Balancing Practicality and Faith
Sri Swamiji always emphasizes that “Faith in God with a practical approach, is the way to lead our lives.”
When it comes to life, a ‘practical approach’ is what we need to adopt and embrace. Faith in God is something that is very sacred. This means that we cannot use words such as ‘faith’ or ‘Bhagavan’s krupa or grace’ loosely. It means that in any situation, we need to first use our intellect and resources to the best of our ability, capability, and knowledge. Beyond that, we absolutely do need to have faith in God and depend on His grace.
The relationship between ‘faith in God’ and ‘a practical approach’ is not an ‘or’. It is an ‘and’, just like everything else in our Sanatana Dharma. This is what Bhagavan expects from us.
Being lazy, careless, negligent, or simply foolish in the name of faith in God or using the phrase ‘God is there’ as an escapism to do (or not do) something that is driven purely by our emotions and desires is entirely unacceptable to God and Guru. Our religion is not against using the buddhi (intellect). It in fact fulfills the buddhi by going where the buddhi cannot reach.
When it came to the Mahabharata war, Bhagavan didn’t tell the Pandavas – who had immense faith in Him and knew who He really was – to sit back and not do anything. He made them go to other kings, ask for their support and get the 7 akshouhinis. He made them fight in the war and advised Arjuna constantly with practical ways and means. He Himself was physically involved in the war. He made his own Yadava army fight the war. During the 18 days of war Bhagavan was so practical, even fighting deceit with deceit. Beyond the practical way in which the war was fought, the Pandavas reposed complete faith in Bhagavan Sri Krishna, did whatever He told them to do without question, and knew completely well that He would take care of them and lead them to victory.
Not using the intellect and common sense to do what needs to be done, and instead using the term ‘faith’ to cover up our foolishness, laziness, or lack of understanding is actually denying the grace of God. The intellect too has been bestowed by Bhagavan only. That too is indeed His krupa. We need to cooperate with divine grace by using our intellect to do what needs to be done.
When we are faced with a challenge, there are always two sides to it – things that we CAN influence, and things that we CANNOT influence. Things that we can influence include those that can be acted upon by us through practical thought, taking intelligent decisions, asking others for help, etc. Things that we cannot influence comprise things that we don’t know or cannot know despite all the resources at our disposal and all the people we have access to.
For instance, let’s say our spouse suddenly feels weak and faint. Things that we can influence in such a situation can be – do what is needed to give them immediate comfort and relief (first aid, water, etc.), call for help, take them to see a doctor, do any recommended tests or checkups, act further on the doctor’s advice based on test results, and so forth. Things that we cannot influence include what the test results reveal, how our life might change, etc. For these, we need prayer and faith. But only as we also take immediate action to ease the situation.
Clearly the practical approach can be totally applied to the “things we can influence”. Faith will help annul the “things that I cannot influence”, which give us a sense of insecurity and fear, but which we cannot really ‘act’ upon.
Sri Swamiji constantly shows us the beautiful harmony of balancing faith with practical demands of life.
This is real spirituality, real faith! When we have true faith in God and shraddha, we realize that even the “things we can influence” is grace indeed! We have been bestowed with an intellect, with family, friends, and social connections. All these too have been given to us by Bhagavan’s grace, for a purpose. The purpose is to use them to the maximum extent possible. Grace works through our faculties… through us persisting in taking proper care of our health, through us ensuring our financial assets are not frittered away, through us parenting responsibly, through us not taking senseless risks under the influence of emotions… essentially making sensible life decisions.
Below is an article that was published recently in the MadhuraMurali magazine, that shows how practical Sri Swamiji is and the attitude he expects of his devotees:
Expression of Bhagavan’s Compassion
Once, Sri Swamiji was visiting the Namadwaars located in the southern districts of Tamil Nadu. At that time, a satsang was being conducted in the place that Sri Swamiji was then staying. A devotee from another town located a few hours away, had come all the way to participate in that satsang. For that devotee, Nama was his life, and he could not be without having the darshan of Sri Swamiji.
As soon as Sri Swamiji saw that devotee, he asked to come near and spoke to him. “When did you come? It is cloudy and rainy. How did you come?” he asked with a lot of concern.
The devotee replied, “I came a few hours ago. I came in my two-wheeler (motorbike).”
Sri Swamiji exclaimed, “You have come this far on your two-wheeler?” and pointing to his head, he asked, “Where is your helmet?”
The devotee replied enthusiastically, “Yes Swamiji, in order to see you I came all the way from my town on my two-wheeler itself. My helmet is in poor condition. So I did not wear it.”
Sri Swamiji said, “Oh, is that so! You have come all the way eagerly to participate in this satsang, in this rainy season, without a helmet, having traveled for so many hours!”
Happy to hear what Sri Swamiji said, the devotee said, “Yes Swamiji, God is there; I have Nama on my tongue; Gurunathar is there. So I am not worried. I came boldly.”
When he said this, a shadow fell on Sri Swamiji’s face.
“Do you think this kind of behavior is living with faith in God? Knowing that this is dangerous, you undertake such action, and then say Bhagavan Nama is there and I am not afraid! It is that Bhagavan who has blessed you with the buddhi (intellect). Making use of that properly is only the right characteristic of a devotee. Moreover, do you know how one who really has devotion to God and the Divine Name will behave? He will live cautiously thinking that people should not speak ill of Nama or find fault with it or say things like, ‘He was saying ‘Nama Nama’. Now he has had an accident!’ True bhakti is living in such a way that there is no slur on God, Guru, or Nama.” Thus Sri Swamiji advised that devotee.
Mahans have said ‘All that happens is due to God’s compassion, Gurunathar’s compassion!’ This is indeed true. There is no doubt about this. But during certain times in our lives, we may rashly do some things without thinking, because of laziness, carelessness, haste, or to fulfill desires that far supersede our needs. After doing that, if danger befalls us or if we are afraid, we will say, “God, the ocean of compassion, is there! Nama is there! Gurunathar is there!”
God’s true benevolence is the buddhi that He has blessed each one of us with. Living a life where, at each step, we make use of that buddhi and take sensible decisions to the extent possible by us, is only truly living a life depending on God’s grace. Living this way always, let us also pray that, beyond this, only He can protect us.
Article excerpted from Sri Ramanujamji’s talk on Balancing Practicality and Faith.
‘Expression of Bhagavan’s Compassion’ article originally written in Tamil by Dr. Bhagyaji and published in the MadhuraMurali magazine July 2020 issue.