Tricky thing, language. Most especially tricky when used on ineffable subjects - life, death, love, spirit, god, and so on. From time to time people (or people-like beings) have come along and had some stuff to share with us, to show us, about those things we usually do not experience - but which we long for. Stories are legion of both ordinary people and devoted disciples experiencing through a master (please note I use the term 'master' in a non-gendered way) a 'zap', a transmission, an opening, a samadhi, whatever you wish to call it - a moment of connection with the divine. Stories also abound of those who have followed their own path within a 'way' and found what for them amounted to an enlightenment.
Invariably, as is happening right here and now, words come along to describe something of these phenomena. I think we might all agree that words are quite simply not up to the task of even describing the feeling of a light rainfall on one's upturned face - an event that most of us have experienced in this material dimension - let alone a glimpse of god, or an experience of unconditional love.
Words can even get in the way. Our wonderful minds have played a great part in our rapid evolution as a species, and we are very attached to them. For our minds to comprehend something beyond our usual senses, they need some sort of frame of reference to use - and mostly, we use language. But as soon as we use a word to describe something completely immaterial, and beyond our 3rd dimensional limitations, we have imposed a limit on it. Thus not just failing to describe it well, but coralling the experience somehow into something necessarily smaller than it is.
It's very difficult for a well-intentioned teacher to help others move closer to divinity through received wisdoms without words. Words are how we mostly communicate concepts. Then the words are written down, the master passes on, and it falls to others to interpret the words and promulgate the message. Invariably dogma thus arises. Those promoting this way of seeing for one reason or another are often tempted to compare 'their' way with others, perhaps to satisfy the ever-hungry mind, or just to keep their followers feeling happy and secure with their faith. Maybe even because they belive that theirs truly is the bestest, the truthiest way. And what all too often results when this is taken to its most unbalanced extremes is the stuff of every international news bulletin. And the core of discontentment in most societies.
All of this is a bit of a shame, because we are blessed here to have some truly deep spiritual paths and traditions to shine lights for us on earth - the words can be so moving and beautiful, and used well can lead us into wondrous revelation and experience - just as long as we haven't been indoctrinated with exactly what to expect of such an experience.
Hey, don't take my word for any of this please - it's all opinion, remember? As is everything you think or say about it. And that's all just fine. Until we are all perfectly one (if that ever happens) our realities will of course be different.
So here's a whole set of dilemmas. At the heart of pretty much every religion or philosophy is something pure and true which can be accessed by the seeker to help along their path. Also within these religious and philosophical traditions are certain practices - old and refined or newly inspired - that can have great benefit for the one who seeks growth. On the other hand, our ability to get at these 'hearts' is so often stymied by the words involved, and our quest to intellectually understand it all. Just as much of an obstacle can be a stubborn refusal to use one's mind to seek greater openness to a teaching or way, as when a student simply decides they 'now understand' something. Because the words can only ever be pointers, not definers. The subjest matter is indefinable.
So do you reject all the teachings because they're necessarily imperfectly communicated?
Maybe. Buddha basically sat until he worked through it all, then sat without working at all, until he 'got it.' Not forgetting though, that he'd already had a priveleged and princely education prior to his journey inwards.
Do you embrace the teachings, hoping that by somehow trying to live as good an example of the dogma as you can that you shall see god (etc)?
Maybe, for there are countless examples of wonderful people full of light and love who adhere to a strict form of faith and profess great connectedness with the divine as they perceive it.
Or do you go for a hybrid, attempting to avoid the pitfalls of organised religion and politics, yet learn from the deep wellsprings of wisdom they have accreted through the centuries while maintaining an independent path?
Maybe. As the water in the well reaches for the water table below, so our souls reach for the great soul-mass of the divine. Perhaps like water we will seek the easiest possible route in the moment.
Not that I think there's any right answer - I can only speak for myself.
I think I spoke in an earlier post of Bruce Lee. Most people know him as a film star and one of the 20th century's most prominent martial artists. He was also a student of philosophy, amongst other things, and his personal philosophies are known outside of the realm of martial arts. He was a seeker of knowledge and wisdom, believing that all knowledge ultimately leads to self-knowledge, syaing simply that his chosen means of self-expression was martial arts. He set out to create the best, most effective bare-hand fighting system possible. To this end, he studied a great variety of martial disciplines in order to fully understand their 'heart' and what made them work.
"Use only that which works, and take it from any place you can find it"
was a key concept to the development of his martial system, Jeet Kune Do. This was one very important aspect, one which set him apart from the vast majority of traditional martial artists and indeed thinkers of the day. Equally important though was his assertion that one should...
"...not deny the classical approach, simply as a reaction, or you will have created another pattern and trapped yourself there."
Jeet Kune Do is really a toolbox, and Lee's intent was that in order to be truly effective one needs to truthfully express oneself, to be free of form and limiting pattern, to "flow or crash like water," to find one's own unique way.
For me, this all feels good and right. I'm certainly not trying to synthesize a system or be 'the best' at anything, just wanting to grow in a way that is the most honest for me. This is not a race, or a competition, after all. I guess I was given such an enquiring mind and whatever intuitive facilities as I have for a good set of reasons; and as my physical self becomes more limited, so my internal life becomes richer, and my sense of divinity more splendid.
I see that even the 'fundamentalists' have a chance. (ASIDE: the term 'fundamentalists' is so misleading, isn't it? These are by and large people who adhere to obscure interpretations of religious writings as if they represent the core values of faith. spirituality, and godliness. To my mind a fundamental principle of, say, Christianity, would be tolerance and forgiveness, as Jesus seemed to be teaching) For within a genuine desire to come closer to divinity, regardless of the way or dogma chosen, regardless of the limitations inherent therein, life does tend to find a way. Just like that water thing, it will always find a way in eventually.
And it is true, that the individualist seeker may benefit from the learnings of those who went before, on many paths - not having to continually reinvent the wheel is one of the reasons our species has come so far so fast, yes? Just as it is true that those on a well-worn path can benefit from seeking further from the track.
There are truths everywhere, and what seems truest to you will probably depend on your ability to perceive - in many ways a legacy of all your past experiences. So if it works for you, let it be true. But keep your heart and mind open, for you never know when something even truer will come along.