The many comments on my previous article “Questioning your faith” made me think a lot. I will try to answer the questions “what is the value of questioning your faith?”, “when should you question your faith?”, and “how should you question your faith?”.
The Value of Questioning
As a Hindu we see a human as made of several parts. There are various ways of looking at this, but one is as an emotional mind (manas), an intellect (buddhi), and the spiritual mind (atman). Questioning and reasoning can help bring the intellect and atman in line, understanding what your spirit tells you.
A teacher once told me “facts are friendly”, meaning that you should not ignore facts. If a fact seems to be at odds with your belief then either your belief is wrong or your understanding is. If a religion has to ban certain questions, or statements of fact then it is wrong, and its followers cannot have mental peace – they will forever be guarding against people speaking the truth. At extremes they kill people who do to avoid others questioning.
Hinduism is very lenient about questioning – but still we have to remember that “facts are friendly” includes all facts. We have to accept things like some Hindus eat meat and sacrifice animals, some Hindus treat others as untouchables, and even that some Hindus see the shivalinga as a phallic symbol. We should not deny these facts, but put it into perspective. Are they common or just limited to a few individuals? What is basic Hinduism and what is cultural? Is it wrong for someone who lives in the high grass lands of Nepal to eat meat when hardly any crops will grow? If not, then is sacrificing animals a natural expression, like offering fruit as prashad is to us? Would it be wrong for someone from a vegetarian Hindu school to do the same? I am not going to answer these questions – I am just sowing how these facts that may seem embarrassing or at odds to our beliefs can deepen our understanding.
When to Question your Faith
Though questioning can help us understand our beliefs and reach an inner peace, questioning at times can be harmful. We need to avoid repeated questions that we have already asked and considered, or we can end up going round and round and not progressing. A question can become a doubt or a lack of faith. It can be useful to consider “is God in the murti”, think about its meaning and implications once, and again if someone says something new on the idea. On the other hand if you ask this question every time you perform puja it will not be good. Questions need to be passed by as we move on – they are part of our path, not our destination. As we progress we will tend to question less, as we live a more spiritual life.
Also, we should be clear that the questioning is of our faith and our understanding. We should not question others, and certainly never question what our gurus say. If we don’t understand something minor our guru says, or it seems wrong, we should put it to one side. Perhaps it was meant symbolically or we will understand it later. If we ever have a major difference with our guru or school, one that means that we cannot follow it we should not say “this guru was wrong”, but say “I cannot follow this guru’s path, clearly many other people can”. Part as friends, who knows your path may bring you back one day!
Faith will Correct Us
Finally, a number of commenters said that “true faith will correct any misunderstandings”. I agree with this completely, as long as the faith is in God within you. We cannot say that it is true of all beliefs, those which indoctrinate “this book is true and anyone who questions it must be punished” steer people away from this connection from the atman to the paramatman. We have all seen that this can lead people to doing things that common humanity would tell them is wrong in the name of faith.
So in summary, a faith that allows questioning is good. Questioning to deepen our understanding is positive. However we must not get bogged down in repeating the same old questions again and again. Also, question yourself on your beliefs, not your teachers or gurus correctness. Follow the spirit, pray for understanding and it will come.