On a very hot day, after a long and rather hazardous walk in the tiny streets of an unknown city, I stumble upon a jewel, an Ali Baba’s cave of sorts. The owner of the shop welcomes me in with a “bonjour”, and it’s a festival of colors, sounds, and textures. I am overwhelmed. Tourists come in and out. I can’t really choose. All these handwoven rugs and blankets look magnificent. Mohammed has offered a cup of mint tea. Then all of a sudden, I see or rather I feel something. In a corner, there is a woman at work. I get closer to her. With one hand, she’s weaving. With the other hand, she is reciting prayers with prayer beads. I am fascinated by her dexterity. She must have felt my gaze on her, because she is now looking at me. She doesn’t say a word. And there it was. The treasure I was looking for. I pick up a colorful blanket next to her. We smile at each other. The blanket is now on my bed. Every night, as I dive under the blankets, I feel sheltered, wrapped in prayers. Every time I step into my room, I am reminded of the unassuming devotion of the artisan woman met in Casablanca.
In the seventeen chapter of the Bhagavad-Gīta, the great war of wars is very imminent, but Lord Krishna has succeeded in bringing Arjuna to revisit his inner story. The external circumstances have not changed, but as the conversation deepens, Arjuna – who was at first identifying with all the reasons not to fight – has dramatically changed his assessment of battle.
Śraddhā is one of the most important terms in this holy book. Often translated as “faith”, the sanskrit śraddhā does not have an exact equivalent in the English language. Śraddhā derives from the Sanskrit word śrat combined with the verbal root dhā. Śrat has generally been accepted to mean “heart”. It is also associated with another Sanskrit word sat, from which comes satya, “truth”. Dhā means “to hold, to place”. Eknath Easwaran suggests that “literally, śraddhā is that ‘which is placed in the heart’ ” In the last verse of this chapter, Lord Krishna holds that no action can add to spiritual growth if it is done ashraddhayā without śraddhā. Such an action, says Lord Krishna, is asat, “unreal”. Whether in this life or the next, such action is worthless.
This is such an important statement. The aspiring yogi is warned: this path is not for the half-hearted. Considering the number of decisions we have to make throughout a day, how many are truly rooted in our hearts? My teacher Sharon Gannon always reminds us that “With great love, everything is possible”. Now look around you: all that has stood the test of time – long-lasting relationships, ancient forests, even objects like old books or your great grandmother’s worn-out shawl – has been tendered to with love.
The ego, the ahaṃkāra (literally the I-maker) always plays small, only motivated by short-term benefits; it is prone to doubt and anxiety, while soul-driven individuals are not really concerned if their work is praised or criticized; they are steady forces of good. Like the devotee weaving a blanket in a crowded store, they are magnets for like-hearted people, and everything they do benefits the collective; such is the power of their śraddhā.
As we strengthen our śraddhā, we too can become alchemists of life in a very tangible way. We too, like Arjuna listening to Lord Krishna, can learn to listen to the divine song of our hearts. We can navigate uncertainty with a sense of trust in our inner wisdom, with the heart as our compass.