Ideals and Values/Ostentation or Hypocrisy
What is Dambha?
“Dambhitva means present a false image of one’s greatness. This attitude reveals a greater sense of insecurity and self-nonacceptance [than mānitva]. One who has this attitude lives a life of deceit, having a need to project himself as different from what he is. Even lying about one’s age reveals a difficulty in accepting one’s age. The deceit can get more complex until one almost starts believing one’s own bluff.”
People with this quality pretend to be virtuous when in reality they are quite evil in their hearts. They make a big show of any little act of charity or worship that they do but in reality, they lack faith in God and in the scriptures. Everything is done for a show or publicity, for fame and glory. This may impress their followers and other foolish people, but God only cares about the faith and truth in our hearts. Lord Kṛṣṇa describes the qualities of these people in great detail in verses Gita 16.13-18.
“Keeping long hair to pretend that he practices Yoga even though he does not, pretend that he is practicing a spiritual vow even while not observing the rules of the vow, or pretending to be a celibate when in fact he has relationships with women – these three are called ‘dambha.’”
A person who has this flaw of character pretends to be better than who he is, but from time to time, his true and shallow behavior does become manifest to others. Therefore, Swami Ramakrishna Paramahaṅsa likens a hypocrite to an eagle that soars very high in the sky and yet always keeps its eyes on mice other creatures on the ground. Time to time, the eagle descends rapidly from its soaring heights and plunges down to catch its prey crawling on the ground.
Hypocrisy is severely condemned in the Hindu scriptures, and many analogies are given to describe this type of a person. A Sanskrit person likens a hypocrite to a pot of poisonous fluid, but whose neck and mouth are smeared with milk. The onlooker falsely believes that the pot holds milk inside it when it actually contains poison. Another example is that of the Indian egret, which often stands in ponds only on one of its legs, reminding one of Sadhus who meditate by standing on a single leg for a long time. But as soon as it spots a fish in the water, the bird swoops down and catches the prey with its beak. A third example given in the Manusmṛti is that of a male cat, which walks with its head lowered reminding one of a humble pious person, but in reality keeping an eye out for any rat that crawls by. As soon as the cat sees the rat, it swoops and catches it. Sant Kabir mocks at ostentatious and hypocritical worshipers in the following words:
The rosary of beads turns around in your hands, the tongue keeps moving in your mouth and your mind turns around in every direction – how can this be contemplation of Bhagavān?
The Disconnect between Practice and Preaching
A dambhi person preaches one thing and practices the other. This beautiful incident from the life of the American author Mark Twain illustrates how a hypocritical person ought to be shown a mirror to see his reality- “Once the great writer Mark Twain was having a discussion with a businessman who was known for being aggressive and ruthless in his dealings with others. The businessman said to the writer, “Before I die, I would like to make a pilgrimage to the Holy Land and climb on top of Mount Sinai to read the Ten Commandments aloud at the top.” Mark Twain quickly replied, “I have a better idea. Rather than go to Mount Sinai where Moses was given the Ten Commandments, why don’t you stay home here in Boston and practice the Ten Commandments in your life?”
Story: The Show-Off Bhakti of Indra Once, Rishi Durvāsā went to Amarāvatī, the capital of heaven, and noticed that a big festival was taking place. Upon enquiry, Rishi Nārada told him that as it was the full moon day, Indra was worshipping Devi with great pomp and show. Rishi Durvāsā thoroughly enjoyed himself in the festival, in which thousands of golden plates with flowers were used for the worship of Devi.
After the festival was over, Durvāsā went to visit Devi, but was told that she had taken ill. When he met her, he was aghast to see that there were boils all over her body. “What happened,” he asked. The Devi replied, “All these flowers that were thrown on my Mūrti caused boils to appear wherever the flowers touched me. The only medicine to cure these boils is available with the physician who is right now at the Vishālākshī Mandir in the holy city of Varanasi.”
Durvāsā rushed to the Mandir, but he merely found an old and poor man worshipping the Devi, and shedding tears at the feet of her Mūrti. He asked the old man for the whereabouts of the physician, only to be told that he does not know of any physician close to the Mandir. Dejected, Durvāsā went back to the Devi to give her the bad news.
But when he reached the door of the palace of Devi, he heard the sound of Her anklets. When he went inside, he saw that the Devi was fully cured, and she was dancing joyously while her attendants were playing different musical instruments. “Did the physician come here to give you the medicine, because I was not able to locate him in the Mandir,” said Rishi Durvāsā to her.
The Devi laughed and said, “You do not understand. The physician was none other than my true devotee, the old and poor man whom you met in the Mandir. The tears of his Bhakti that fell on my Mūrti totally cured my disease. Indra had organized a very grand festival to worship me. But it was a mere show off. There was no faith or Bhakti in Indra’s worship, and therefore, all the offerings of flowers and food made me fall ill. But the true devotion of the old man, even though he did not offer me anything, cured me of all illness. His tears were more valuable to me than all the flowers, gold and food that Indra and his servants had offered to me.”
