Tradition serves a very necessary function, without it, we would be in chaos; a perpetual war between our competing interests. In this place nothing can be done but focus on survival, yet life appears to open itself to more subtle possibilities than simply battling to get by.
It’s more than reckless these days, with iconoclastic feeling around, and the attempt to remove ideals or authority because they stifle us. This is the price we pay for not living in literal and constant fear. Tradition means established structures of protocol and method. It also contains the seed of something much more significant, which is the business of using exact methods so skilfully in order that our limiting factors may be overcome altogether.
This is the ‘inner tradition’ which is little known and rarely applied fully. So generally, our feelings towards tradition are of our necessary and compelled obeisance and the curtailment of our desires. Primarily, regarding the external manifestations, as long as they allow the time and space to focus on the business of living with more depth than a battle to simply exist, we are lucky.
The peace that we currently enjoy in the West is historically unusual. It can best be used for looking more thoroughly and thoughtfully at the sources of tension inside, rather than complaining about inequalities and power imbalances. As hard as it may seem to believe, our happiness does not reside in our ability to express and act on whatever we feel, in the need for an exact balance between all us all of equality and freedom.
It cannot, moreover, should not, be. The efficacy of power structures is obvious; it is best for society that we divide our skills, and natural that some, furthermore, some people, within the various brackets gain precedence over others. The difficulty lies in the fact that as well as respecting the natural order, for the constant reinvigoration of life and its continued applicability to the times, we also need individuals to question and reject established traditions.
Jesus said, when asked about the use of money in the world ‘give unto Caesar what is Caesars, and to God what is Gods’. In the same way, there are two different forms of tradition we encounter; outer structures that serve to regulate based on accepted traditions, these we would do well to on-the-whole respect, and those internal ones, to do with personal methods of living which involve a completely different way of relating towards.
Generally it best to be socially moderate, whilst personally radical. Though the two worlds are connected, with the inner search turning up individual and subjective answers, that then gradually become galvanised into objective injunctions.
For example, ‘The Church’ which originally stood for the protection of a body of knowledge immediately perceived by a few innovators. Inevitably, meaning always gets covered over by a thirst for power and control which overrides the simplicity of focussing on our inner peace, seemingly inadequate in its simplicity. Ironic, but we would, it seems, rather use life, than actually enjoy it.
What might be advisable then, for our own sense of clarity, is to separate out what is relevant to preserve a relative social harmony, as opposed to that relating to our own personal quest for meaning. Tradition stands for two opposing qualities; one that entails resistance to change in order to prevent chaos and mitigate suffering, the other, a more hidden one providing instruction on ritual in order to transcend the need for these kind of controlling structures for our behaviour.
Social compliance is imperatively useful, in whatever sphere we consider, until we can get to the root of why our impulses are so discordant and often destructive. In this manner, the need for apparently contradictory attitudes arises; generally, a lip-service and tacit consent to convention, whilst on an internal level suspending all judgement, which is ‘To Think’. Truly our calling as a species, a questioning of everything in order to find fresh and dynamic ways in which to encounter the world outside.
Yet, in modern society we are at risk of confusing the two levels, applying what should be personal and cerebral to a literal and material representation. This is extremely dangerous, as our process in coming to terms with anything, whether it’s making the perfect soufflé or understanding ourselves is strewn with missteps and dead ends.
For this reason it useful to have some circumspection and conservatism with it and not allow ourselves to come to half-baked conclusions so early. To allow this gradual learning to take place, it is expedient to accept that someone, group or body, has to have the reins of power in order that we find ourselves in a system providing stability. That this is underpinned by tradition usually does imply a necessarily broader appeal to the populations mutual benefit, than a few men’s unrestrained individualism.
There needs to be a system of governance. Only when this gradually becomes over constrictive, as they always do in end, sinking into decadence when power becomes too heavily weighted, do we need to devote time to fighting against it.
Instead we ought to use its regulatory function to provide a framework around our personal enquiry. However, where a tradition becomes too widespread over too long a period, any obvious utility is generally hidden behind an accumulation of other cultural nuances, superstitions and customs as the power becomes vested in fewer and fewer.
What we are left with is the simple need to cooperate for our own least sufferance. Whilst no one really gets to do what they want, at the same time, a still healthy tradition allows that more people are guaranteed a degree of protection against the harmful effects of others’ desires at very least.
At the point when this balance tips, we need radically courageous people to stick their noses over the parapet in order that the necessary overhaul does occur. Nevertheless, its usefully more expedient that change happens in incremental stages, rather than by an abrupt fissure with the past. In this way, it’s easier going forward.
The inner tradition involves a completely different principle. When encountering any established, external manifestation most fully, one may still return to the same point. After all, it is from the need of clear and effective ways of working that our regular notion of tradition arises. That is, in highly specific patterns and methods, essentially the true definition and Importance of ritual, techniques of restraint used in order to harness and galvanise the mind.
