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17. “I’ve seen too much hypocrisy in religion.”

Meeting people on high streets, showing them wisdom books and trying to spark some spiritual interest is something I did for many years. You have a twenty-second window to make an impression – they stop, you gather your wits, put in a spiritual pitch, something interesting, inspirational and endearing, and wait for a reaction – hit, miss or blank… anything could happen! Interestingly, people are more perceptive than we may think. They can sniff out any sense of superficiality, personal agenda, self-righteousness or insecurity within moments. Often they’ll make it known to you, and boy is that humbling! Other times they stay quiet, but it leaves an impression on them. People may forget what you say, but they’ll never forget how you made them feel. One striking life lesson I’ve learnt is that teachers can’t be cheaters.
For many, spiritual teachings make complete sense, but a block remains. When they see a major gap between the revered teachings and the conduct of the practitioners, it raises serious doubts. Everyone wants to see spiritualists who walk the talk and practice what they preach.
In Chapter Seventeen, entitled ‘Divisions of Faith,’ Krishna reveals that any given activity can be performed by multiple individuals, each harbouring a different mindset and motivation. Thus, we can’t be utopian in our vision even amongst those who practice spirituality. There are gradations of purity within any given group.
Don’t we witness lies, hypocrisy and cheating in all aspects of life? A shop may advertise a half-price sale. After purchasing a product you may think you’ve saved £500 but the reality is that they’ve ingeniously induced you into spending £500! Shops are cheating, yet we continue buying products. Politicians are regularly compromised, yet we still vote for one of them. The media spreads misinformation, but we still read newspapers.
It’s unrealistic to expect 100% purity in anything of this world, and we should bear this in mind when seeking a spiritual path to tread. Instead of focusing on the deficient practitioners, we’d do well to seek out the serious and sincere ones who live with integrity. Look closely enough and you’ll find many who are living examples of purity.
It was Gandhi who famously reminded us to “Be the change we want to see in the world.” The challenge is for us to become examples of purity, and that journey begins with honesty. Instead, however, we are often closed and pretentious. In the name of saving our face, we kill our soul. Sometimes we invent, sometimes we withhold, sometimes we exaggerate and sometimes we stay quiet and let the lies roll – a variety of ingenious ways in which we compromise our integrity. It’s scary to think how much of our day can be spent lying – rehearsing future conversations, reconfiguring events of the past and reinforcing inaccurate perceptions of the present. We all know the value of meditation, yoga and study in our spiritual growth. Let us, however, not underestimate some of the more fundamental disciplines and human qualities that can prove equally valuable in this profound journey. Truthfulness is definitely one of them.

“O son of Bharata, according to one's existence under the various modes of nature, one evolves a particular kind of faith. The living being is said to be of a particular faith according to the modes he has acquired.” (Bhagavad-Gita 17.3)

References

17.4 – varieties of worship in different modes.
17.14-17 - austerities of those following true spirituality.