Story: The Man who became a Sadhu for a single Day Keshavadas spent a lot of time doing his worship every day. He was very meticulous about all the steps of the Puja, and demanded that his wife Kamala had everything that he needed for the Pujā ready every day. But, Kamala had a lot of other things to do as well – cooking, cleaning, and laundry and so on. She often did some mistake in arranging the large number of items that Keshavdas used for his worship. As a result, he would yell at her.
Finally one day, greatly upset after getting a scolding from him, she approached her Guru Santoba Powar, a very famous saint of his times. The saint asked her to convey the message to her husband that he will accept Keshavdas as a disciple and make him ready to become a Sadhu like himself. Kamala was crestfallen at the thought of losing her husband, but she could not disregard the advice of her Guru. When Keshavdas heard her Guru’s message, he became elated and said, “I always told you that I was destined to be a great religious leader. The famous Santoba Power had himself expressed a wish to make me his student.”
So next day, Keshavdas set out to see Santoba Powar. On his way, he imagined returning after years of meditation as a famous saint in his own right. “Then, my wife and family members will understand what a spiritual person I am,” he thought. When Keshavdas appeared in front of the saint, he was asked to immediately throw away his robes of silk and his ornaments and take a bath in the river. In the hope of become a renowned Sadhu himself, Keshavdas followed the command immediately. When he returned from his bath, the saint said, “I have very special clothes for you, which you will now wear henceforth as a Sadhu.” Keshavdas imagined that his Guru will give him a flowing saffron robe, which will make him look very saintly. But lo! The guru merely gave him a loin cloth to cover his modesty. Then, the Guru gave him a pot of ashes to smear on his body saying, “They symbolize the fact that you are now dead to the world.” Keshavdas stomach squirmed at the thought of smearing himself with these ashes and pretend to be a corpse, but he faked a smile and followed his Guru’s command.
Then the Guru said, “Now it is time to mediate. You will sit in that corner of my cave and meditate on the Mantra ‘Rām Rām’ for 6 hours.” Keshavdas was aghast! He had always imagined himself as meditating on lofty Himalayan peaks, chanting mantras sonorously and pilgrims falling at his feet with gifts. But now actually chanting these mantras in a dark cave seemed so different from his mental fantasy!” Keshavdas grudgingly started chanting, as directed. The six hours were torture for him, and many a times, his mind wandered away to think of his comfortable home, the loving service of his wife, and the wonderful clothes and sandals that he used to wear!
Finally, he heaved a sigh of relief when the six hours of meditation were over. Then Santoba Powar called him and said, “It is time for food now. And yes, we should keep a fast today. But if you want to eat, you can take my begging bowl and request the villagers to give you some food. And while coming back, collect some firewood because it will be cold and we need to light a bonfire while sleeping.” Keshavdas was even more dejected. He thought, “I am a very respectable person. How can my Guru expect me to beg for food – this is just so demeaning! And then, he asks me to collect wood for the fire. Anyway, let me go through this torture too, because one day I will be a famous saint myself. And then I can have many other disciples of my own to do all this work for me!”
When Keshavdas returned with the firewood, his Guru said, “Now it is time to sleep.” “But where do we sleep? I see no bed,” replied Keshavdas. The Guru instructed, “A Sadhu sleeps on whatever is available. This rocky cave today is our bed. Now be cheerful and have a good sleep.” Keshavdas laid on the ground. But no matter how hard he tried, he could not sleep. Sometimes a stone pinched his back. Another time, he was woken up by the howling of wolves. Finally, Keshavdas lost it and woke up his Guru, “Gurudev, I cannot take it. Perhaps, I just do not have the inner strength that it takes to be a Sadhu. I am not fit for this role that I had fantasized about all my life. I realize now that what we desire is not the same as reality. I merely imagined myself to be capable of becoming a saint, and put up a good show of being a religious man. But now I know that I am just an ordinary person. Please forgive me and allow me to return to my home and to my wife.”
Santoba Powar smiled and said to Keshavdas, “I give you permission to return tomorrow morning. But do not get disheartened. All your efforts will not go in vain, because in the Bhagavad Gitā, Bhagavān Kṛṣṇa has promised to us that no good effort will get lost. But keep two things in mind in your life always. The first is that you have believed incorrectly that you can become a Saint only if you give up your family ties to your wife etc., and only if you perform grand worships every day. The truth is that it is not the external abandonment of your family and home or the external worship that makes one a saint. What makes one a saint is that your mind and heart should be pure, and that they should always be directed towards Bhagavān. So go home and be a good husband. And remember that even if your wife does a small mistake in make available all the items of your worship, they will get overcome if you have love, faith and Bhakti in your heart.
And now the second thing – Never get disheartened. You have tried to be a Sadhu for one day but gave up so easily. This does not mean that you will never make spiritual progress. I want you to take small steps, while fulfilling all your duties towards your family every day. I want you to bear all your challenges and problems in life patiently, calmly and quietly, without making a show. You will notice yourself that over time, you will be a changed into a better person in whose heart Bhagavān has come to reside. Keep in mind that becoming a Sadhu is not the only way of reaching Bhagavān because He Himself puts us in the correct circumstances after determining what is best for our soul.”
