The Sanskrit word shraddha is usually translated into English as faith. It also denotes belief, trust, confidence, loyalty, respect, reverence etc. In common parlance, shraddha is understood to mean religious or spiritual faith, belief in some divine principle or supreme power. But none of these descriptions can do full justice to the concept of shraddha. In reality, shraddha is much more than just having faith in something or the mere acceptance of a belief. It is one’s world-view which revolves around the ultimate purpose of life. It defines one’s sense of oneself. It is what specifies one’s distinctiveness. It is the way of perceiving oneself ; and establishing a meaningful and purposeful relationship with other things, beings and events. Shraddha symbolises one’s value system. In a nutshell, it is the vision of good life.
Shraddha is that internal light which points towards the eternal truth. It is also that force which urges man to realise that truth, by moving forward on the path of spiritual perfection. Shraddha is stated to be one’s aspiration to gain wisdom of the soul i. e. to know one’s true nature. One’s interests and inclinations in doing things ; and his endeavour in accomplishing various temporal and spiritual goals is greatly influenced by his beliefs and faiths. When one’s inward and outward energies are directed towards the fulfilment of a revered ideal, he is said to be truly shraddhavaan, full of faith. Shraddha, thus, shapes one’s basic character and behaviour. Bhagavad Gita goes to the extent of saying that man is of the nature of his shraddha, he is what his shraddha is. In other words, whatever is one’s faith, he is that only.
To attain any objective, one must have full faith in the underlying idea of that objective. The first step, thus, on the path of spiritual perfection is to develop a firm belief in the transcendental reality of the Divine who pervades everything and supports all. Shraddha is the means of realising one’s individual reality and his relationship with the cosmic reality. Shraddha is not only to believe in the Divine, but also to have full faith in one’s own capacity to attain Him. Shraddha, thus, is not only the faith in God, but also the belief in oneself. True shraddha impels one to tread the path of unity with the Divine. The more one is established in shraddha, the more he becomes free from doubt and scepticism.
Shraddha is essential for gaining spiritual wisdom. But, shraddha does not imply blind faith. Instead of impulsively following the sayings of a teacher or writings in a scripture, the one endowed with shraddha wants to understand and experience the truth himself. Shraddha helps one to grow in knowledge step by step and ultimately unravel the highest spiritual secrets. When one pursues divine knowledge sincerely and with full faith, he experiences the wisdom in his own self.
Direct wisdom of the soul, unlike intellectual knowledge, is gained not through statistical data and logical inferences ; but by faith and self-control. True shraddha enables one to grow into reality of the self and enjoy the blessedness of the soul. After inwardly experiencing his changeless nature, one is not worried about outward miseries, which are transient and do not last for ever. By overcoming his worldly fears, one is freed from all sorrow.
Depending upon their own nature, different people worship God in different forms. No matter which divine form one worships, so long as his faith is firm and worship is sincere, he surely makes progress on the path of self-realisation. What is important is the firmness of the faith and not the form worshipped ; because all divine forms are forms of one Ishvara, the Supreme Lord. Through constant shraddha and sincere worship, one realises the ultimate truth.
On the basis of prayers one offers or the altar he chooses to worship, shraddha has been held to be of three kinds. The one who worships the spirits and ghosts, in order to destroy others, has only tamasik-shraddha. The one whose worship is for the accumulation of more and more wealth and power has a rajasik-shraddha. But the shraddha of the one who worships for the purification of his heart and for gaining the love and trust of the Supreme Lord, is satvikta. This kind of shraddha elevates one spiritually to higher and higher levels.
It has been assured by Sri Krishna that those who constantly follow His teachings with profound faith and without any cavil, and accordingly offer all their works to Him ; they are released from the bondage of works. Thus, a shraddhavaan person attains to the freedom of soul.
To conclude, shraddha not only defines the purpose of life, but also provides the wherewithal for the fulfilment of that purpose. It determines the goal, enlightens the path of spiritual perfection ; and inspires one to gladly tread that path. True shraddha empowers one to achieve whatever he honesty believes in, and sincerely strives for.