Tradition, Convention and Dogma

Tradition is difficult to define. It can be described as a body of knowledge that is considered so valuable that it must be bequeathed from one generation to the next. Quite often it has a divine source or is based on supra-sensible perception or lacking that is based on superior knowledge and experience. Traditions generally have a set of seminal ideas that are their essence. Out of this they enfold. Around these seminal ideas a whole body of knowledge and practice grows from generation to generation. But traditions, if access to their core is lost, can become encrusted with what can be called convention and dogma. Both convention and dogma can become the greatest enemies of a tradition and in the end undermine it. Convention endangers tradition because it accepts without question subtle changes in interpretation or practice that may occur over time due to changes in consciousness or understanding and at worst may be fueled by those who would use such subtle changes to their own advantage. Convention is acceptance without understanding. Convention encourages sluggish thinking. It is the comfortable approach as it accepts without question and answers uncomfortable questions with, ‘it has always been done so’ or ‘my teacher has said it is so’ or ‘it is written thus.’

Dogma is more insidious. It takes a conventional interpretation of a traditions core ideas and turns them into canon, declaring ‘it can only be so.’ Sluggishness is replaced with militancy and questioning outside of the canon is declared heresy which is usually punished in one fashion or other. Other traditions are rejected on principal.

A tradition is not a monolith that stands in a field unchanged and unchanging, to  be protected from the elements and erosion. It is the field itself in which the seed of the tradition, its essence, is sown, nurtured and cultivated; grows, flowers, is pollinated, comes to fruit and then regenerates. The monolith, which embodies the verbal and written aspects of tradition, merely marks where the tradition can be found. It is the minds and hearts of those who cultivate the tradition that plant the seeds of their understanding in the soil of the field. That understanding which is in accord with the tradition thrives and prospers and keeps the field fertile. Convention leaches the fertility out of the field around the marking monolith. There is still growth but it is meagre by comparison. Dogma roots out all that grows in the field so that only the monolith remains and the field is barren.

The next articles are devoted to a simple question: is use of a square or circular chart based on convention or tradition and what does it show? Some of my conclusions may not be acceptable to everyone. That does not mean that anyone who does not agree with me is conventional or dogmatic. What it does mean is that I and you, dear reader, will try to tap into the core of the tradition or traditions presented and to the best of our abilities try to plant a few viable seeds and bring them to growth.

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2 thoughts on “Tradition, Convention and Dogma

  1. I think we’re cut from the same cloth when it comes to this topic. I find myself agreeing with all of this, but the second to last paragraph is truly masterful. Once in a while I go on a mini rant about the living tradition and the poison of dogmatism. I look forward to reader more of your work. Cheers, Peter

    • Hello Peter
      Anyone who contemplates tradition usually comes to a similar conclusion. Anyone who contemplates a tradition soon find that even one single thought can expand exponentially. I’m often surprised. Thank you for your thoughtful comment. Cheers, Th.

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