A selection from a letter of Sri Aurobindo on experience and faith.
Recitation by Nolini Kanta Gupta.
As for experience being necessary for faith and no faith possible without it, that contradicts human psychology altogether. Thousands of people have faith before they have experience. The doctrine “No belief without experience” would be disastrous in spirituality or for that matter in the field of human action. The saint or bhakta have the faith in God long before they have the experience of God – the man of action has the faith in his cause long before his cause is crowned with success, otherwise they could not have been able to struggle persistently towards their end in spite of defeat, failure and deadly peril. I don’t know what X means by true faith. For me faith is not intellectual belief but a function of the soul; when my belief has faltered, failed, gone out, the soul has remained steadfast, obstinately insisting, “This path and no other: the Truth I have felt is the Truth whatever the mind may believe.” On the other hand, experiences do not necessarily lead to faith. One sadhak writes to me: “I feel the grace of the Mother descending into me, but I can’t believe it because it may be my vital imagination.” Another has experiences for years together, then falls down because he has, he says, “lost faith”. All these things are not my imagination, they are facts and tell their own tale….
I certainly did not mean a moral but a spiritual change – a moral man may be chock-full of ego, an ego increased by his own goodness and rectitude. Freedom from ego is spiritually valuable because then one can be centred, no longer in one’s personal self, but in the Divine. And that too is the condition of bhakti….
I don’t know what is X’s objection to emotion; it has its place, only it must not be always thrown outward but pressed inward so as to open fully the psychic doors. What you say is perfectly correct – I am glad you are becoming so lucid and clear-sighted, the result surely of a psychic change. Ego is a very curious thing and in nothing more than in its way of hiding itself and pretending it is not the ego. It can always hide even behind an aspiration to serve the Divine. The only way is to chase it out of all its veils and corners. You are right also in thinking that this is really the most important part of yoga. The Rajayogis are right in putting purification in front of everything – as I was also right in putting it in front along with concentration in The Synthesis of Yoga. You have only to look about you to see that experiences and even realisations cannot bring one to the goal if this is not done – at any moment they can fall owing to the vital still being impure and full of ego.
[Sri Aurobindo: Letters on Yoga, CWSA 29 – Faith]