Chapter Fourteen: The Necessity of Sincerity
The fault with charity--too little; with speech--too much.
- Judah Al-Harizi, "Tahkemoni"
The hypocrisy of many self-styled "religious" people is all-too-evident in this imperfect world. Leaders justify wars of aggression in the name of sages who forbade even defensive violence. Political elites use ancient political feuds to inspire communal hatred and horrifying atrocities. Preachers misinterpret the teachings of the holy scriptures to their followers and lead lives of material excess.
Fortunately, humanity has been warned of these "wolves in sheep's clothing". The revelations of Krishna, Lao Tzu, the Buddha, Confucius, Jesus and the Prophet Muhammad all contain passages that warn of the misuse of organized religion. All of the founders of the six traditions examined in this book placed great emphasis on action, not mere words. Individuals are to attune themselves to the divine realities through unceasing compassionate action and self-correction, not lofty-sounding preaching and focusing on the sins of others. This universal commandment in the six major religions is yet a further proof of their inherent unity of Source and purpose.
The message of the Buddha places its focus on the individual. We should not judge others, but rather improve ourselves. It is the duty of every sentient being to shun material yearnings through self-control and knowledge. Chapter four, verses five through eight of the Dhammapada summarize this message of personal responsibility:
Let none find fault with others; let none see the omissions and commissions of others.
But let one see one's own acts, done and undone. Like a beautiful flower full of color but without fragrance, even so, fruitless are the fair words of one who does not practice them.
Like a beautiful flower full of color and also fragrant, even so, fruitful are the fair words of one who practices them.
It is easy to see the misdeeds of others, but the true seekers on the path to ultimate awareness must focus their reformative impulses inward. We should focus on improving ourselves. The above passage alludes to the attractiveness of the lofty-sounding speech of hypocrites, comparing such words to vibrant flowers. However, it is only teachings carried into practice that bears "fruitful" results. Only those who match good words with good deeds can harvest the bounty of the Divine. This emphasis on self-control and proper actions is also found in verses two through four of the twelfth chapter of the Dhammapada:
One should first establish oneself in what is proper; then only should one instruct others.
Thus the wise person will not be reproached. One should do what one teaches others to do; if one would train others, one should be well-controlled oneself. Difficult, indeed is self-control.
One must attempt to conquer his or her own imperfections before attempting to reform others. True moral teachings can only come from those who practice what they preach. Through such sincerity a religious teacher can avoid hypocrisy, and its social and spiritual hazards. This passage stresses once more the difficulty of self-control. Those who are able to master their base instincts, because of their natural rarity, are to be treasured and emulated by other seekers of truth. The Buddha (and all true messengers) taught his followers that religious authority can and will be misused. We must use the gift that is our faculty of awareness in order to distinguish the correct path for ourselves.
Warnings against those who misuse religion by placing greater emphasis on proclaimed doctrine rather than ethical action are found throughout the Qur'an. Sura twenty-nine, verses two and three provide a simple warning to those who flaunt their faith without engaging in compassionate works:
Do men think that they will be left alone on saying "We believe", and that they will not be tested?
We did test those before them, and Allah will certainly know those who are true from those who are false.
It is not sufficient for an individual to verbally proclaim his or her faith in the Divine Realities. The trials inherent in this physical realm will continue regardless of one's spoken proclamations of faith. The truly spiritual must live in a manner that actualizes their beliefs through right action. Sura one hundred and seven further denounces hypocrisy in religious practice:
Seest thou one who denies the Judgment?
Then such is the (one) who repulses the orphan,
And encourages not the feeding of the indigent.
So woe to the worshippers
Who are neglectful of their prayers,
Those who (want) to be seen,
But refuse (to supply) neighborly needs.
Flaunting one’s own acts of communal worship is not testimony to one's faith in the Ultimate Divine. Those who mistreat the vulnerable members of their societies, and who do nothing to provide nourishment to the starving masses of humanity are inwardly denying Divine Justice. Oftentimes, these miscreants will be the loudest and most visible at congregational prayer. The Qur'an, just like its counterparts from the other spiritual traditions, warns that there will be many who misuse organized religion. True faith is expressed through noble deeds that recognize the Spark of the Divine within everyone.
The Bhagavad Gita, similar to the five other religious texts examined in this book, equates correct belief with selfless deeds, not vainglorious chatter. In verse five of chapter five, Krishna says:
One who knows that the position reached by means of analytical study can also be attained by devotional service, and who therefore sees analytical study and devotional service to be on the same level, sees things as they are.
This verse clearly states the unity of faith, rational inquiry, and morally righteous behavior. Perfection and Liberation can only be gained through the mutually-supportive efforts which employ logic, spirituality, and service to others. To attune one's life to the cosmic realities is to ceaselessly engage in worship through compassionate work, and to avoid the blasphemies of hypocrisy. Recall how in chapter seven, verse sixteen the Gita describes misguided and destructive people as:
Self-complacent and always impudent, deluded by wealth and false prestige, they sometimes proudly perform sacrifices in name only, without following any rules or regulations.
