Most often when people talk about faith, what they really mean is belief. Although the thesaurus considers belief, faith and trust to be interchangeable, from a spiritual standpoint, belief bears very little resemblance to faith.

When someone says they believe, they’re saying they have a strong conviction that something outside them is true even though they have no proof that it is true. In the case of religious beliefs, conviction is usually based on a static set of doctrines compiled by people the believer doesn’t know and has no valid reason to trust. Belief is often based on the illogical circular reasoning “It’s true because it says it’s true.”

Belief (and its polar opposite disbelief) causes the brain to filter out information that falls outside accepted concepts, creating a closed system. Instead of listening to and weighing new information, the brain instantly produces arguments while it waits to have its say. On the other hand, doubt keeps the brain open to possibilities and ready to contemplate new ideas. A belief system may offers a feeling of comfort, but it’s just a feeling since belief has no real foundation. If the belief system is destroyed, there’s nothing left.

Belief creates followers, scorns doubters and reserves a personal experience of the Divine for a favored few who are venerated. But doubt is the ally of the spiritual seeker, an ally that can steer us clear of the trap of belief and move us toward knowing. When you know something is true based on your own experience, there’s no need for you to believe.

Doubt rarely gets the credit it deserves. Without doubt, the questions that can move us forward are usually not asked, let alone answered. Doubt can give us the courage we need to question the world around us. Often spiritual awakening begins with disillusionment and a strong doubt that this life is the best that we can hope for. Doubt refuses the world’s attempt to convince us we’re no more than a body and personality and dares to meet the Self. Doubt isn’t content with intermediaries and second hand information about God; doubt demands to experience the Divine itself. This is the basis of experiential knowing or gnosis.

Gnosis is an internal exploration that connects us with the One Mind of All That Is. Sadly, believers are taught to accept a set of ideas at the cost of their own inner knowing. When we believe, we shut down our connection to our emotional intelligence and the inner voice of the One Mind, and may even come to fear them. Doubt is far more apt to listen to that inner voice and test out its wisdom. Doubt is especially useful when it convinces us that we can find our own answers through direct, personal experience.  

Spiritual masters are not special, but they have had the courage to doubt, question and explore their connection with the Divine. Their direct, personal experiences of the Divine have taken them far past both belief and doubt and into knowing. But spiritual masters don’t want believers. They share information to inspire all of us to challenge beliefs, have doubts and experience for ourselves. As the spiritual sage Shankara pointed out:

A clear vision of the Reality may be obtained only through our own eyes, when they have been opened by spiritual insight—never through the eyes of some other seer. Until you allow this apparent universe to dissolve from your consciousness—until you have experienced [the Divine]—how can you find liberation just by saying the word [God]? The result is merely a noise.

Remain in doubt until you “know” and then belief is unnecessary. However, faith is a fluid and dynamic extension of knowing; it’s the outward expression of knowing that others can observe. Knowing and faith cannot be standardized or institutionalized. There is no dogma, method, practice or ritual involved. Faith is the living expression of a direct connection with the Divine.  Since faith is built on personal experience rather than a static belief system, it remains a paradox; its foundation is unwavering, yet its adaptable and able to expand based on new experiences. Our world prizes the conformist, so belief is generally held in higher esteem than doubt, knowing or faith. But as Shankara pointed out, “how can you find liberation just by saying the word [God]? The result is merely a noise.”

To learn more about the synergy of science and spirituality, visit