In approaching the issue of spiritual freedom/self-agency in todays world both from a personal and collective perspective, it is imperative to look at our individual and collective history and be most wise in our choices based on that analysis. Ever since the Age of Enlightenment, reason was brought to center-stage in the Western World and together with it a rational point of view. From an economics perspective, capitalism has put deep individualistic roots and tendencies in most of us. When it comes to the path of spiritual development, this self-agency or freedom given by our individualistic mindset can be of help as the Buddha highlighted: “You yourselves must make the exertion. The Buddhas are only teachers.” (as cited in Jiyu-Kennet, 1971, pp. 4) In the end, for you to really get to a satisfactory level of realization and spiritual discernment, you need agency, you need to be able to steer and enact the process (Caplan, 2009). However, with a lot of freedom, there come a lot of dangers one has to guard against, dangers of the neurotic ego that tries to constantly juggle around with different practices, teachers and paths. Commitment issues, fear of actually making progress, fear of change, inertia etc. are all real and affecting any spiritual practitioner, especially the ones that keep full freedom and self-agency (Wilber, 2017). I have seen this in too many of my friends and in the society around me, when things get real from a spiritual point of view or when actual commitment is necessary, most of them quickly turn away and embrace a different path, teacher, philosophy or even worse, when they stop practicing, they start purchasing spiritual paraphernalia in the naïve belief that it would compensate.
What is needed for individuals and for our culture alike is proper intimacy with oneself and full honesty. Yes, we all have Buddha Nature or whatever one prefers to call it, and yes based on the example of quite a few remarkable beings, we all (at least theoretically) have the capacity to develop and reach spiritual mastery (Jivanescu, 2018). The Buddha did it on his own and so can we. But wait a minute, what might be wrong with that? Aren’t we very arrogant in assuming we are all right now at such a potential level? Can we really trust ourselves with so much? Is someone whom we could respect and learn from so hard to find or are we so good and special that no one lives up to our expectations? I strongly believe that not ceding one’s autonomy to just any Guru or teacher is most wise, indeed one should not cede all autonomy, however I also believe it is rather naïve to think we alone are best suited to be responsible for our entire spiritual maturation process. We do not really need ‘traditional’ Gurus, the times have changed, but we most certainly would benefit from a community of friends, from guides and from a peer-reviewed lineage of more advanced practitioners. Being in control, be that in business or in our sex life is both important and pleasurable, however giving up control can also be an equally alluring thrill if one is able to trust the other.
Caplan, M. (2009). Eyes wide open: Cultivating discernment on the spiritual path.
Boulder: Sounds True.
Jivanescu, V. (2018). A sincere call to action, Quantum Civilization manifesto. Retrieved
February 5th, 2019 from the World Wide Web: https://quantumcivilization.com/about/a_sincere_call_to_action/
Jiyu-Kennet, R. (1971). Zen is Eternal Life. London Routledge
Wilber, K. (2017). The Religion of Tomorrow. Boston: Shambhala Publications