Mixing Traditions

the Basica

  There are times when extracting or distilling something you need from something else is appropriate and times when it is not. Consider nutritive or medicinal herbs. First, you do not take them without good cause, and you do not wish to choose the wrong one. Then it is best to think about what you are pulling from the rest of the plant and why. Are you removing for your use what you think of as the "active ingredient" while abandoning other elements that may be of a value you have not understood? What balancing or harmonizing properties might you be losing? In concentrating and consuming just one component, might you be unintentionally overwhelming your system? Might you even be mistaken about which part will provide you with what you are really looking for? On the other hand, If you cannot ever separate anything from anything else, not only can you never identify what specific thing you may need, you cannot determine what might not be useful to you or what might actually interfere with the result you seek and even potentially do you harm.

  While it may never be possible for us to discover and recreate the original spiritual beliefs and practices of humanity, this is not necessarily desirable to do, either. However, let us recognize that the religions we know today, even though many of them may be very old, all contain at least something of what came before them. They sprang not only from direct spiritual contact and unique vision but also the cultures in which they were born, one or more of the religions that already existed at that time, and the knowledge and wisdom their founders or germinators were personally exposed to in one way or another. They then continued to develop under those influences, to varying degrees, as more people gathered within those traditions. Later followers, exploring and reflecting as they went, discovered new ideas and came to further realizations.

  It is one thing to learn the wisdom of life from more than one tradition or to let your beliefs evolve due to the greater understanding of spiritual truth you find. Teachings from the traditions of others can be comforting, inspiring, or enlightening by offering ideas that may not already be known to you or presenting familiar things in ways that are fresh to your mind. All that is necessary to do in order to prevent conflict is to examine the teachings to make sure they do not violate the principles of your own tradition, whether yours is individual or communal. However, adoption of the practices of other traditions is a separate matter to consider.

  Some practices are meant to be shared and are offered in just that way. Others may be specific enough to the community, land, history, and/or belief system of their source that to lift them from their context renders them irrelevant, ineffective, even nonsensical. Furthermore, looting is a strange way to show respect for a people and their ways. Does what you gain by it justify the hurt you may inflict in the process and genuinely serve the greater good of all? Consider what you really hope to accomplish.

  When you are welcome to share, be sure you know what you are getting into. Suppose someone tells you about a chant and says it is about peace and harmony. Do you know the language it is in? Are you sure it says what you have been told? What if it does but also contains expressions of devotion to a god you do not worship, promises you do not intend to keep, the statement that you are performing an act you are not actually engaging in, the declaration that you are something you are not, or some kind of sentiment about the living of a lifestyle completely foreign to anything you have any personal experience with? Suppose it is a call and response between a lead speaker and a group, so that it sounds silly to say it alone? What if it is designed to be recited by clergy before doing some special kind of ritual about which you have no knowledge and which you would have no intention of ever performing yourself anyway?

  Share when it is right, and share responsibly - both in giving and receiving. Desiring a thing does not make it ours to take. And when something is made available, only by respecting what we are dealing with can we enjoy its full fruits and be aided properly by its ability to bring us closer to the spiritual communion we seek.

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