Recently I had an interesting dialogue with a 20 year old college student. It is all about faith and experience. Which comes first ? How can one have faith without experience ? It is the usual question asked at this age, for the tangible appears more real than the intangible at this stage of life. The more intensely we live, the faster we realize that there is a continuous interplay of the visible and the invisible in the shaping of our lives. Thoughts become things, ideas become incidents, experiments become experiences, and shadows become realities – as much as all that we hugged as reality melt into shadows. The important thing is, don’t go by brand names, go by what they mean to us. Search for meaning involves accepting that it exists; search for experience needs a ground on which that which was not, becomes that which is. How can one exist without the other ?
When we sit back, and exercise the wisdom of honest enquiry, at any stage of life, we reckon that we really can not draw a dividing line between the tangible and the intangible, the visible and the invisible.
For, faith and experience, in their healthiest forms, keep merging in each other.
Now let me record the dialogue.
P – They say, you must first have faith, then experience. But, how will you have faith in something which you know nothing about ?
Me - But you do just that in a thousand ways in real life.
P - How ?
Me - When you walk into a restaurant, and ask for a cup of coffee, you surely believe that it does not contain some deadly germs. When you occupy the back seat of your car and close your eyes to be driven to your office, you surely believe that you shall reach office to preside over a board meeting, and you believe, without doubt, the date of the day your watch tells you. When you choose a wife you surely believe that you are going to spend the rest of your life with her as a long happy day. When at middle age you sell all your assets to give your only son a very sound education, you have no doubts that he is going to take care of you in your declining years. If someone takes away these invisible faiths from your life, where will you be ?
P - Since I know nothing to contradict my faith in them, I accept them as facts of life; or it could also be a gamble.
Me – You mean to say, since you can not afford to question your faith in these so called ‘facts of life’, you take your faith for granted. Isn’t it irrational to use rationality when it is convenient, and drop it when inconvenient ? It could also be a gamble, and you believe that you are going to prove yourself a very clever player !
P - But there are precedences to guide me. Many have done this, so I also do this. You are not asking me to start from a blind corner, and walk a path which is just not there.
Me – There are also precedences of people who were afraid to take the road, stayed put, and saved themselves from an accident; there are also precedences of people who took the road, but failed to reach anywhere, because they always thought the other road might have been better . You chose one or the other according to your mental predilection and understanding. In other words, you stand on some form of faith before experiencing its veracity. Don’t you do almost the same thing in your science labs ? You accept a hypothesis before proving it.
P - Because it is a reasonable hypothesis arrived at from scientific data. It is not based on faith.
Me – By ‘scientific data’ you mean facts gathered and verified through the instrument of senses. If the instruments are flawed, facts would be flawed too, and their interpretation.
P - How ?
Me – A Marxist and a capitalist both come to their conclusions about a progressive society from scientific data about history. Why then do their conclusions basically differ ?
P - Why ?
Me - Their tools of gathering and interpreting facts differ. As long as they believed in their tools, they accepted their conclusions as the final truth. This led to great revolutions in the world. But experience taught them in time to question their tools, and develop new tools for reading facts. Then their conclusions changed. That’s how the old world USSR broke up, and in modern day China we have billionaires.
P - Then what is your conclusion ?
Me – Faith and experience go hand in hand. You need experience for faith, you need faith for experience. You can as well build your faith on the common pool of experiences of mankind..
P - How is that ?
Me – The classical example is burning your finger. Someone has burned his finger in fire, someone has experienced a shock in touching a live wire, someone has gone a particular road and has been robbed, someone has bought a certain brand, and got into problems; all this is stored in the common pool of mankind’s experience. You believe in these experiences, and save yourself a lot of unnecessary trouble. You have faith in a railway time table, in a calendar, in your stock broker, in your chemist, even in your astrologer… can you end the list ? If you start questioning your faith in them, can you run your life even for a day ?
P - But they are all products of a system called society, and we have to believe in it because we have put it in place.
Me – All systems can get corrupt, and then unreliable. So also individuals become corrupt, and unreliable. They are watchdogs for each other, aren’t they ? First you have faith in the principles on which a system is built, then build it. When your experience tells you that the system is now infected, you depend on your experience to reformat it. It is quite reasonable.
P - Suppose I replace experience by reason ? Isn't it the same ?
