Saturday, May 28, 2005

Tradition and The Individual

What is the possible necessity of having a tradition to follow as a spiritual path? Some people think it's almost unavoidable and then there's other's who scorn the idea. (i'm speaking of non literalists only) Then of those who think following a tradition is the best route i believe there is again a division. Some believe you should immerse yourself in one tradition in order to adopt the world view and thus be able to follow there forms into the deeper realms of spiritual practice. Then others believe that you can have a buffet style spirituality where one can rummage through philosophies and practices and make your own patchwork religion.

I have no idea where i stand on this issue, it's something that has been very hard for me to come to a conclusion on. I think as an american i have an overly emphasized ego and put alot more value on my personal self than other cultures may. This makes the idea of confining my way of thinking to one specific paradigm very unappealing. Why should i do something like that when i can remain aloof from such commitments and appreciate each one? I can see though that this does limit the possible depth of my experience. For example the Sufis (a group i have some first hand experience with) would never teach an outsider their deepest mystical practices, tradition simply doesn't work that way.

Islam in general would be a good example of this conflict of interest. The word itself means submission to god. A Muslim is One Who Submits to God. I think that is such a beautiful expression of the limits of the individual trying to commune with the infinite expressions of Spirit. Spirit is something so far beyond comprehension that the only way we can be a receptacle is by emptying ourselves of any pretensions and submitting ourselves to the will of the Kosmos. As expressed in the idea of Islam, the Buddhist concept no-self, and the idea of Tao (the way that is known is not the true Way). To me however this sounds like, a very anti-individual mentality. What american is willing to trust the religion of Islam enough to completely submit to Allah's will? Obviously the specific religion has nothing to do with Allah's will, at least no more than any other bulwark tradition. But if we're talking about submitting to a tradition's will, which i believe is the context an american would take that in, forget it. I don't mean to express things in black or white, not all americans would feel that way, and it would be much more complex of an issue. But i still think that is a hurdle any of us would need to cross on some level.

The idea of Buffet spirituality i find to be distasteful myself, at least put in those terms. I don't think any non literalist is going to claim anything along the lines of needing to exclusively practice one religion, period. However if you simply pick and choose among religions , the argument is, you're loosing the essence of the expression. I believe that religions are alive, evolving entities. Alive because the community is bound by Spirit and changes as the community does, with new generations comes new interpretations of that which is transmitted. This transmission is a vital aspect of the religion's living essence. I think when we divided the religions up into specific ideas and philosophies and cease to look at them unto themselves we are dissecting them. And while we may find empirical usefulness in the dissected parts of an animal, the living creature itself has much greater value. We are taking all the Spirit out of them and deflating their true value.

I'm sure they're are many other arguments for both possibilities, but that's my perspective on it. Where that leaves me, i dunno, and for right now i'm ok with that.

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