Comparative Religion

It seems a natural instinct to measure success by comparing ourselves to others. Swami Prabhupada once met the Chief Executive of the Dai Nippon printing company based in Japan. He asked him what his goal in life was. Without saying a word, the tycoon reached for a stack of business cards of all his acquaintances. He then carefully removed his own personal card from the bottom of the stack and proceeded to slam it on top of the pile. He smiled at the Swami. The message was loud and clear. Often, this competitive desire to “be the best” can carry over into our divine pursuit. We mentally create a spiritual CV and proceed to judge our success based on the achievements, recognition and respect that we can build up within our spiritual circle. Admittedly, we often find security, reassurance and self-worth in feeling ourselves to be better than others.

Unfortunately, such a mentality actually stifles personal growth, damages relationships and ultimately leaves us feeling empty and dissatisfied. When we measure ourselves as “better” than others we develop pride and complacency. We cement ourselves in an illusory picture of our progress far beyond where we are really at. Furthermore, when we see others excel and surpass us it can feel threatening and discouraging. It dents our ego. A wisdom teacher once said: “more difficult than feeling sorry in someone else’s suffering, is to feel genuinely happy in someone else’s success.”

In actuality, there is no need to compare. Everyone has been divinely endowed with distinctive abilities. As we learn to complement each other’s unique personalities and cooperate to bring out the best in one another, then everyone can simultaneously advance in their spiritual journey. Everyone in an orchestra has an important part to play. The role that each instrumentalist plays, however, is not as important as the final musical composition. In the same way, the measure of our spiritual success is not in the external achievements and the recognition that we gain along the journey, but rather in the internal development of purity and selflessness that we are ultimately striving for. Rather than comparing with others, let us compare with ourselves so that we can constantly improve, develop and refine the content of our character.

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