One of the great reported examples of faith in the spiritual path is the inspiring story of Tibet’s great yogi, Milarepa. Briefly, his family was cheated out of their inheritance when his father died, and put into a condition of extreme suffering. He left to learn Black Magic to take his revenge on those who had created the suffering of himself along with his mother and sister. He eventually learned the art and called down a violent hailstorm on the village and many people died and suffered. He suffered remorse for his actions and determined to take up a spiritual life with the goal of achieving enlightenment in one lifetime. He was guided to a Guru who agreed to take him on as a disciple. The guru then made him do years of hard manual labor without letting him learn the teachings that he was disseminating to others. The work was backbreaking, and whenever he took any shortcut, the Guru asked him to undo it and start over. Eventually, in extreme physical and emotional distress, he even contemplated suicide as he came to conclude that he was not destined to achieve his goal in this body; nevertheless, he persisted for many years. Eventually the Guru embraced him and gave him the great teachings of enlightenment and asked him to meditate on the teachings, which he did in various caves, for years. He made some progress in his meditation but was still unable to achieve the fullness of the goal. He survived on nettles rather than waste time and energy on finding and preparing food. He eventually reached a dead end, and decided to open the note his teacher had provided him before he went to his retreat, which was to be read only in the extremest of circumstances. Reasoning that he had reached the extreme, while maintaining his faith in the path, the teaching and the Guru, he read the note and learned that his progress was now blocked by insufficient physical energy, and that he needed to nourish his body. Once he did that, he achieved full realisation and his achievements are recognised and celebrated today as the pinnacle of spiritual dedication and faith in the face of extreme hardships and tests of body, life and mind. Much of the time he received no sign or encouragement that any progress was taking place at all. He was carried along by his faith.

Sri Aurobindo notes: “Faith does not depend upon experience; it is something that is there before experience. When one starts the yoga, it is not usually on the strength of experience, but on the strength of faith. It is so not only in yoga and the spiritual life, but in ordinary life also. All men of action, discoverers, inventors, creators of knowledge proceed by faith and, until the proof is made or the thing done, they go on in spite of disappointment, failure, disproof, denial because of something in them that tells them that this is the truth, the thing that must be followed and done. … Faith is the soul’s witness to something not yet manifested, achieved or realised, but which yet the Knower within us, even in the absence of all indications, feels to be true or supremely worth following or achieving. This thing within us can last even when there is no fixed belief in the mind, even when the vital struggles and revolts and refuses. Who is there that practices the yoga and has not his periods, long periods of disappointment and failure and disbelief and darkness? But there is something that sustains him and even goes on in spite of himself, because it feels that what it followed after was yet true and it more than feels, it knows. The fundamental faith in yoga is this, inherent in the soul, that the Divine exists and the Divine is the one thing to be followed after — nothing else in life is worth having in comparison with that. So long as a man has that faith, he is marked for the spiritual life and I will say that, even if his nature is full of obstacles and crammed with denials and difficulties, and even if he has many years of struggle, he is marked out for success in the spiritual life.”

“It is this faith that you need to develop — a faith which is in accordance with reason and common sense — that if the Divine exists and has called you to the Path, (as is evident), then there must be a Divine Guidance behind and through and in spite of all difficulties you will arrive. Not to listen to the hostile voices that suggest failure or to the voices of impatient, vital haste that echo them, not to believe that because great difficulties are there, there can be no success or that because the Divine has not yet shown himself he will never show himself, but to take the position that everyone takes when he fixes his mind on a great and difficult goal, ‘I will go on till I succeed — all difficulties notwithstanding.’ To which the believer in the Divine adds, ‘The Divine exists, my following after the Divine cannot fail. I will go on through everything till I find him.’ “ Sri Aurobindo, Integral Yoga: Sri Aurobindo’s Teaching and Method of Practice, Chapter 5 Bases of Yoga, Faith, pp. 110-112

Author's Bio: 

Santosh has been studying the writings of Sri Aurobindo since 1971 and has a daily blog at He is author of 16 books and is editor-in-chief at Lotus Press. He is president of Institute for Wholistic Education, a non-profit focused on integrating spirituality into daily life.