Although these too initially demand our respect, ultimately they are interested in finally returning the onus of judgement to our very individual selves, in liberating us from absolutely any boundaries eliciting control. But, until we have that sense of self that no longer needs to be circumscribed for our own protection from conflicting forces lying within it is safer and more prudent to follow. Both within and without. It is only when form is mastered by our careful observance that we are free to step outside it.
As the Zen Buddhists saying goes, ‘the finger pointing at the moon gets mistaken for the moon itself’. Even the inner tradition becomes crystallised in the end, its methods taken as requiring observance alone, not our eventual graduation from them. Even though it is always a risky business to know when, it important to attempt to keep a sense of proportion in our relation to it, as these moorings too finally require, to differing degrees, breaking free from.
It may be, that nothing much needs to change, simply that the sense behind instruction is immediately and subjectively perceived. Still, that there are no longer any external points of control makes it a potentially very vulnerable and tenuous position to hold. That is, if what one has left behind has not been fully embraced and understood.
Despite this personal jeopardy, this transcendence is our very highest aim, our calling in life. It is the end result of our natural function; to think, and brings forth an ability to appreciate beauty, surely the only possible self-evident reason to choose to live.
Beauty has as its essence volatility, it comes about as precarious and fleeting moment of balance in the sea of flux of a constantly shifting experience. It can never be defined and controlled, it is always a wild and unexpected, indescribable encounter. For this reason, from one moment to the next it can also go horribly wrong if one is not steeped in the necessary approaches as to have subdued the discordant aspects of our individually and made contact with deeper and calmer waters.
When we attempt to grasp our freedom by challenging tradition, we are employing this superficial sense of self. Unstudied and unrehearsed, paradoxically we fall back on conventionally, where a subconscious conditioning is allowed to run amok.
Through a deeper appreciation of tradition, we find our freedom through restrictions, we open ourselves up to the possibility of abandoning being a predictable and rather rudimentary dice altogether.
To enter a realm beyond definition is a revelation, a fundamentally different reality to that regulated by our most base and arbitrary whim and desire. It might appear, in this way, that we are liberated from the limitations of individuality by transcending it, but this is not quite the case. Instead, it’s to give precedence to a deeper order of experience. Something more integrally us, a residual self, constant and unchanging within.
This is to become a true individual. We are no longer encumbered by the superficial, erroneous sense of self and it’s obsession with maintaining the body in the most pleasurable way we imagine. Now we can open ourselves up to our highest calling, to relate to life more subtly, which you could also call the perception of beauty.
A truer self, but without such a sense of boundary between inner and outer, allowing more of a suspension of judgement, more un-knowing to be tolerated. Our preoccupation with the logistics of how to achieve our best possible placement in life has been dropped and this allows the space for an infinitely more expansive viewpoint to manifest.
The obvious and underlying question still persists as to when to defer and when to break away.
This cannot be answered by another, or even oneself. After all this talk of method and rationalisation, ultimately, we must come back to the most fundamental matter of feelings as our truest source of guidance. Yet, their fickleness, also warrants that we train them well, thus It appears best if our break finally comes after many years of observance and humility.
A relevant and useful separation seems not to be forced, not even willed at all. It may be the life force that finally decides to show the way above the obscuring and tainted malaise of the conflicted superficial personality. That something else worthy of our veneration is there, has been tapped-into by a fortunate few, cannot be denied. They have dispensed with tradition to bring something fresh, useful, and profound into the general awareness.
Appropriate innovation does take place, and its subsequent broad appeal is the testament to its validity. Our mistake is in our subsequent emulation, just as often their innovation often means their voluntary self-immolation against the slow and weighty wheels of tradition reluctant to change.
Most ironically, then, out of a few, unique risk takers’ epiphanies, grows the conventional reality of rules and defining structures we know so well. It’s the most natural human endeavour to attempt to form ideas around experience.
Our need to understand is one of our strongest impulses, involving the mistaken notion we may control and manipulate our surroundings. Then arises the most unhealthy, but obvious extrapolation; the wish to apply our insight, so seemingly right in its intensity of revelation, in order to govern the lives of others.
This is how we end up with the choice of choosing one controlling rod over another. The whole cycle is self-perpetuating, both for good and for bad. Nevertheless, it has to be this way, we benefit from instruction, though it’s a double-edged sword; itself deceiving and ensnaring. Time is complicit in this, covering over initial illumination with dust, so slowly the ideas involved, unthinkably deferred to, solely serve to habituated and dull the mind.
Perhaps, we just have to face the fact that beauty, the spontaneous and free relation to life, cannot be shared, grasped, or in any way controlled or predicted. It lies outside any formulas, structures, even understanding. That’s why it’s said that only by ‘grace’ are we set free. It’s highly elitist, only appropriate for a very few and even, as much as we have profoundly inspirational free-thinkers, we have also had the opposite too with catastrophic results. So let’s not throw out the baby with the bath water just yet.