1. External Conformity: "[The] stage of external conformity to religious injunctions or traditions is known as the pursuit of Shariat or Karma-Kanda. It covers actions like the offering of daily prayers, visiting of holy places, performance of duties prescribed by scriptures and observance of well established rules of the ethical codes generally accepted by the moral consciousness of the times. The stage of external conformity is useful in its own way as a spiritual discipline; but it is by no means free from evil effects, for it not only tends to make a man dry, rigid and mechanical, but it often nourishes some kind of subtle egotism....
Even at the stage of Shariat or Karma-Kanda allegiance to religions is not infrequently a source of inspiration for many selfless and noble acts for, while these dogmas or creeds are blindly accepted, they are often held with a fervour and enthusiasm which supply a dynamic element to the ideology which has been accepted by the person for the moment. Dogmas and creeds, as compared with barren views and doctrines, have the distinct advantage of being embraced not only by the intellect but also by the heart. They cover and affect a wider part of personality than purely theoretical opinions.
Dogmas and creeds generally, however, are as much a source of evil as of good, because in them the guiding vision is clouded owing to degeneration or suspension of critical thinking. If allegiance to creeds and dogmas has sometimes done good to the individual or to the community to which he belongs, it has more often done harm. Though the mind and heart are involved in allegiance to dogmas and creeds, both function in such case under the serious handicap of suspension of thought. Hence dogmas and creeds do not contribute to unmixed good."
2. Spiritual Emancipation: "The soul often spends several lives in gathering the lessons of external conformity; but there always comes a time when it tires of external conformity and becomes more interested in the realities of the inner life. When the worldly man takes to this higher kind of search he might be said to have become an aspirant. Like the insect which passes on through metamorphosis to the next stage of existence, the soul transcends the phase of external conformity (i.e., Shariat or Karma-Kanda) and enters upon the path of spiritual emancipation (i.e., Tarikat or Moksha-Marga). In this higher phase the soul is no longer satisfied by external conformity with certain rules, but wants to acquire those qualifications which would make its inner life spiritually beautiful....
The rise from Shariat or Karma-Kanda to Tarikat or Moksha-Marga is not to be interpreted therefore as being merely a departure from external conformity. It is not a change from conventionality to idiosyncrasy, from the usual to the unusual, but it is a change from a life of thoughtless acceptance of established traditions, to a mode of being which is based upon thoughtful appreciation of the difference between the important and the unimportant. It is a change from a state of implicit ignorance to a state of critical thoughtfulness. At the stage of mere external conformity the spiritual ignorance of man is often so complete that he does not even realise that he is ignorant. But when the person is being awakened and enters the Path he begins by realising the need for true light. In the initial stages the effort to attain this light takes the form of intellectual discrimination between the lasting and the transitory, the true and the false, the real and the unreal, the important and the unimportant....
When a person gives up uncritically accepted dogmas and creeds in favour of views and doctrines to which he has devoted thought, there is a certain amount of advance insofar as his mind has now begun to think and critically examine its beliefs. Very often, however, the newly held beliefs are seen to lack the fervour and enthusiasm which characterised allegiance to dogmas and creeds. If these newly held beliefs lack motive power, they belong only to the superficial aspect of life and they hang loosely upon the person like an overcoat. The mind has been emancipated from the domination of uncultured emotion, but this is often achieved by sacrificing the co-operation of the heart. If the results of critical thought are to be spiritually fruitful, they must again invade and recapture the heart so as to enlist its co-operative functioning.
In other words, the ideas which have been accepted after critical examination must again be released into active life if they are to yield their full benefit. In the process of practical life they often undergo a healthy transformation and become more soundly interwoven with the very fabric of life.
The transition from external conformity (i.e., Shariat or Karma-Kanda) to the life of inner realities (i.e., Tarikat or Moksha-Marga) involves two steps: (i) freeing the mind from the inertia of uncritical acceptance based upon blind imitation and stirring it to critical thinking, and (ii) bringing the results of critical and discriminative thinking into practical life. In order to be spiritually fruitful, thinking must be not only critical but creative. Critical and creative thinking leads to spiritual preparation by cultivating those qualities which contribute towards the perfection and balancing of the mind and the heart and the release of unfettered divine life."
21 August 2008
External Conformity and Spiritual Emancipation
The Two Levels of Christian Life: