Willingness and Faith

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Nature is a fountain of boundless inspiration.

Every plant, every creature, offers a message that speaks to us directly. As we tune into its wonders, we understand more of ourselves.

Consider the lowly caterpillar as it transforms into a butterfly. Is there a more miraculous image of relevance to our own lives? The caterpillar goes within, secluded in its cocoon from outward distraction. It reduces itself to the core of its being, aided and guided by an unseen, benevolent power. It literally dies to its former self, and then reemerges, a vision of winged beauty, free of its heaviness, no longer bound to the earth.

The memo in this for us is unmistakable. We, too, can remake ourselves simply by going within, and by doing the work that will break us free of the heaviness that is our ignorance. In surrendering ourselves to the process, we also attract that same invisible support, and when our transformation is complete, we find ourselves newly minted, able to soar at will with wings of inner joy above the mundane matters of this world.

The caterpillar operates on instinct. It is programmed by an automatic willingness and faith to rise from its limitations to a higher experience of life. These two qualities, willingness and faith, are essential to our progress also, but we do not have them instinctively or automatically at our command. We have to acquire and exercise them with willpower and effort. Let’s have a look at what this entails.

Everyone knows what it means to be willing.

But faith is not so easily understood. Is it more than a belief? Yes, it is. Faith is born of experience. You have it because it has come to you as knowledge that is more than an external transfer of information. 

Belief, on the other hand, is born of a personal desire, an empirical arrangement of facts, or someone’s mere opinion. I can believe that global warming is a myth, or that justice will be served if my candidate is elected. I can even believe the earth is flat. But my experience of those beliefs is not likely to resonate with reality.

Belief becomes faith when it consistently gives us the experience of what we believed it would. I have faith in the force of gravity. For as long as I can remember, it has kept me from flying off into space. So far so good. I believe, however, that God could suspend the force of gravity at any given moment, and if He ever does, I will have to rethink my faith. Thankfully in the meantime, however, I can plan my days according to the high probability that I will remain in fundamental contact with the earth.

Faith of a spiritual nature is the power to draw to ourselves—to know and experience—the truth of who we are. We are divine immortals, eternally more than the bodies, brains, and obvious limitations we inhabit as human beings. As it says in our Ananda Festival of Light, after eons of time and repeated flights into darkness, we finally begin to ask, “Who are we in reality? For what end were we made?” We begin to seek the answers and the guidance that will lead us to faith in God and our eventual redemption.

Great masters who come to us as gurus have all the tools, teachings, and techniques we need to gain enlightenment and liberation. They have been where we are, and they know the way out. Our task is simply to put what they offer as guidance into practice: self-study, self-control, sadhana, service to others, and satsang with like-minded souls. Of these is our destiny fulfilled: freedom in God and bliss everlasting.