What is faith?

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Source : Google photo of a leap of faith

Synopsis : Most people struggle with the word faith and can’t seem to define it in one way or the other. Some use it to advance their own agenda be they political or religious and defend it even with violence. The blog looks at faith not as a religious duty or belief but as a belief or trust in something or someone who helps you to overcome all the challenges you face in your life by changing your mind in a positive way.

I will start this blog with a story I heard a long time ago.

There was a young boy who stuttered and was ashamed of himself because of his disability but one day a magician who was passing by his village stopped there for a bit of rest . When the villagers knew that he was a magician , they brought the boy to him and asked him to do some magic so that he could stop stuttering.

The magician then gave some magic marbles to the boy and asked him to keep them in his mouth until the magic balls cured him of his disability. The boy believed in the magic balls , kept them in his mouth and slowly regained his normal speech to the amazement of all the villagers but the young boy realized that the balls were not magic balls at all.

One day many years later the magician happened to pass by the village again when the boy now fully cured of his stutter confronted him and said that the balls were not magic at all so the magician was a fraud. The magician smiled and said that it is true that the marbles were not magic marbles at all but it cured the boy of stuttering ,didn’t it?

He said it was so because the boy had faith in those balls and kept them in his mouth until he stopped stuttering. It did not matter that the balls had no magical properties so faith is very necessary in life because it can help a person overcome many challenges in life . People were amazed at the wisdom of the magician and the boy apologized.

I too had a crisis in my youth when I questioned everything and did not like to follow others so I challenged many established traditions and sought answers to many riddles of life . Many young people go through the same stages in their early life when they think that being a rebel is cool so they start growing hair long and smoke pot and do other things to prove that they are rebels. Most overcome this stage and later lead a normal life because they realize that to achieve anything in life, one has to have faith in himself first.

So one day I was given a wallet size photo of Adya Ma and told that I should keep her with me all my life and have faith in her. She will help me overcome all my difficulties and bless me for the faith I put in her. Adya Ma means the Universal Mother. There is a beautiful temple in Adya Peeth in Kolkata where her image is worshiped and is a holy pilgrimage place for millions of her devotees. I have been there a few times and brought my wife and children there as well.

I have  kept that photo of Adya Ma in my wallet for the last fifty years no matter where I was in the world and felt that she has kept me and my family out of trouble all these years and continues to shower all of us with her blessings because I have kept faith in her and believed in her.

There were many many instances when my life was in danger like the time the mortars kept landing near my house in TayNinh , Vietnam during the war in 1968 but miraculously they missed my house where I was cowering in one corner of my kitchen with a Vietnamese friend and wondering if the next round of mortars would level my house and kill us all.

At another place while I was sleeping in a warehouse, several mortars landed on the camp of Sea Bees with deafening sound. I jumped out in panic and ran to the nearest shelter. The next morning I found my car that I had parked just 15 feet away with all the tires flat and the wind shield with holes. The sides of the car had several shrapnel holes as well but no shrapnel hit me although I was so near with only the thin tin wall between me , several trucks and mortars. I guess I was very lucky.

Then there was an attack on the US army camp in Tayninh one night where I went to watch a movie and left early because the movie was boring. A few minutes later the Vietcongs attacked that place with mortar and caused damage and deaths but I had left moments ago. Who was protecting me ?

At another time a grenade was thrown at the gate of the USAID office in Saigon where I was moments ago and had walked away when I heard the loud explosion and saw a woman on the ground gravely injured but it could have been me. Who was protecting me this time as well ?

Anther incident happened in the HauNghia province in Vietnam when I saw a culvert that exploded just near me. The Vietcongs had placed a pressure mine under it that destroyed a few vehicles in front of me but I was saved.

I can mention many such incidents that put my life in danger but I was not hurt at all and left Vietnam during the war and went on to live my life elsewhere in other parts of the world but I clearly recall after all these years that I came through all the dangers intact because I felt that I had faith in Adya Ma who kept a benevolent eye on me all the time.

So faith does matter like in the case of that stuttering boy mentioned above. May be there is no miracle in that photo I still keep in my wallet for the last 50 years and may be it is just a photo but that faith in her had increased my resolve to overcome all of my difficulties in life. Believe me when I say that there were many difficulties that I overcame somehow. So what does it matter if it is no magic photo? What matters is that it has helped me in life in numerous ways and has increased my faith in myself.  If a simple black and white photo can do that then there must be something in it.

Another famous case comes to my mind about faith that is too good to pass up so I will write about here.

One day Guru Govind Singh who was the 10th and the last guru ( spiritual leader ) of the Sikh religion called his disciples and asked how many of them would volunteer to die for him right now. They trembled in fear and apprehension but five men came forward and offered their life for the cause of their guru and their religion so Guru Govind Singh took one of them behind a curtain and returned without him. He had a sword in his hand that was dripping in blood.

Then he took the second disciple and again he returned with the sword in his hand dripping in blood. When all the five men were “sacrificed” , Guru Govind Singh parted the curtain to show that the five disciples were standing there hale and hearty and there were five dead sheep. He said that these five men had proved that they had faith in him and were the true stalwarts of the faith that they were now to propagate throughout the world. There are millions of Sikhs now spread all over the world . I will visit their most holy shrine in Amritsar Golden temple soon to show my respect.

The question to ask here is why faith is so important? There are people who in the name of their faith and erroneous beliefs commit crimes. They are called the terrorists whom the whole world condemns. I will not discuss their faith here. I will focus on the ordinary people who can’t seem to overcome their challenges in their life. They lack resolve to do something because they lack faith in themselves or someone who can help them. They never accept their own weaknesses and blame everyone else for their miserable life.

But when all is said and done, each person is responsible for the decisions he takes or does not take in his life that can bring about changes that affect him positively or negatively. When a person is easily influenced by others in a negative way, his life starts to take the wrong turn. Those kids who think that smoking is cool and taking drugs is the thing to do because his so called friends are doing it soon finds himself in trouble. He becomes addicted to smoking or drugs and his life starts to take a dive.

One day he wakes up in jail where he has no friends. Even if he comes out of jail someday, his life is shattered because he did not have the faith in himself to begin with and was influenced by the wrong people in his life. The resolve to stiffen your spine and stand up to the adversities in life comes from faith. Some call it religion but it does  not have to be. It may be a simple marble or a faded black and white photo you keep in your wallet that may or may not be what you think it is so the faith in something or someone can stiffen your spine that helps you stand up and say I can do it.

When President Roosevelt was told that it is impossible to defeat the mighty Japanese who had attacked Pearl Harbor, he slowly stood up from his wheel chair in the Congress and refused any help from his aides who were very alarmed. He had polio and was wheel chair bound. His face turned red when he said that nothing is impossible if the country has resolve. That resolve came from the faith he had in his belief that good always wins over evil in the end. The history proved him right.

I have always believed that a good person who becomes your mentor is like a beacon who guides you through the darkest period in your life if you have faith in him and follow his advice. He cannot force you to do anything that you do not want to do but if you have faith in him and his teachings, you will surely benefit from it. I had many mentors who helped me in many ways but a simple black and white photo stiffened my spine in ways I cannot even explain today.

I am not a religious man in a true sense because religion itself has not played any significant role in my life but I can’t shake off the feeling that if a simple photo I kept in my wallet for fifty years can help me the way it has then there must be something to it. That is the faith I am writing about.

 

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