True Religion is free from Authority
Freedom is one of the greatest values for human life. Yet history shows how both political and religious forces have often succeeded in squelching personal freedom. Political authority does not want people to be fully free, because if free the people are not as predictable and controllable. Also, political authority has often been the tool for economic exploitation of the masses for the gain of a small minority of property owners and capitalists. The wealthier are usually the more politically powerful, and vice versa as power and wealth reinforce one another.
In addition, religious tradition and authority do not usually support personal freedom, because if free the people are not as easily convinced and trained to follow the rules and laws of the religious faith. Throughout history the traditional religions have been leading forces in the obstruction and squelching of personal freedom. Even questioning religious authority or tradition has not been tolerated. Of course there are many good values and practices in each traditional religion, worthy of following, but no one religious way can define exactly how everyone should live or express themselves. And religions tend to fixate on certain rules and norms.
In essence, personal freedom is antithetical to any authority. In freedom one might well follow religions or authorities, for reasons that the person may feel is good, but freedom is opposed to coercion and manipulation. A truly free person must be free, both civically and psychologically, to not follow religion and authority. A truly free person can choose how to live and express, without religious conditioning or coercion. Personal freedom should be one of the cornerstone principles of the world. So if we really accept freedom as an essential value, then we must oppose something inherent in most religion which is the presupposition of its rigid righteousness. For each religion tends to hold a belief that it reveals the exact right way for everyone to think and live, and it tends to judge anyone who does not follow their religion as either wrong or inferior. Thus, much in regular religion is inherently opposed to personal freedom.
Yet the True Religion is fundamentally respectful and encouraging of personal freedom. The True Religion will believe that personal freedom is an essential aspect of Divine Purpose. Though this is freedom that does not harm or manipulate or exploit others. The Truly Religious person will feel divinely free to make free choices and live life as they choose, and they will respect the choices of others. The old religions can still act as suggesting guides for people, but not as doctrine to blindly follow. The divinely inspired person is one who freely chooses from their own intelligence and sincere heart, not one who simply follows an outside authority. The point here is that the truly spiritual way is for people to really feel free, in heart and mind, to choose whatever way they feel is right for them, and also respect this freedom in others. God gives us freedom, and God wants us to feel free and act freely, to dance freely. Though there are general Principles by which we are meant to live.
Rules are useful to maintain order. That may seem obvious in relation to civil laws and social order. But let us consider rules to follow in social life, beyond the obvious civil law rules. These are rules of ‘right’ behavior, useful for maintaining a moral and aesthetic order, or a kind of etiquette in a culture or group. In general, rules are useful as a basic platform, as guidance in living. Rules and order produce stability, and we need some degree of stability in our lives. Yet a strict and recurring stability can produce stagnation. Rules can hold back our next stages in learning, and rules can constrict creative innovation. So rules have a useful value in life, but so does freedom from rules. Rules maintain order, while freedom breaks away from structured order and explores new ways. Without this power to break free of standard rules and order, both social and personal, there would be no social or personal evolution. So freedom is a divine power inherent in the human being. Yet, with this freedom, if we move too far beyond the social order, we will not be able to relate effectively in the world. So we need to find a balance between the existing context of order and our possibilities of creative freedom.
In this balance, we should feel free to break from any standard rules or order, whether social or religious; if we see a better way. We should feel free to break from any standard, dogmatic beliefs; if we see a greater truth. We should feel free to find truth on our own, and live from our own sincerity and integrity. We should feel free to explore life and how to love, without being constricted by any set rules or conditioning. We should feel free and be free. Yet we also need to respect the normal rules and order of the group or society we are in. This respect is an aspect of love. It is being considerate of the beliefs and rules of others, even if these are not exactly our own. So we need to balance our freedom with respect, consideration, and tolerance of other views and ways. We also need to balance our freedom with some degree of order and stability in our own life. Some degree of personal stability and order is needed as a foundation to live. As part of this stability, we also need to accept some basic principles of living, which become helpful reminders in our life. These principles act as a foundation from which to then explore new areas and build new creative substructures. But the acceptance of such foundational principles should be derived from a free mind, rather than a simple conformity to rules swallowed from our culture or religion. This is not meant to be a deprecation of cultural or religious ways; for in every culture and every religion there are some fine moral principles and spiritually inspired truths. But we have to distinguish between universal morals/guidelines and mere situational ones. We need to look for the essential/universal truths, and be wary of simply swallowing the nonessential. We need to find what can be truly accepted as a universal foundation for living, while being free to explore new ways that are still in harmony with these foundational principles. This is the balance between freedom and rules.
