How Might Individuals Choose Which System of Guidance Is Suited for Them?
Once we realize that there are both universal and tailored forms of guidance, the question then becomes one of how to decide which tailored form, if any, is best for a given person to select in order to aid in both following what is universal and also discovering and sharing what is unique and special about that individual. People often decide to continue to follow the religion with which they were raised, but not everyone can do this. Some find the religion of their youth to be inappropriate for them for some reason. Others were not raised in a religious environment at all and must chose without parental help which path they must take and whether or not it includes any particular spiritual beliefs and practices.
There are two things to do in choosing a path. One is to pray for guidance. The other is to actively explore options. Prayer is done to open ourselves to learning what is asked of us, both before and after coming across possibilities. Exploration helps us discover those possibilities and consider them carefully. Thus we are both receptive to help and participating fully in our own search. The balance between the two leads us in the appropriate direction.
Here are some questions that might help someone evaluate whatever spiritual ways/paths/systems they may come across:
These are only some of the things a person might consider. Many other questions might arise while finding one's way in a world of many faiths.
- Does this path include guidance that, as best I can determine, expresses what is universal in some way or allows people to arrive at what is universal by some direct logic because of what is taught?
- Does this path make enough sense to my rational mind and allow me to think for myself to the degree I feel is necessary rather than asking me to believe or obey too many things or people I find arbitrary, meaningless, petty, dictatorial, or heavy-handed?
- Can I reasonably place my trust in this path, its teachings, and the ultimate form of spirit toward which it is directed - enough to make a committment to it, even when I'm unsure of myself, my situation, others around me, and what the future might hold? (In other words, can I have or develop faith?)
- Am I comfortable with and trusting of those within this path whose task it is to teach, help, and advise me, if there are any? Am I comfortable with and trusting of their authority structure, if there is one?
- Will the rituals, prayers, offerings, clothing, stories, and other customs specific to this path help me to conduct myself honorably, learn about life, understand myself, show my faith, deal with hardship, strengthen my spirit, and express my joy?
- Do I believe I can live up to the demands of this path to the degree expected of me? Will I be a better person for doing so and even just for trying?
- Am I satisfied with what this path has to say about reality, the purpose of life, what comes after death of the body, and what the nature of spirit is, in the individual and/or in its ultimate form? Does this path try to explain too little for me? Does it try to explain too much?
- Does this path encourage me to be of service to others as well as to see to my own needs?
- Does this path focus on guidance and spirit rather than on a charismatic leader, even if such a leader happens to be present?
- Am I free within this path to ask whatever questions I might have and to seek answers in appropriate ways?
- Do I have the freedom to leave the group associated with this path if I come to feel it no longer is right for me?
- Can I feel that I'm living my own life and fulfilling the purpose of that life while following this path rather than only serving the group of followers or the leader?
- Does this path refrain from asking me to do things or take on attitudes I believe are wrong, foolish, confused, or unnecessarily dangerous?
- Are others who follow this path examples of good character in both behavior and motivation? Do they seem happy and satisfied with life, themselves, and this path, even when times are difficult for them?
- Do I feel this path will open me to greater things in some way?
- Does this path feel like "home" to me? Do I feel any special calling to live in this way, regardless of anyone else I may or may not know who is also following it? Does it stir me inside?
- Am I confident that I'll still want to follow this path even when my life is very different from the way it is now? Do I think it will be right for me in both easy and difficult times? Will I try just as hard to stick to it either way?
- Do I feel I've had a sufficient amount of time and space to privately consider this path properly before making a commitment to it? Am I acting independently of any fear that I need to decide or commit now, lest I never will for some reason?
To keep a good perspective on any path we choose, it helps to be clear about our expectations concerning what we can accomplish within ourselves with it, what we can give by way of or because of it, and what it can do outwardly for us: Fantasy is fun, but do we want to follow something that leads us deeper into it, as though the purpose of religion were only earthly entertainment? Acknowledging common values and other shared elements between traditions can help bring us together, but is a haphazard, mix-and-match practice or a dismissal of the many differences from one faith to the next the best way to respect and reach out to each other? Faith and prayer can aid us, but are we just wanting someone to worship in the hope that all our troubles and flaws will be taken care of for us? Unity can give us strength and connection, but is our search for the right religion just a quest for earthly power and control or an escape from loneliness? Knowing about things not commonly understood and realizing things not readily apparent can be thrilling, but are we in it to feel superior, thinking only what is secret and withheld from the average person by select individuals can have true worth? And are we doing and thinking as we do because we really believe it's right or because we hope that with our actions and our adopting of an approved religion we can commit spiritual bribery or hedge our bets for the afterlife? Once we know what we're in it for, we can be more likely to find and recognize the direction in which we need to go.
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