Me – No. Experience is the product, reason process. But again, they are related as the product and the process are related. Once again, their fields are very limited. Through reasoning you can solve a mathematical problem, not in faith; through reasoning you can recreate a Sherlock Holms, not in faith; through reasoning you can win a debate, not in faith; but this reasoning shall be powerless to justify your loves, hates, affection, sacrifice, devotion to God and all the softer and deeper feelings that make the endless story of life. You need to experience love, hate, affection etc. However, reason can prevent you from being a zealot, a fanatic, a bigot, a cultist, an egoist; it can help you in keeping a home in tact, keep a company together, and most often keep your head cool. But unless the heart nurtures faith in yourself and God, reason would prove lame.
P - How ?
Me – Unless you experience love for your family can you keep it together by reason ? Unless you experience comradeship with people working for you, can you prevent overbearing greed overtaking you and wrecking the company ? Unless you experience a sort of fellowship with humanity, can you stop all these insane wars and exploitations ? Unless you have great faith in yourself, can you rally forth from a hopeless all-lost situation to rebuild yourself ? Can you reason out how numerous people from all walks of life stand up to challenges of life because they have faith in God ? Can you really tell God, “If you give me at least 20 proofs of your existence, I will have faith in you” ? And when He apparently fails the 21st time, what happens to your faith ? You just kill it.
P - Are you trying to build up a case for God ?
Me – I am trying to build up a case for true rationality, and true faith. Even science has proved that complete objectivity is a myth. Mind can not reach all the areas a man lives in. So how can mind stand a judge and a guide for the areas it has no access to ? Man is a mystery unto himself. His powers are not yet fully fathomed, nor his weakness. Except spiritual truths all other ‘truths’ undergo serious overhauling in every century, sometimes every decade !
P - Don’t you think faith and reason are mutually exclusive ? In other words, if you follow the path of faith your reason becomes weak, and if you follow reason, your faith suffers ?
Me –You are a student of science, aren’t you ?
P - Yes.
Me – So you study physics, chemistry, biology, mathematics, and a language except English ?
P - Yes.
Me – Are they mutually exclusive ?
P - They are all parts of a whole course.
Me – Exactly. So, faith, reason, experience are parts of a whole course called living. They are the most balanced diet God has given us. A diabetic is advised a saltless and sugarless diet, while a person with low BP, is advised extra salt and sugar intake. Today mankind has a very low level of faith in sustaining values of life, so it needs extra faith intake. During the heydays of Vivekananda’s preaching dogma and superstitions were choking pure faith, so he stood up for rational spirituality. The whole problem lies with maturity, with growing up. Real growing up comes with experience. But experience does not manifest itself in a void. Self analysis, balanced living, and a powerful faith in our origin in God helps generate experience. Living of life is a complete course.
P - When it comes to having faith in God before knowing Him, I have some difficulty.
Me – Where is the difficulty ?
P - You see, God is just an idea. There are some who say faith in God can fulfill life; there are many more who say there is no need of selling yourself to an invisible idea called God. What do you do ?
Me – Who teaches you Physics ?
P - Prof. Rama Rao.
Me - And English ?
P - Prof. Raga Rao.
Me - Why can’t Rama Rao teach English, or Ranga Rao physics ?
P - What a strange idea ! They are qualified for different subjects.
Me - So if Rama Rao gives an opinion on Physics you believe it is authentic. But if he gives an opinion on modern poetry, you may not take him seriously.
P - Obviously.
Me - Then shouldn’t you also examine whether those who speak about God have the right qualification to do so ?
P - Probably one should, but how do you do that ?
Me – Oh, that is simple. One who has made billions from scratch is entitled to advise on how to make billions. So one who has made serious experiments with faith and experience, has a right to an opinion. God is however not a matter of opinions, He is the Truth. We can not talk about God as we talk about a new fashion, or a new political party, can we ?
P - Probably not. One reason is that God is a serious subject, which has retained its mystery throughout human history. Acceptance, or rejection of God can make a big difference in life. But the difficulty is, either acceptance or rejection has to be based on conclusive experience. Here is the hen-first-or-egg-first conundrum !
Me - Let those who want to debate the variety of mango before tasting it, do so; you go for tasting and enjoying it. So examine whatever experience you have, have faith in it, but move on. Sharpen your tools, acquire better and better tools for chipping out truth from untruth. Remain humble before knowledge, which comes from God. Ask Him for the best, the highest. Have faith you shall have experience.
P - Thank you Sir.
Me – Always welcome.