Thought Bite: Authenticity: Hypocrisy vs. Sincerity

Greek theatrical mask

Photo: Marie-Lan Nguyen CC-BY-SA 3.0

The photograph heading this article depicts a Greek theatrical mask from the first century B.C.E. Greek actors wore masks and were called ‘hypokrites’. The modern word, hypocrite, derives from that Greek word for actor. A hypocrite is someone who wears a figurative mask by falsely pretending adherence to virtues and moralities they do not actually hold.

All of us are familiar with hypocrites. They are especially easy to spot in politics. We also know of many examples of religious hypocrites, make a big show of being religious while secretly breaking religious doctrine daily. There is also hypocrisy in the yoga realm, where the distinctions are more subtle and harder to spot. H.H. Swami Rama warned about hypocrisy in renunciation.

“There is considerable confusion about the path of renunciation.” Swamiji said. “Many so-called renunciates are hypocrites; outwardly they appear to be austere and to avoid contact with the objects that lead to attachment, but their minds remain thinking of the pleasures of the world. That sort of austerity is false and dishonest. Such hypocrites remain deluded, and such austerities never bear fruit.” (Swami Rama, Perennial Psychology of the Bhagavad Gita, Pp. 125-126.)

But, one might think, so what? Is hypocrisy really so harmful? This is Swami Rama’s extended response:

“When a renunciate outwardly appears to renounce but actually clings to objects in his mind, he creates guilt in his mind. He neither has peace of mind nor is he able to perform his actions with full attention and skill. A hypocritical person is concerned with outward expression and with following the letter of the law, whereas one who is genuine is more interested in his inner experience than in appearance.”

“The distinction between an outer show and inner experience is an important one. The former has no positive value and may even be detrimental to one's growth if it is not a reflection of his inner state of being. It is all too easy for one to make an outer pretense of sincerity and to enjoy praise and accolades though his thoughts and feelings are completely contrary. Jesus taught that one should pray in secret and not as hypocrites do. If one refrains from making a public show of his sincere inner experiences, those experiences are less likely to be contaminated by egotistical gratification.”

“External renunciation (tyaga) is a step on the path to Self-realization, but if one does not attain inner renunciation (vairaga) he creates many serious problems for himself. Such a person cannot live as a genuine renunciate.” (Swami Rama, Perennial Psychology of the Bhagavad Gita, Pp. 126.)

Avoidance of hypocrisy is not only for renunciates, but for all practitioners of Yoga-Meditation. If one fancies himself or herself a yogi or yogini and puts on a show of great meditative advancement while the opposite is actually true, that hypocrisy may block his or her advancement on the path of meditation and may harm others who believe the false facade. As Swami Rama said,

“In the process of Self-discovery, one must uncover, examine, and gain mastery over each stratum of his existence. And the first stratum to be faced is that of the unacceptable qualities that lie hidden behind the facade one presents to the world. Only by fully acknowledging those qualities can one take them in hand and transform himself.” (Swami Rama, Perennial Psychology of the Bhagavad Gita, Pp. 127.)

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