Q. I have a "natural" tendency to be very critical and hence find mistakes/faults in people. Most of the time, I find fault with people at the mental level and not necessarily express it. This habit also extends to devotees. I feel and know I am not supposed to do this. But, like I said, this has become a habit and I am finding it hard to relinquish it.
In this whole process, I know I am wrong and hence I am always upset with my behavior (but this happens as a reflex action and not able to control my mind).
Please advise me as to what I should do and how I should stop this habit of mine! I feel this will hamper my devotional process and that Guru and Krishna will not be happy with me.
There is a very simple and sure solution recommended to overcome fault-finding tendency -- deliberately cultivate the opposite habit! Search out and heartily appreciate the genuine good qualities in others, particularly in relation to how these qualities are the gift of Guru and Krishna, and are to be used in their service.
You can begin by making a very deliberate & conscious effort, as a daily exercise, of acknowledging and appreciating good qualities in devotees, and whenever circumstances allow, verbally expressing such appreciation and praise. Even better are opportunities to offer heartfelt service to devotees in a humble mood, and while offering such service doing so as a meditation and expression of appreciation of specific good qualities you find in them - such genuine service to Vaishnavas can soften the heart and purge all critical mentality. You can also seek out the association of those who themselves have such a quality of genuine appreciation for others and serve in their company.
As you practice appreciating others, rather than arbitrarily praising some independent traits, it would be much beneficial to try to identify in what way Krishna's descending mercy is flowing into & transforming these devotees' lives and how they are making sincere efforts according to their capacity to take shelter of Krishna and His devotees. It is by this one good quality -- "krsna-eka-sharana" - that a devotee in time develops all desirable qualities, whereas it is concluded that a non-devotee has no good qualities whatsoever, because he is hovering on the mental plane. (Cf BG 1.28 purport)
Ultimately, we are interested neither in criticizing so-called bad qualities nor in praising mundane good qualities. Krishna decorates His faithful devotees with transcendental good qualities and by appreciating His devotees we are actually praising the manifestation of His mercy. You will find that even if there may be some factual, minor discrepancies in devotees, these become insignificant in comparison to the more significant factor of how their original nature is unfolding in relationship with Krishna, just like the black spots on the moon become insignificant in comparison to the flood of cooling illumination it provides.
Another very helpful meditation you can cultivate is to learn to see through the eyes of scriptures what the praiseworthy qualities in a devotee are. You can repeatedly study relevant sections from the Bhagavad-Gita or Srimad Bhagavatam where Krishna glorifies those engaged in His devotional service and how very dear they are to Him. E.g see BG 7.16-18, 9.14,15,22, 9.29-34. By regularly meditating on these passages, we can cultivate very deep respect and appreciation for the actual position of devotees beyond the external, circumstantial and temporary characteristics that we generally tend to focus on and instead appreciate their essential characteristic of taking shelter in Krishna.
By developing this spiritual vision, it can then also be extended to those who are not devotees; rather than being disturbed by their faults, we can learn to see the root cause of their difficulties viz. their disconnection from God and thus develop compassion for them.
Moreover, remind yourself of the fact that devotional service rendered sincerely is *SO* powerful that it can wipe out all discrepancies, in us and in others.
The process of devotional service is very powerful and by adopting the right means and applying oneself to them, lifetimes of habits and conditioning can be easily overcome. Have trust in this fact and with enthusiasm take up these positive steps. When we are actively cultivating the positive, there is no room for the negative; and the converse is also true! You are recognizing what is wrong and why it is wrong and you also feel genuine regret, but now do not dwell on it and let yourself be defeated by negative thoughts of frustration or anger towards yourself or how you are displeasing Guru and Krishna. Instead take up the positive and liberating process of rectification -- this will be most pleasing to them and attract their descending mercy which will further fill your heart with deeper appreciation of the glories of vaishnavas.