The Gita warns humanity that not all who openly perform communal religious rites have the inward consciousness that these traditions are supposed to reinforce. Constant awareness of the Divine and selfless deeds are the necessary components of the sincere practice of any religious faith. The social practice of religion must be coupled with limitless compassion in order to be genuine. Proclaimed faith without good deeds is hypocrisy.
Confucius emphasized his teachings on social reform. Truthfulness and a preference for deeds over words are vital components of any morally-grounded society. Verse thirteen of the second chapter of the Analects stresses this theme:
Tsze-kung asked what constituted the superior man. The Master said, "He acts before he speaks, and afterwards speaks according to his actions."
Talk is cheap. Those who are morally upright know the value of action. To be honest and earnest, we must always act in accordance with our deepest beliefs, and only then can we verbally defend, explain, and promote these convictions. Confucius' preference for working over speaking is stated once more in chapter fourteen, verse twenty-seven of the Analects:
The Master said, "The superior man is modest in his speech, but exceeds in his actions."
The path to ultimate virtue is not long-winded. Speech must be kept modest in order to ensure that it actually reinforces one's values and deeds. Humble words allow one to demonstrate his or her beliefs through right action. No starving community has ever been fed, no disease ever cured, and no drowning child rescued by talk alone. Confucius, like all true sages, places the emphasis of his teachings on correct actions, not lofty-sounding preaching.
The preference for action over talk is found throughout every one of the holy texts compared in this book. Those who loudly extol their own virtues have gone astray from the correct path. Section fifty-three of the Tao te Ching contains a warning against those who value appearance over substance:
Were I possessed of the least knowledge, I would, when walking on the great way, fear only paths that lead astray.
The great way is easy, yet people prefer by-paths.
The court is corrupt,
The fields are overgrown with weeds,
The granaries are empty;
Yet there are those dressed in fineries,
With swords at their sides,
Filled with food and drink,
And possessed of too much wealth.
This is known as taking the lead in robbery.
Far indeed is this from the way.
Lao Tzu, when examining the affairs of humanity, was aghast at the hypocrisy inherent in our social interactions. The Way of Truth and compassion is easy to follow, but our lesser dispositions incline us to the crooked paths of wealth display and exterior pleasures. The words of Lao Tzu are as relevant today as they were two-and-a-half thousand years ago. We tend to flatter ourselves and our peers with empty, boastful chatter. Superficial riches are flaunted while the poor suffer hunger, natural resources are pillaged to the detriment of all future generations, and the very foundations of the economy suffer neglect. Lao Tzu taught the common message of all sincere religious sages. The effort to fully refine ourselves and live a life of blameless conduct, rather than merely paying lip-service to our beliefs and ideals, is a perpetual struggle. Spiritual convictions and teachings must be enacted through deeds.
The confrontations that Jesus had with his contemporaries over the true meaning of religious practice form a constant theme throughout the Gospels. As a reformer, Jesus sought to bring about the true essence of faith as practiced through universal love. Jesus warned of the misuse of religion in chapter twenty, verses forty-five through forty-seven of the Gospel of Luke:
Then in the audience of all the people he said unto his disciples,
Beware of the scribes, which desire to walk in long robes, and love greetings in the markets, and the highest seats in the synagogues, and the chief rooms at feasts;
Which devour widows' houses, and for a shew make long prayers: the same shall receive greater damnation.
Those who use religion only to seek social approval and rank are condemned. Such hypocrites misuse the resources of vulnerable members of their community for supposedly spiritual purposes. The parallels to the teachings in other religious texts are uncanny. One cannot sincerely and singularly seek the Divine while aspiring to temporal gains. To exploit religious practice for earthly rewards is a blasphemy that contradicts the fundamental message of all spiritual traditions. In the last verse of this section, we see a promise of a particularly just Divine Retribution to the misled and misleading malefactors who exploit religious sentiment for material gain. This warning is expressed again in chapter seven, verses twenty-two and twenty-three of the Gospel of Matthew:
Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works?
And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.
This is a warning not only for the self-deceivers to whom this passage refers, but also to all members of all religious communities. Not everyone who claims to preach and work in the name of God is sincere. Individuals must not allow themselves to be misled by charismatic preachers, or politicians who justify their personal aims in the name of religion. The exploitation of religious sentiment for worldly gain is an ancient evil that manifests itself throughout the world. In order to combat this blasphemy, each person must learn to listen to the Divine within him or herself in order to know right from wrong.
The misuse of religion is rampant. Since the dawn of humanity corrupt leaders have emphasized differences amongst groups of people to justify violence. Religious traditions have been twisted to legitimize horrendous atrocities in the name of the Eternal Being. The primary aims of this book are to expose and abolish the fundamental ignorance that feeds religious conflicts, and to offer alternatives to the materialism that is destroying humanity's spiritual consciousness and our planet. The hypocrisy of "religious" people is warned of in each of the six holy texts, and this common admonition provides yet more evidence of their fundamental harmony.