The Meaning of True and Complete Sincerity in the Spiritual Path

Just about every individual, including those practicing a spiritual discipline of some sort, creates an image of himself that he then projects out into the world. This image is something of a stylized and idealized version of himself that attempts to present the highest and best of his aspiration, whether it be mental development, expressions of faith, compassion, goodwill, purity, and an abstemious nature not given to over-indulgence. To a certain degree, if someone has been called to the spiritual path, there is a truth to this presentation; at the same time, the complex elements of human nature and the different parts of the being are not generally unified around this ‘highest and best’ self, and thus, there are moments when the other elements assert themselves and cloud over the aspiration, the faith, the devotion, the compassionate nature. In many instances, the individual does not recognise the chinks in the image, and remains quite ignorant of his own weaknesses and failings, or else, if he is aware of them, he may try to justify their existence on some basis. This is especially the case where the vital nature convinces the mind to justify some expression of desire. This leads to the question of what is sincerity and how it can be achieved by the spiritual seeker.

A disciple inquires: “What does ‘sincerity’ mean, exactly?”

The Mother notes: “There are several degrees of sincerity. … The most elementary degree is not to say one thing and think another, claim one thing and want another. For example, what happens quite often: to say, ‘I want to make progress, and I want to get rid of my defects’ and, at the same time, to cherish one’s defects in the consciousness and take great care to hide them so that nobody intervenes and sends them off. This is indeed a very common phenomenon. This is already the second degree. The first degree, you see, is when someone claims, for example, to have a very great aspiration and to want the spiritual life and, at the same time, does completely… how to put it?… shamelessly, things which are most contradictory to the spiritual life. This is indeed a degree of sincerity, rather of insincerity, which is most obvious.”

“But there is a second degree which I have just described to you, which is like this: there is one part of the being which has an aspiration and says, even thinks, even feels that it would very much like to get rid of defects, imperfections; and then, at the same time, other parts which hide these defects and imperfections very carefully so as not to be compelled to expose them and get over them. This is very common.”

“And finally, if we go far enough, if we push the description far enough, so long as there is a part of the being which contradicts the central aspiration for the Divine, one is not perfectly sincere. That is to say, a perfect sincerity is something extremely rare. And most commonly, very very frequently, when there are things in one’s nature which one does not like, one takes the greatest care to hide them from oneself, one finds favourable explanations or simply makes a little movement, like this (gesture). You have noticed that when things move like this you can’t see them clearly. Well, where the defect is seated, there is a kind of vibration which does this, and so your sight is not clear, you no longer see your defects. And this is automatic. Well, all these are insincerities.”

“And perfect sincerity comes when at the centre of the being there is the consciousness of the divine Presence, the consciousness of the divine Will, and when the entire being, like a luminous, clear, transparent whole, expresses this in all its details. This is indeed true sincerity. … When, at any moment, whatever may happen, the being has given itself to the Divine and wants only the divine Will, when, no matter what is going on in the being, at any moment whatever, always, the whole being in perfect unanimity can say to the Divine and feels for the Divine, ‘Let Thy Will be done’, when it is spontaneous, total, integral then you are sincere. But until this is established, it is a mixed sincerity, more or less mixed, right up to the point where one is not at all sincere.”

“One must never pretend that one is: one must be, spontaneously. … This is sincerity.”

Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, Growing Within: The Psychology of Inner Development, Chapter III Growth of Consciousness Basic Requisites, pp. 39-41


The Complexity and Difficulty of Achieving Complete Sincerity in the Spiritual Path

Sincerity is not as simple as believing in and meaning what we say to others. This is what we ordinarily consider to be sincerity. Sri Aurobindo and the Mother have a much more far-reaching idea of sincerity relating to the practice of yoga in the furtherance of spiritual growth. Sincerity represents the coherence of the entire being around the central focus of the spiritual practice, such that our thoughts, emotions, vital impulses and physical responses all adhere to and support this focus.

