The Bhagavadgita on Faith or Sraddha


by Jayaram V

Chapter 17 Sloka 03

sattvānurūpā sarvasya śraddhā bhavati bhārata
śraddhāmayoyam puruso yo yacchraddhah sa eva sah


sattva-anurupa = according to sattva; sarvasya = in everyone; sraddha = faith; bhavati = manifests; bharata = O descendent of Bharata; sraddha = faith; mayah = made up of; ayam = this; purusah = personl; yah = who; yat = that; sraddhah = faith; sah = that; eva = surely; sah = he.


"O descendent of Bharata, faith manifests in everyone (or everywhere) according to sattva. A person is made up of faith only. He is surely what his faith is.


Sattvānurūpā sarvasya śraddhā bhavati: Sradda means trust, faith, belief, or confidence. A person's interest and inclinations in doing things and accomplishing goals depend upon his beliefs and faith. We have heard in the previous verse that three different forms of faith manifest in beings according to their essential nature. However, which of the three gunas are responsible for this? What determines our faith and spiritual behavior? Know for sure that it is sattva, neither rajas nor tamas. In shaping our character and our behavior, rajas and tamas play a negative role, while sattva plays a positive role. Sattva promotes goodness and divinity in us, while rajas and tamas suppress them. Thus a person is divine to the extent he has sattva in him. If sattva is completely suppressed a person becomes demonic in his thinking and actions.

What happens when you remove light completely from a room? It becomes totally dark, so dark that you cannot see see anything. The same situation develops in the consciousness of a person who loses his sattva completely. He becomes demonic, devoid of any divinity or humanity. He cannot discern things clearly. as his mind becomes clouded with dark and evil thoughts. We hear about such people everyday, people who commit heinous crimes without any remorse. Have you ever heard about people who would not repent even when they are on a death row? Those who have lost their sattva or goodness completely fall into this category. Such people have little chance of redemption, unless they open themselves to light and wisdom and show willingness to change themselves.

If sattva is partially suppressed a person becomes this worldly and displays a mixture of divine, human and demonic qualities. Most of the humanity in the world belong to this category, who are somewhat religious, somewhat human and somewhat devilish. When sattva is fully predominant and the other two gunas are completely suppressed a person becomes perfect in the practice of yoga and achieves liberation. These are rare individuals, whom we revere as saints and sages. They are born occasionally to let the world know that human beings have the ability to become divine through self-effort and self-transformation. Through their own example, they show us what sattva can do to us if we are willing to discipline ourselves and work for our liberation. Through their lives and actions, they remind us that human beings have a higher destiny and a greater role in the times to come.

Śraddhāmayoyam puruso: A person is made up of his or her faith: this is a great assertion. A person's life is a cumulative result of his or her past and present beliefs. Your beliefs determine how you relate with yourself and the world in which you live. "I think therefore I am,” said a great philosopher. A more appropriate expression would have been, “I believe therefore I am." You become what you continuously think and believe in. Our thoughts shape our lives; but our thoughts are in turn shaped by our beliefs. Although we are rational beings, we are guided mostly by our beliefs. Pay attention to your own thoughts and actions for a day and you will realize how far they are rooted in your beliefs. A person is a sum total of his or her beliefs. Our lives are shaped by our beliefs. On the path of yoga, they become our obstacles since in the course of our lives we form a deep attachment with our own beliefs and cannot just let them go. If you want to gain perfection on the path of yoga, at some point of time, you have to let go of all your beliefs, including your beliefs about yourself, God and religion. Only then you can free yourself from the world and its attractions.

Yacchraddhah sa eva sah: A person is according to his or her faith. Faith does not means only religious faith. It includes your entire belief system, upon which depend your worldview and your conception of things. Since our mental faculties are not equipped to discern truth entirely, we have to depend upon our beliefs to fill up the gaps in our understanding and to make sense of the world. For the mind, beliefs are a great way to manage the complexity of our world and remain focused on the essential aspects of our survival. From a theological perspective, our beliefs are the residue of our past to which we cling because of our desires, egoism and attachment. If you look at life in general, you will realize that most of the conflicts and confusion in our lives arise from our beliefs. Beliefs are responsible for conflicts and differences of opinion, because you can always dispute beliefs and attach an opinion or argument to them; where as you cannot do the same with facts, which speak for themselves. You may distort facts based upon your beliefs; but you cannot change the truth of things. We have so much confusion and commotion in the world because our knowledge of the world and things is a mixture of facts and beliefs and we are seldom sure of what we know.

Our beliefs are the seeds from which manifest our karma and our latent impressions (samskaras). They in turn act as the seeds for the future course of our lives and the lives to come. Therefore, if you want to transform yourself, first you have to increase sattva and suppress both rajas and tamas. Secondly, you have to review your beliefs and know how far they are true and whether they are based on truth and your own experiences or rooted in your prejudices and the social conditioning to which you are exposed. If you cannot validate your beliefs by your own experiences, because we cannot experience everything in a limited lifespan, then we have to validate them by other means, such as the knowledge and wisdom you receive from your guru or the knowledge and wisdom you find in the scriptures, especially in the Vedas, which are considered inviolable by Hindus. If you discern right beliefs from the wrong ones by cultivating discriminating intelligence (buddhi), it will lead you in the right direction towards light and liberation.

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