Every spiritual belief advocates certain practices. Sometimes the practices take a ritualistic form, other times, they are mundane and worldly ways of doing something. Meditation and prayer are examples of the former, while the Ten Commandments, or a life of service is an example of the later.
Regardless of the nature of the spiritual belief and the existence or non-existence of a Deity, a number of common threads run through them all.
One such thread is "Obedience".
Obedience takes many forms and shapes. The most obvious form is obeying God. But this is very general and cannot take a tangible form, except as obeying God through obeying the commandments, or word, or intent of God.
And it is in the interpretation of the mechanism that carries God's intent, that we find the diversity and variations in spiritual practices.
At one extreme, God may be personified in the form of an Avatar or Master or Guru. And the practitioner is naturally expected to lend unquestioning obedience to the person who is, or represents God for that individual. This method of practice is evident in its various forms in Sufism and Buddhism and various cults and movements that have come from time to time.
Somewhere near the middle of the belief spectrum, one is expected to obey the word of God as revealed through the prophets or in the scripture. This is very familiar to us, since we have seen variations of it in Judaism, Christianity and Islam.
At the other end of the spectrum, one may be expected to use one's own judgment and reason to come to the most appropriate conclusions, and then without hesitation obey the outcome of the reflection - at least until new knowledge renders the old obsolete. This is evident in the sciences and in Zoroastrianism.
And even on the fringes of the spectrum of belief, we find disobedience of the Deity as the supreme dictate, as evident in Satanic practices. In fact, obedience of the adversary is simply achieved throught the disobedience of the Divine, and that is nothing more than the shadow side of the concept of obedience.
However, as human beings, we find life is constantly changing, and with that, we find that our sensitivities are changing. Whereas at one time in our lives we may have been very obedient of our parents (who are Deities to their small children), during our teens we find ourselves in rebellion... we find the shadow side. And still later, we find some other more settled and independent approach to life.
Likewise, with the passing of time and gathering of experience, our sensitivities towards our chosen Deity change. At one time, we may have been more receptive of a personified God or God's representative. At other times, we may find it more practical to simply have a set of guidelines and rules to obey. Still other times, we may find that we are given to the responsibility of thinking how God would want us to respond. And we may or may not go through our rebellion phase or other fringe aspects.
Nevertheless, there is something about the concept of obedience that is common to all beliefs.
Some people consider blind obedience to be a sign of commitment. Others look at it as folly. No matter what is our preferred outlook on obedience, let us consider that the level to which we practice it in our lives, indicates the level of our faith in our belief.
Even when we consider blind obedience as folly, we are really obeying a mentality that refuses to see anything other than the supremacy of human mind. We are blind to the fact that wisdom is not just the product of the mind... that to be fully human, we must draw upon faculties other than our mind too. That intuition, and love, and playfulness and beauty are aspects of life that are not bounded by the mind. And this kind of thinking is nothing but blind obedience of the mind - or putting it another way, we can only have such belief system, if we have complete faith in the supremacy of the Mind.
At this point, perhaps it is safe to conclude that obedience is an aspect of faith. The more faith we have in our belief system, the more blindly we obey its ways and dictates.
Another feature of this blind obedience as a display of our faith is its longevity. Sufi masters say, once you choose a Morshed (Master), then you are committed to that Morshed for life, no matter what the Master asks you to do, you shall obey... at least until your Master declares that you have attained Mastery.
Likewise, various religions seek life-long commitments from their followers. Again, this is a sign of faith in the belief system. Life-long commitment to meditation until attaining Nirvana, and marrying the Christ and cutting off from the worldly suitors are simply two examples of such requirements.
Even Science has devised a way to accommodate the mind by correcting and modifying its ways, while implicitly seeking indefinite faith in the ability of knowledge to progress and correct itself through the newer findings and imaginings of the mind.
Perhaps a more appropriate question is, just as there is the Choice-Destiny paradox, is there also a Choice-Obedience paradox? Is it not fair to say that we live life until we find enough of a spiritual understanding to choose a belief system, together with all its baggage and recommended mechanisms. But then once we choose, we should blindly obey the dictates and requirements of that system, without questioning and without wavering? That we should not opt out for another, perhaps more convenient belief system, at the arrival of the first adversity or questioning?
Does that mean that there is nothing more detrimental to faith than doubt? And that the ultimate sign of faith is to be able to obey without knowing where it leads to? And is that also not dangerous?
And what if our sensitivities in life change? What if we have now matured enough to put behind our rebellion phase? Or that we no longer find the old belief system in synch with our understanding of the world? What if we have attained enough wisdom to be able to shed the system and opt for the essence? What if we have attained some form of Mastery?
Is faith also not like the arts, that once the student has learnt the system and has mastered it, it is now time to break the rules and be original? Or at least opt for other schools of thought and experience them until they too are mastered? And perhaps at some point in one's life a hybrid originality, a synergistic reality may emerge... even if it is neither understood nor appreciated by anybody else?
Is not the purpose of spirituality to master life and break free from the constraints of our belief system? And if that is so, then should we not ultimately give our obedience to the dictates of our own soul? Not as an individualistic original thinker, but as a heroic act of submission of life to the call of the spirit?
© Shahriar Shahriari
Los Angeles, CA
May 8, 2001
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