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I’ll get right to the point: I’m not a fan of appeals to tradition.

The reason is simple. There are two primary ways that one can approach the teachings of a well-established spiritual tradition; either one uses the tradition, or the tradition uses them.

How can you tell the difference? That’s pretty simple, too. Those who are used by their tradition show more trust in some particular interpretation of a set of teachings over both their own experience, and/or the experience of flesh and blood beings who are actually awake. When you are used by your tradition, you’ll find yourself saying things like, “But the Buddha said…” (insert any prominent spiritual figure, past or present, in place of “the Buddha” if you’d like), or, “Well, how can you say that when Buddhism has always taught that…” as if one can even know real Buddhism is with any real confidence.

It’s quite a different story when one uses tradition, rather than the other way around. In fact, one who uses a tradition will likely be using traditions, as in, more than one. They look for matching descriptions sometimes, and other times for clues into what might come next. They’re less trusting of anything firmly established, for in rigidity and inflexibility are usually signs of illness or death.

The truth of the matter is this: no awakened woman or man has ever explained the path nor the result in precisely the same way. There are always differences, and these should in no way be swept under the rug. With strong confidence in any tradition comes a lack of confidence in one’s realization. You’ll never see a truly awakened person sticking to the stuffy, traditional script laid down before them by some other religious authority who came before them. If it’s genuine, it’s uniquely conveyed. If it’s partial or phony, it will sound just as you would expect it to. Ingenuous awakening is never expressed in bad faith.

The fact that awakened beings communicate their realizations to such varying degrees is not cause for alarm. Those who are rule by tradition, however, will see the lack of consistency and insist that at least ONE of them must be right, and the others wrong. “Guru So-And-So is the true example of awakening, and all those other guys are either fakes or less realized.” And it is in this very act of looking for authority outside of themselves that leads them on their everlong search for something that is right under their noses.

My advice, which you are free to accept or reject, is to pay attention to the ways that tradition is using you. If you’re looking around for an awakening that fits the description given in some tradition, forget it. It will never be like you imagined. For example, no matter how many times you imagined what it would be like, or had dreams about it, or heard others’ descriptions, or even watched it on cable TV, I would venture to guess that having sex was in most ways spectacularly different than you imagined it to be. (for those of you who have had sex, of course. Kissing works as an example as well.) Awakening is like that, and it’s just as life changing.

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