Story: Guru Nanak exposes the Hypocrisy of the Nawab and Qazi of Sultanpur After his enlightenment, Guru Nanak once passed by a group of Muslims in Sultanpur in district Kapurthala, Punjab, India, performing Namāz. Guru Nanak commented – the true five prayers are speaking the truth, earning one’s bread by hard labor, asking God for the good of everyone, keeping one’s intentions and feelings pure and fifth, chanting the praises of God.
The Muslim worshipers got very offended and thought that Guru Nanak was insulting their religion, by implying that the Islamic way of offering the five prayers was not correct. Sultan Daulat Khan, who ruled the estate of Sultanpur, did not seem perturbed but the Muslim cleric got very angry. He said to Nanak, “You say that there is no difference between Hindus and Muslims. So why don’t you join us in our prayers in the mosque?” Guru Nanak agreed.
However, as the cleric started calling out the Islamic prayer, causing the Muslim worshipers do the gestures required by their tradition, Guru Nanak just stood still in his place. And in fact, he burst out aloud into laughter twice! The cleric was further enraged and urged the Sultan to proclaim a severe punishment to Nanak for insulting Islam.
When Nawāb Daulat Khan asked Nanak for the cause of his laughter, the latter replied, “How could I join in the prayers when the cleric himself was not praying? He was merely uttering words from the Koran without any sincerity because in his mind, he was worried that the new calf that he had purchased recently might fall into the well in his home while he was here, leading the prayers. And you Sultan, were not really saying your prayers whole-heartedly either. Instead, you were thinking all the time about whether your agents in Kabul had clinched the deal for buying horses or not.”
Everyone was shocked when the cleric as well as the Sultan confessed that they were indeed not praying whole-heartedly and what Guru Nanak had said about them was in fact correct. The Sultan fell at the feet of Guru Nanak and asked for forgiveness. Guru Nanak forgave him and advised him to be a just ruler that worked always for the welfare of his people.
Story: The Pig inside the ‘Saint’ Sant Kabir was a very strong critic of hypocrisy. He saw that many priests and ascetics pretended to be very pious and holy men but were in fact evil minded. One day, he heard that a fake Fakir was coming to visit him. To expose this fake saint, Kabir tied a pig at the entrance of his home. When the Fakir came to Sant Kabir’s home, he was horrified to see the pig and shouted out loud in anger, “Don’t you know that the pig is an unclean animal? Then why have you tied one at the entrance of your home?” Kabir replied, “My pig is outside my house, whereas your pig is inside your heart.” The Fakir felt so ashamed to hear these words that he went away stealthily.
Story: Mahatma Gandhi practices before he preaches it A beautiful incident is narrated below from the life of Mahatma Gandhi, that shows how he first practiced a virtue himself before preaching about it to others. “Once a lady came to Mahatma Gandhi with her young son and complained to Mahatma that her son was guilty of the bad habit of eating jaggery very many times every day and requested Gandhi to advise him to give up the bad habit since it was bad for health. Gandhi asked the lady to come after 15 days with the boy. She returned after 15 days. Now Gandhi took the boy to a corner and pointed out how eating of too much of jaggery would produce heat in his body and why he has to leave that bad habit.
After two months, that lady came back to Gandhi to thank him since her son had given up that habit on Gandhi’s advice. However, the lady was curious to know why he asked her to come after 15 days. When she asked, Gandhi replied, “Oh my child, when you first came to me, I was not in a position to advise your son to give up eating jaggery because I myself ate too much of it. In order to advise him, I had to first overcome my own bad habit. Therefore I took 15 days time during which I got rid of my own habit and only then did I become qualified to advise your son. How can a man preach something when he is not already following that?”
Students and ‘Dambha’: Plagiarism as a form of Dambha Plagiarism means passing off someone else’s research or work as one’s own without attributing it to the original source. Plagiarism is a serious offense. If caught, the student indulging in plagiarism can suffer all his life and get denied admission or dismissed from his college for his misconduct. Plagiarism can happen due to many reasons: Delusion of “I will never get caught”; laziness; incompetence or greed for fame when the student does not deserve it. Plagiarism is a form of ‘dambha’ because through it, the student tries to pretend that he or she is more smart, hardworking and resourceful than what he actually is.
Study the example of Kaavya Viswanathan to understand how allegations of plagiarism can have a disastrous effect on your life.
- Page 91 in Purnavidya, vol 6
- Rajinder Singh, pp. 112-113
- Krishnamani, p. 239
- Krishnamani, pp. 175-176
Notes & References
- Matsya Purāṇa 175.42
- Verse of Kabir
- It is the traditional way of Islamic worship that all believing Muslims are supposed to do five times every day.
- Fakir is a Muslim ascetic.