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Ritual Exists To Express Philosophy

Author: James Bulls
Posted: January 2nd. 2011
Times Viewed: 3,352

The most quoted Hermetic maxim is that of correspondence: “As above, so below; as below, so above.” To continue the logical extension of that maxim, “As within, so without; as without, so within.” The microcosm and the macrocosm operate not just in the planes of existence but also in the areas of thought and religion. In other words, base matter reflects subtle spirit the same as overt deeds reflect covert thought. The tangible expresses the intangible and observance of this pattern is to be found in all schools of religious and occult thought.

To illustrate this principle, consider the relation between rituals and philosophy (the inner and outer temples of knowledge, respectively.) Ritual and ceremony are the tangible expressions that communicate the truth and wisdom of intangible philosophy. To help illuminate this discussion, consider the varieties of martial arts. In the broadest sense, the goal of most styles of martial arts is to defend oneself against unwelcome aggression, but how different styles achieve this goal is something different.

Some styles place strong emphasis on personal and spiritual development so that the student learns to live harmoniously with others and make wise decisions, which prevent conflict in the first place, and other styles place strong emphasis on physical conditioning and fighting skills so that the student may defeat his enemies in physical combat. Unless you're training for military application or to participate in a sport fight, the differences between these styles are of little consequence.

Karate, Taekwondo, Kung-fu, and other hard styles were originally developed to teach the average man or woman to defend him or herself against the average aggressor. Gichin Funakoshi – who is widely considered the father of modern Karate – said that the ultimate goal of his practice is "to purge oneself of selfish and evil thoughts.” He taught that living an honorable life and avoiding conflict was the best path and did not think it unusual for a student to use Karate in a real physical confrontation only once in a lifetime.

With respect to martial arts, the intangible thought is that one must be able to avoid or defend against unwelcome aggression, and the tangible expression is the instructional curriculum. In other words, the philosophy of the style creates the curriculum of the style. Of the thousands of varieties of martial arts taught today, few of them are similar and most of them distinguish themselves with unique techniques and innovative applications.

Novices attempt to explain the differences between these fighting systems by arguing that one style is stronger than another style, or will say that the physical techniques and applications taught in a particular system do by their very virtue elevate the system above all others. Novices will argue that circular movements are superior to straight movements (and vice versa) , or that punching is more powerful than kicking (and vice versa) , or that grappling is stronger than striking (and vice versa) , and so on in order to show which style is the strongest.

The mature student will immediately recognize the argument and understand that the question isn't “Which martial art is stronger?” but “Which martial artist is stronger?” Skills, knowledge, abilities, and intuition count for much more than the limitations or structured definitions of a single martial art. The mature student will recognize that structured curriculum exists only so that the novice may learn the underlying philosophy.

Returning to the discussion of religion, philosophy, and occult knowledge we see how the discussion of martial arts illuminates our knowledge. “As within, so without, ” so the philosophy of a fighting style and knowledge of its founder which dictate the physical curriculum are similar to the way in that the philosophy or underlying principles of a religion and its founder are expressed in the rites, rituals, ceremonies, and overt forms of worship.

Consider the variety of denominations within Christianity. Broadly speaking, Christians believe that the incarnate son of the God of Abraham Jesus Christ died for their sins and made it possible for them to return to the presence of their Father in heaven. Christians believe that a variety of saving ordinances are necessary for one's redemption and that the authority to perform these saving ordinances is made possible only through the intervention of the chosen few who serve in the priesthood. Outside of this shared philosophy, the tangible expressions (rites, rituals, ceremonies, etc.) of these respective faiths differ because the founder, teacher, or leaders of these organizations differ.

Looking away from the field of Christianity and back toward the occult community this pattern is the same: the knowledge or philosophy of the teacher is expressed in tangible rituals or other means of ritual observance. In my personal experience this is nowhere more evident than in the Reiki community. Reiki teachers share common beliefs such as the presence of universal life energy in all living things, but beyond that they differ greatly: many Reiki instructors do not use the same sacred symbols, most do not use the same method of initiating new students, and it is increasingly common for instructors to teach applications which were never taught in the past. Despite these significant metaphysical and spiritual differences, Reiki instructors worldwide continue to have great success channeling and teaching others to channel universal life energy and recipients continue to give miraculous healing testimonies.

As you've read above with respect to martial arts and Christianity, the differences between different styles of Reiki are easily explained: the philosophy and underlying principles define the outward expressions and tangible rituals. Many Reiki instructors make the unfortunate mistake of defending their practices through legalism and rest on the premise that there is only one true or correct method. They correctly maintain an orthodox position in their teaching because their knowledge and practices are guided by the philosophy of the founder, but they incorrectly apply their orthodox beliefs to all other practices and fall into legalism and the belief that their path is the one and only true path (to the exclusion of all others.)

As much as some of us don't appreciate the patronizing dictates of churches that believe that non-members are ignorant of the truth and must be educated and corrected, the exact same discussion appears in some circles of the Reiki community. Some instructors teach that all other styles of Reiki are invalid or that one's ability to channel universal life energy is invalid if the style isn't in the original form taught in Japan or if the student in question didn't study with an instructor trained in the accepted method. What these instructors fail to acknowledge is that the rituals, ceremonies, and initiations performed in different styles of Reiki exist because the philosophy or guiding principles differ. These differences aren't debated by the recipients of Reiki but only by those who teach Reiki and feel the need to defend, justify, promote, or enforce their philosophy.

Rituals only exist in order to enable expression – where the thought is different, so too will the rituals be different. Do the differences between the rituals used in different styles of Reiki invalidate all those who don't practice in the original pattern? If you answer yes, then that invalidates nearly all Reiki practitioners and teachers outside of a very small number of people in Japan. If you answer no, then you've discovered the truth that rituals enable the tangible expression of intangible thought and that rituals in and of themselves have no power other than what we give to them. “As within, so without; as without, so within.”


James Bulls

Location: Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario


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