Faith is commonly equated with belief. It is often perceived as belief that is blind, without reason or evidence. Yet there is another kind of faith that develops through reciprocal relationship and experience.
The Vedic teachings and practices of Krishna bhakti (devotion) present an understanding of fundamental dynamics that develop this kind of faith rooted in reciprocation. The essence of these universal principles can be applied within one’s own religion, path, or practice of sincerely culturing a trusting relationship with God.
According to the devotional wisdom offered by the Vedas and successful practitioners of it, faith begins with hearing spiritual knowledge from a liberated soul. Such a person is beyond the four defects of material conditioning, which are having imperfect senses, the tendency to commit mistakes, to be illusioned, and the propensity to cheat others.
At this initial phase of faith, there is an appeal to the intelligence that evokes exploration of knowledge through hearing, which in turn appeals to the intelligence to apply it. From the experiment of applied knowledge comes observable experiential results that corroborate the truth of what was heard from the liberated source. This confirming experience not only yields faith in the knowledge, the process applied, and the person it was received from, but it also forms a knowing beyond baseless belief. In that sense, developing a relationship with God through bhakti is a spiritual science.
Bhakti is described in Vedic literature as developing in nine stages, from sraddha (faith) to prema (pure love of God). That first stage of faith is identified as being just enough to be willing to hear about the Personality of Godhead. That is the seed. As it is watered by the continual hearing, chanting, and devotional service process, that faith grows, gradually eliminating weeds of unwanted things in the heart and reaching up to form spontaneous taste, attachment, and ecstasy, which at last blossoms into unalloyed love of God. All nine stages are recognized as transformations of faith, just as a flower is a transformation of the seed. They are the same entity in different phases of development.
Although this growth of faith according to bhakti is a spiritual science, it is not a mechanical one. Relationship is at the heart of it. Faith’s gradual formation into love evolves through the quality of heart one applies and the divine grace that flows from God’s heart in loving reciprocation.
Even when we plant flower seeds in the ground, there is a union of science and grace in their fructification. Water, sun, and certain soil conditions are required to create a conducive atmosphere for the seed to germinate. This can be scientifically measured and applied, but the ultimate result is nonetheless not within human control. It is dependent upon the higher power that pours the rain and makes the sun rise. Intrinsically, the gardener toils in the soil with faith in this reciprocation.
Whether it is with nature, God, or each other, relationships are a reciprocal exchange. They grow in intimacy through a mutual investment of care and cultivation. Giving, receiving, patience, tolerance, forgiveness, honesty, expression, refining of communication, and so much more go into culturing the quality of connection between two beings. When reciprocation is experienced in each interaction it evokes gratitude and the relationship deepens with the kind of faith and trust that grows into the closeness of true knowing and love.