Cheaters to Teachers

Lessons on the Road #3

You have a 20-second window to make an impression – they stop, you size them up, put in a spiritual pitch, something interesting, inspirational and endearing, and wait for a reaction – hit, miss or blank… anything could happen! One thing is for sure – people are perceptive (more than we may think). They can sniff out any sense of superficiality, selfish motive, self-righteousness or insecurity within moments. Sometimes they 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 on the road is that teachers can’t be cheaters. We have to live and breathe what we seek to share. When we communicate, we are not just transmitting the gross, but the subtle as well. The subtle, as we’ve all experienced, penetrates deeper.

Overcoming the cheating mentality is not easy. The sages explain that we each have four defects – the potential to fall into illusion (pramada), the disability of imperfect senses (karanapatava), a propensity to commit mistakes (bhrama), and the mentality of cheating (vipralipsa). From one perspective they are all interlinked. Because we fall under illusion, we receive a body with imperfect senses. Because we have imperfect senses, we often make mistakes. Because we commit mistakes, we end up cheating to ‘save our face.’ Whilst the first three are somewhat beyond are control at the present time, the fourth is definitely not. To be straightforward and honest is the sign of sincerity, and that sincerity is perhaps one of the most important factors in spiritual progress.

In life, weakness is acceptable, but cheating is outlawed. When we present ourselves in a dishonest way, it’s not satisfying, neither is it sustainable, nor will it support our spiritual aspirations. When confronted with our shortcomings, if we cover them up, brush them under the carpet, and lock them in the closet, we’ll probably find they come back to haunt us down the line. We have to deal with the real. But shouldn’t we act pure to become pure? If I’m proud, shouldn’t I atleast act humble in order to awaken that true humility? Isn’t some level of pretending required on the progressive spiritual path? Don’t we have to ‘fake it to make it’? Yes. There is truth in that. Yet, I often remind myself:

Don’t fake it so much that you think you’ve made it
Don’t fake it simply to convince others you’ve made it
Don’t fake it without a deep and sincere desire to make it
Otherwise, in faking it, you’ll end up breaking it

“Cheating and weakness are two separate things. Persons devoid of a cheating propensity achieve perfection in life, but a cheater is never successful. Vaisnavism is another name for simplicity… Sincere persons can be weak, but they are not cheaters. Cheaters say something but do something else. Weak people are embarrassed by their defects, whereas cheaters are maddened by their achievements.” (Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakur)

Oh it’s so difficult! But this beautiful path of bhakti turns crows into swans, and we thus live in hope.