This becomes complicated because the human being is made up of different parts which each have their own function, their own habits and their own long-standing genetic and race-memory to contend with. Thus, physical wants and needs, vital desires, the heart’s emotional responses, the mind’s processes all try to achieve their own ends, and they do not always agree with one another. The mind and the heart may agree on a spiritual sadhana, but this does not mean that the vital desires will suddenly agree to give way and support the process.

Further, even if the mind generally agrees or the heart generally supports the spiritual sadhana, this does not mean that it always and in all situations responds the same way. What further complicates this is the role of the vital and its desires. The vital is able to manipulate the mind into supporting just about anything and coming up with plausible rationales for why one does what one does, even if it, at bottom, contradicts the true spiritual aspiration.

Sri Aurobindo observes: “Men are always mixed and there are qualities and defects mingled together almost inextricably in their nature. What a man wants to be or wants others to see in him or what he is sometimes on one side of his nature or in some relations can be very different from what he is in the actual fact or in other relations or on another side of his nature. To be absolutely sincere, straightforward, open, is not an easy achievement for human nature. It is only by spiritual endeavour that one can realise it — and to do it needs a severity of introspective self-vision, an unsparing scrutiny of self-observation of which many sadhaks and yogis even are not capable….”

Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, Growing Within: The Psychology of Inner Development, Chapter III Growth of Consciousness Basic Requisites, pg. 39

Sincerity Is the Only Protection in the Development of the Spiritual Life

If we consider what the most important quality is for progress in spiritual growth, we generally come up with a number of different ideas, including devotion, strong mind or will, faith, dedication, aspiration. We rarely name ‘sincerity’ as the quality most required. Yet, the Mother stresses the importance of this generally under-rated quality. Without sincerity, all the other qualities tend to fail at some point.

A disciple asks: “What is the fundamental virtue to be cultivated in order to prepare for the spiritual life?”

The Mother writes: “I have said this many times, but this is an opportunity to repeat it: it is sincerity. … A sincerity which must become total and absolute, for sincerity alone is your protection on the spiritual path. If you are not sincere, at the very next step you are sure to fall and break your head. All kinds of forces, wills, influences, entities are there, on the look-out for the least little rift in this sincerity and they immediately rush in through that rift and begin to throw you into confusion. … Therefore, before doing anything, beginning anything, trying anything, be sure first of all that you are not only as sincere as you can be, but have the intention of becoming still more so. … For that is your only protection.”

Sri Aurobindo clarifies what sincerity is: “Sincere is simply an adjective meaning that the will must be a true will. If you simply think ‘I aspire’ and do things inconsistent with the aspiration, or follow your desires or open yourself to contrary influences, then it is not a sincere will.”

Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, Growing Within: The Psychology of Inner Development, Chapter III Growth of Consciousness Basic Requisites, pg. 38

The Nature and Power of Sincerity in the Practice of Integral Yoga

What exactly is the meaning of ‘sincerity’ in the context of the integral yoga, and what makes it so essential to the successful practice of this yoga? For most people, sincerity is a quality defined by adherence to a specific idea or belief and a direct translation of that belief into the external being in its relationships to the world. In other words, it is seen as a ‘transactional’ quality for interacting with others without duplicity or any form of intended deceit.

In the integral yoga, however, sincerity is an inward quality of creating coherence between the soul’s aspiration, the mind’s knowledge, the action of the life energy and even the responses of the body consciousness. The usual human form of sincerity in dealing with others is of course a natural consequence, but it represents only a small part of the quality of sincerity and its action in the life of the practitioner of yoga.

One of the biggest obstacles to achieving sincerity in the being is the ability of the vital nature to get the mind to justify just about anything it desires. Thus, sincerity is undermined by this dynamic and many things are done which are contrary to the yogic development. When the psychic being is active it can see through this process and provide the seeker both clarity and direction in maintaining the sincerity of the sadhana.

Sri Aurobindo observes: “There is one indispensable condition, sincerity.” The Mother notes: “Sincerity is the safeguard, the protection, the guide, and finally the transforming power.”

Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, Growing Within: The Psychology of Inner Development, Chapter III Growth of Consciousness Basic Requisites, pg. 32