From Guidelines to Religion

Guidelines are not the same as rules. When a guideline gets narrowed to a requirement, it becomes a rule. A rule becomes dogma when it is enshrined into a belief system, which becomes religion when applied externally, to others.

Lately, when I’ve been thinking about path-walking, I have wondered: how does a guideline become a rule?

It helps to start with taking the word guideline apart. Guide + line. A boundary that lets you be aware of when you have wandered into an area or direction that will not result in the destination you intend.

At some point in being channeled by a guideline, we begin to apply measures to how well we’re operating within it. Measures give you a sense of the current trajectory of your path — how far you are from the ideal center of the trajectory you want.

When we rest on the measures, they solidify to rules. We replace general with specific. We confuse direction with plotted itinerary. We learn to place our steps in a specific way in order to say we’re on track.

You replace learning of the Divine with learning the skills involved in placing your feet in a certain way in order to be called The Way to the divine or to divinity. You obey the rules rather than get the most from what the landscape and obstacles in your course teach you.

You read the words of the specific road signs without understanding the terrain they point you through.

This result is mostly a combination of memory lapse and not understanding what a guideline is. Memory lapse plays its part in not remembering that the rule you derived from a guideline is merely a memory aid of what the guideline is meant to do. It’s a snapshot of a passing landmark as you travel down the path at speeds where you barely notice details.

It’s not understanding that a guideline is a recommendation or general definition of what it means to accomplish thus and such. It is easily confused with rules when we want to codify specific elements of the guideline – create a recipe of landmarks and formalize particular pathwalking navigation skills.

You cannot fail at pathwalking if you maintain a divine-ward trajectory defined by guidelines that allow you to perceive the core.  You can fail if all you’re tracking are the surface rules at the expense of consciousness of the core.

One Response

  1. When tradition is thought to state the way things really are, it becomes the director and judge of our lives; we are, in effect, imprisoned by it. On the other hand, tradition can be understood as a pointer to that which is beyond tradition: the sacred. Then it functions not as a prison but as a lens.

    ~ Marcus Borg

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