One thing I've learnt in my spiritual journey is that years in a spiritual movement is not the sole measure of spiritual accomplishment. That doesn't mean we shouldn't respect those who have been practicing for many years. In reality, however, it’s not the number of years in your life, it's the amount of life in those years. So, we shouldn’t have an unrealistic or utopian vision of spiritual practitioners who may perceive as falling short of the ideals.
When we do detect some ‘fault,’ the first thing would be to acknowledge that we could well be wrong. Furthermore, when we see faults in others and discrepancies around us, it's often a reflection of something within ourselves. If something is agitating me, attracting my attention and disturbing me so much, it may mean that some elements of those things are within me as well. Do I sometimes fall prey to that weakness? The great teacher, Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakur, said “When faults in others misguide you, then be patient, introspect and look for faults within yourself. Know that nobody can harm you unless you harm yourself.”
Secondly, spiritual vision means to not just see how far someone is from the ideal, but to appreciate also how far they have progressed and improved from where they were. If someone is progressing, if they are proverbially ‘in the shower’ and cleansing their consciousness, it would be unreasonable to write them off for being unclean.
Thirdly, faults in others should not decrease your faith in the power of the spiritual tradition. I can share with you innumerable stories of accomplished people I have spent time with. I used to think saints were people of the past, the personalities we read about in scriptures, but then I started witnessing saints walk in front of me. One type of person sceptically looks around, picks up on bad examples and concludes that’s the standard. Alternatively, we can look around with a gracious heart and see amazing examples and be inspired by that. Let us not descend to the lowest common denominator but rather look at those who are flying high in the spiritual sky.
(Excerpt from the upcoming “Tattva2: Old Words Open New Worlds”)