Illuminations Newsletter 14
Addicted to Fault Finding
“Look within. Amend yourself rather than pry into the frailties of others.” These are the words of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura.
Fault finding is natural for the conditioned soul. We don’t have to learn how to do it or take training to get better at it. In fact, for many people it is an addiction which gives them some form of perverted pleasure. We could call this the Ramacandra Puri complex. Ramachandra Puri was a contemporary of Lord Caitanya who had an intense need to fault find. He took delight in finding faults in others, even where there were no faults. He was addicted to fault finding.
Fault finding can be so addicting that some people have to get their daily fix. And it’s easily available everywhere. You can get a fix from all kinds of radio talk shows, news magazines, comedians, and TV shows (fault finding sells). Or you might seek out friends or co-workers to feed the addiction. As Elanor Rosevelt said, “If you don’t have something nice to say about someone, sit next to me.”
How rampant is this addiction? It starts early in life. Children’s cartoons are full of fault finding, put downs, and cutting sarcasm. Disrespect is cool and the coolest dudes are portrayed as the ones who put everyone down in the most sarcastic ways.
What’s The Payoff?
So what kind of pleasure do we get from fault finding? What kind of payoff do we get? One common payoff is to feel good or better about ourselves by putting someone else down. If putting someone down makes us happy, what does that say about us? According to the Gita, the happiness one derives from fault finding is in the mode of ignorance. Happiness in the mode of ignorance is described as miserable in the beginning and the end. Isn’t that an interesting concept – happiness that is miserable? Fault finding creates a miserable state of consciousness for one who speaks it and for one who hears it. It poisons the mind and heart.
Yet it is this poisoning of the heart that is taken to be pleasure. That’s how intoxication works. You take in poison (toxic) and feel “happiness”.
Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakur points out that there is no benefit in seeing faults in others, but there is benefit in seeing our own faults. “It is necessary for the best to scrutinize one’s ineligibility. Why should a person be anxious to pry into the defects of others when he does not seek to scrutinize his own conduct?”
Yet the very reason that some of us fault find is to avoid scrutinizing our own shortcomings by focusing on the shortcomings of others.
In addition, we may fault find because we want to assert our belief as the best or only way (we need to be right). Or sometimes we might fault find to get back at someone for hurting us. So fault finding becomes a means of revenge.
But the reasons we fault find are not always so obvious. For example, after a long time and a lot of introspection, one devotee realized that she found fault with others so she wouldn’t have to get close to them. Once she realized and addressed this, she was able to give up her fault finding mentality.
Another devotee was finding fault with a close friend and couldn’t understand why. By being open and honest with herself she came to realize that she was feeling guilty that she hadn’t supported her friend during a crisis. Finding fault with her friend protected her self-image and belief that she is a caring and helpful person. Thus fault finding can be a way to build and maintain a false image of ourselves.
Find Faults in Yourself
What should you do when you are focusing on other’s faults? Srila Bhaktisiddhanta says, “When faults in others misguide and delude you, have patience, introspect – find faults in yourself. Know that others cannot harm you unless you harm yourself.”
Of course, if you are like Ramacandra Puri, everyone else’s faults will stare you in the face while you’ll find it difficult to see any of your own.
Misguided By Other’s Faults
How does seeing other’s faults misguide and delude us? We allow another’s faults to distract us from thinking of Krsna. It is interesting to note that the word “aparadha” actually means “without worship.”
Another way we are misguided is that we often use the defects of others as an excuse for our own shortcomings. We see this all the time when children play. When they don’t treat their friends well, their normal excuse is, “Well, he did the same thing to me.” We do similar things more often than we’d like to admit. We use another’s misbehavior as a rationale for our own misbehavior. Also, fault finding has a boomerang effect – its own karmic reaction. The very fault we are seeing in others comes back to infect us.
Why are other’s faults so noticeable? Srila Bhaktisiddhanta said that because I am so honeycombed with faults I see those same defects in others. The strainer is finding fault with the needle, “Oh you have a hole in you.” Bhaktivinoda Thakura writes, “Fault-finding arises only from imposing one’s own bad habits on others.”
How Detrimental is Fault Finding?
Is fault finding really that bad or really that detrimental to our spiritual lives? Srila Prabhupada describes it as a sinful activity. “Those who are committing sins like illicit sex, fault-finding, and unjustified violence rarely attain spiritual knowledge or realization. Sinful activities deepen the dark gloom of ignorance, while pious activities bring the light of transcendental knowledge into one’s life.”
PRABHUPADA PUTS FAULT FINDING RIGHT UP THERE WITH ILLICIT SEX AND UNJUSTIFIED VIOLENCE (MEAT EATING).
I have seen many devotees leave Krsna consciousness after becoming increasingly critical of devotees.
The next time you are about to talk about someone else’s faults, replace their name in the sentence with your name. That will give you a more accurate take on reality. And that will help you “amend yourself.”
Make a mental note of how often you fault find and why you do it (both with devotees and non devotees). See if you can break the habit and go a day, a week, a month or more without saying anything bad about anyone (calling a thief a thief is not considered fault finding).
The goal is to break the habit. It is said that if you do something everyday for ninety days, it will become a habit. So if you can go ninety days without finding fault with anyone, you will have developed the new good habit of not finding fault. And you will be in the good company of those pure devotees who refuse to speak or hear ill of others.
Are you up to the challenge? Take the no fault ninety day challenge. And if you don’t want to take the challenge, ask yourself why not?