aśhraddhayā hutaṁ dattaṁ tapas taptaṁ kṛitaṁ cha yat
asad ity uchyate pārtha na cha tat pretya no iha
O Partha, whatever acts of sacrifice, charity or penance are performed devoid of faith and devotion, are termed as Asat. They are useless both in this world and the next.
(Chapter 17, verse 28)
The importance of faith
Sacrifice, charity, and austerity are the very foundation of any religious pursuit. Lord Krishna instructs Arjun that mere performance of these in whatever manner does not bring any merit. It is imperative that these be done with utmost attention and faith (śraddhā) if the doer desires deliverance from the cosmic cycles. Thus any action, any sacrifice, penance or charity performed without faith becomes Asat, a worthless action. It will not yield any desirous result here, or hereafter.
Faith is the kernel, which is the essence of all spiritual pursuits; and all the physical activities and instruments that facilitate them are the mere shell. Here, Krishna emphasises another important requirement. The faith must be sattvik (virtuous), without any conditions. This can be achieved by making the mind pure and sublime. Rituals, ceremonies, and other external processes do not yield the bliss and equilibrium that righteous faith does. In fact, over-emphasis on these externalities robs the spiritual quest of its purity and purpose.
The wisdom of this verse is as relevant in the contemporary world today as it was in the Dwapar Yug. In our daily life, we often see instances of those who put their entire heart and soul into their actions, as against those who merely go through the motions.
Whose spiritual pursuit is more meaningful—the one who prays with inadequate resources but with his/her entire being infused with uplifting faith or a person who follows the ritualistic guidelines to the T but with his/her heart in the procedures and not in true devotion?
Worship and prayers are only a part of our spiritual quest. We also seek the divine through charity and penance. When we give selflessly, without even expecting gratitude, and give to a worthy person or a worthy cause—such charity bears fruits. But if we give with pride, demand gratefulness from the recipient, and grant our charity on unworthy causes, it would be useless. It is better to feed a homeless animal than to donate to a prosperous but greedy priest. India donated free Covid vaccines to needy countries in Asia and Africa but trillion dollar international pharmaceutical giants are fleecing governments for supplying the vaccines.
Among those who observe fasts to please deities, some do so with extreme focus on exact rituals and customs while others focus more on purity of mind and soul. The former give up food with regret; the latter with joy.
And this is true for all our efforts, whether related to our profession or family or social connections—anything done without devotion and purity of heart and soul is not likely to bear fruit, either in this world, or the next.
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