Order and structure in life
In service, there is a need for some kind of order in our environment. Forms of social respect are also needed. This is part of our work of bringing forth divine order and beauty. To understand this we need to recognize the value of order and structure, for these are essential components of divine expression. To understand the meaning of order and structure, we might picture a well ordered house or environment. We might also picture a group meeting that is well structured and ordered. And we might also recognize, in picturing these meanings, that order and structure help make things run more smoothly and efficiently. Yet there is another important value of order and structure, which should not be forgotten, and that is respect. Because a good order and structure will respect all of the various parts or all of the various people involved. We can notice this in a group meeting, that the best kind of structure is one which respects everyone present, as well as promoting efficiency. Even in a room or in a landscape, the best kind of order is that which respects the function and beauty of all its parts. So the best kind of order and structure is that which best promotes respect for the participating parts (or people) and also promotes overall efficiency in fulfilling the common purposes of everyone. These are important values to remember in relation to order: efficiency and respect.
Now there is an antithesis to order and structure, which is freedom and spontaneity. And in any will-to-order there will probably be objections from those who place more value on freedom and spontaneity. So order/structure and its antithesis freedom/spontaneity are like two children with opposite personalities. They often tend to fight, or they disrupt the other’s agenda. Now first of all, it is important to understand that neither of these ideals are greater than the other. We have briefly considered the favorable values of order and structure, and we could just as well consider the values of freedom and spontaneity. One might also realize, after having pictured order and structure, that an overly strict and rigid order would be unfavorable to the value of respect and also oppressive to the values of freedom and spontaneous novelty. This could be called an oppressive order. So in a divinely ideal order, there needs to some allowance for freedom and spontaneity, without allowing this to destroy the overall order. In other words, the ideal order is one which balances necessary qualities such as efficiency, respect, freedom and spontaneity. Also to remember is that a structured form or order has its particular beauty, and this particular beauty can only be fulfilled when the order is pure and unfaltering. This is the value of discipline in per-forming an order or structure. For example, a performance or ritual is at its best when it is tight and disciplined in its structure. Yet, if a certain structure is always held tight, or if an order is always enforced by strict rules, then there will be stagnancy in further creativity, and further divine unfoldment will be suppressed, because all freedom and spontaneous creativity will be squelched.
To some extent, the popularity of Taoism increased due to a reaction against the oppressiveness of Confucian order – that there is a certain right way for doing this or that. Yet the masters of Taoism realized that some kind of general order and structure is needed to support the unfoldment of spiritual freedom and natural creativity. They realized that a balance is needed, between order and freedom. For even in the natural world, both order and freedom exist as complements, each being relational aspects of the Tao.
consciousness of respect, honoring, taking care of needs, awareness of space, doing what is needed with awareness.
The outer world is much to do with form, the form of a particular space and also the form of how we interact with others. There are good forms of outer action and creativity, and there are not so good forms. So we want to make good forms. We want to manifest good in the world. We want to make forms more divine, more beautiful and loving. We want to make sacred space and make sacred form in the world. We want the space around us and also our interactions to reflect the highest Divine Qualities. This is part of the Divine Purpose of life. Working to make divine form is an act of spiritual service. It is being a worker in the Divine Work. So we seek to manifest the best form, the form that best reflects Divine Qualities, such as beauty and love, and also cleanliness and order.
Now when we consider what is the best form for any situation, a question may arise as to if there really is any exact best form. If we study various cultures or groups, we find that there are different ideas about what is the right form for this or that. One culture may insist that tea should be served in a certain manner, while another culture teaches a different form of serving tea. In different cultures there are different ways to greet one another and different ways to best organize a communal space. So a sense of right form and right etiquette seems to be culturally relative. Thus, we might be skeptical about there being an absolutely right form for any given space or activity. We might then admit that a sense of right form is somewhat relative to a particular culture and time, or that there can be some diversity on this issue. However, we should not then simply believe that all forms are equal in value. No one form may be absolutely right or best, yet some forms are better than others. Thus, our goal is to find a better form in any situation, or at least a good form rather than a lousy form.
Also, we can learn from traditions of form, yet be ever ready to see better forms than these, in an attitude of learning and evolution. Thus, the sense of right form can evolve with greater understanding, and it can change with new perceptions of need in the ever-changing circumstances of life. The key in this is to keep searching out better forms for manifesting the Divine, which is an active search rather than a stagnate acceptance of how traditions or our present culture does things.
So far, this discussion has been about the outer form, or what is a good outer form for divine manifestation and interaction. We acknowledge that there may be different possible forms which are equally good, but we are no so foolish to think that all possible forms are equally good. So we search for good forms and better forms, and we work to manifest the form that we see is best in any given situation.