Christian, one needs to achieve the practical experience of God. In other words, without the direct perception of God, you cannot be truly religious. Believing in God without seeing is merely a blind following. Moreover, such a belief can never be staunch and steadfast; for it can easily whither away, swayed by the vicissitudes of our life. One of the eye opening incidents in the life history of Lord Buddha vividly exhibits this fact before us.
Once someone approached Lord Buddha and said, ‘O Buddha! My son is looking for a job. If there is any existence of God, then he must get a job within three days.’ Fortunately and to his amazement, the very second day, his son got a job. Out of joy, he came running to Buddha glorifying God, ‘O Buddha! Your God is really great. See, He is so miraculous and powerful that He granted the job to my son. O Buddha, I am overjoyed today. This fulfillment of my wish has made me believe in your God. From now onwards, I can easily believe in your God.’ Seeing his excited state and sensing his pre-conditioned belief in the existence of God, Buddha gave him a token of advice, ‘Dear son, no doubt, God is there, but if you want to develop an unflinching faith in Him, then stop desiring and imposing conditions on Him.’ However, the ignorant man did not pay any heed to his holy advice. Few days passed and that man again visited Buddha and said, ‘O Buddha! My wife is severely sick. If God is there, then she should recover within three days; otherwise, I shall be an atheist again.’ However, to his utter dismay, his wife passed away the very next day, and he came rushing to Lord Buddha condemning and blaming God in full rage.
Dear readers, similar is the flinching faith exercised by the people today. How can conditional belief be staunch and steadfast? The majority of people today are accustomed to believing without any application of the scientific law of experimentation and research to validate what they believe in. Without any verification, they believe in their personal gods, scriptural injunctions, rituals, and ceremonies. There is no harm in believing, but remember that belief is only the first step. It would stagger and prove futile if it fails to culminate in the flowering faith.
There is a world of difference between the two terms- faith and belief. Faith can be defined as the ripened belief, the well-tested and well-verified belief. Suppose, someone comes to you and says, ‘There is a lion outside the building you are sitting in.’ If, relying blindly on his words, you start trembling out of fear, then such a trust of yours, unaccompanied by any investigation, will be called a mere belief that can even be a blind one. However, if after getting the news of the lion, you don’t simply rely on the words of the news giver, instead you start inquiring and investigating and trust in his words only after verification, then this belief of yours can be said to be true faith. Therefore, faith can be described as an unflinching belief developed only after the practical experience.
Similar is the case with religious faith. It too demands a scientific approach. Faith does not mean a cosy belief to rest by; rather, it is a torch to enlighten the Soul for spiritual realization. In the absence of this torch, the belief of the faithful is identical to the unbelief of the faithless; for then it becomes entirely dogmatic. However, no dogma or creed can appease the hunger of a truly religious heart. It is only the practical realization that can quench the spiritual thirst and satiate the spiritual hunger. True religion is a matter of inner practical experience and not that of belief or dogma. However, dear readers, as is explicated quite frequently, this inner practical experience or the direct perception of Almighty dawns only when a Perfect Preceptor (Spiritual Guru) bestows upon us True Knowledge or Divine Knowledge.