When it comes to understanding major aspects of human thought and behavior, in many cases the definitions of given words only complicate matters. From culture to culture, or even neighborhood to neighborhood, the same word can have a variety of conflicting meanings. This is partially due to the rapid pace of change in some parts of the world, where the transformation of language in other countries takes place at a decidedly slower rate.
These differences in definition can be applied to the study of religion. For some, the term itself encompasses not only the dogma and doctrine of an organized body, but also personal beliefs. Instead, the word "faith" is used by others to define an individual's own spirituality, which is often expressed within the framework of recognized religious practices.
The difference between philosophical ideologies and religious tenets is also sometimes blurred through inadequate definitions. Where philosophy is based on logical practicalities such as how to live and how the world functions, religion strives to answer a set of questions in ways which cannot always be proven, i.e. "Who made us?" and "What happens after we die?"
While both philosophy and religion can - and sometimes do - remain independent of each other, it is possible for religion to incorporate aspects of philosophy into its practices, and for philosophy to spark the creation of a religion.
Just this brief assessment of how definitions can confuse and cause divisions gives the reader a sufficient grasp of why members of one religious body may view those who hold different beliefs or practices with suspicion or animosity. Instead of the faith of all individuals being respected, the beliefs of some are seen as "right", while all other variations are labeled "wrong".
The fact is ignored that the purpose of faith is to bring an individual to spiritual enlightenment - which is another disputed term with countless definitions. For some, enlightenment means a vision of the deity being worshiped or an eternal reward in the paradise of their choosing. For others, enlightenment is a "oneness" with the universe. And there are those who strive for total comprehension of the innermost being, to the point where the self is deified, or becomes a god unto itself.
Still another aspect of this dynamic occurs when a person first realizes his "faith of origin" - the religion in which he was raised - does not fulfill his spiritual needs. The common tendency is to rebel against it in a direct manner. Thus, a Christian will tend toward that which is most "un-Christian" in its tenets. Most often, this involves one of the Pagan traditions, with their pantheistic male and female deities, or Satanism, the extreme rejection of herd "light" mentality in favor of all that is base and dark.
Another choice made by those with darker inclinations is Ceremonial Magick. Throughout Christian history, more intellectual practitioners have sought to contact and control entities extant in other realms of existence, practices those of fundamentalist mindsets viewed as heretical, because the nature of these spirits placed them in opposition to their idea of a "holy" Supreme Being.
In essence, there is nothing actually "wrong" or "evil" in any of these systems. That human beings are spiritual entities having a physical experience leaves the door wide open for individual interpretation of that experience. It is for each person to determine the benefits for his or her own self, through honest and informed deliberation. In other words, a person must discover the truth alone. No authority figure - parental, ordained or governmental - can force a set of beliefs on someone.
Doctrine, dogma and morals created solely by human beings to impose restrictions on others or dictate undue consequences for violations is the worst crime committed against humanity. When people define widely recognized religions - specifically Christianity - as the "right hand path", then the pursuit by others of ways to break the taboos and doctrines inherent in those systems is deemed (in mainstream eyes) as movement along the left hand path.
The idea of a left hand path extends back thousands of years to early Hindu beliefs. Even the practices of that ancient religion became unbalanced after a time, burying the "darker" facets of humanity beneath layers - often false - of "goodness". There were some who deliberately broke with societal and religions norms, to discover the truth within themselves: a blend of light and dark, neither of which is superior to the other.
Most often, these practitioners found this truth by not separating themselves from the world or viewing it as "evil". The opportunities presented - of whatever kind - by daily living in the world were relished by these people, instead of renounced. As the rule later came to be defined, "Indulgence instead of abstinence."
The idea of deities which assisted the individual or imposed punishment for misdeeds - in fact, the entire dualistic mindset - was rejected by adherents of the left hand path. This spiritual quest was the thinking being's option; no one dictated what the individual should believe or do. It was the responsibility of each to create a personal system of ethics, based not on society's standards, but on truth.
This, of course, led to some unacceptable behaviors, with even murder, rape and other crimes justified by the less knowledgeable seekers. For those who are sincere, educated and mature in their pursuit of the left hand path, however, a few things are set in concrete:
The inclusion of magickal practices or ritual work, which some bring to the left hand path from their previous belief systems, is optional. Many writers on the subject have dealt with the need for practitioners to be aware of (and make use of) the "Aeonic currents" or the various types of energies which permeate all existence. The type of energy being described isn't visible or measurable. It is neutral, moving constantly, and can be employed and redirected to a practitioner's desired ends. Learning how to make use of these energies can be most beneficial when working to achieve one's personal goals. It is a process which, nonetheless, takes considerable time and serious practice.
Rational thought processes might convince one it is necessary to find a teacher to provide instruction in these areas. Given the parameters of the teacher/student relationship - where the former passes along personal experience for the edification of the latter - it would be practically impossible for a formalized learning arrangement to work when it comes to the left hand path, because each person's quest is unique.
Each individual stands alone when it comes to determining, in a fully responsible way, the course of action of his or her life. Dedication to the knowledge and desires of the true self - spiritual, mental and physical, integrating facets light and dark, with neither being superior but both necessary to the wholeness of the being - and living by that truth, is paramount.
The left hand path requires absolute self-knowledge, and the understanding no dualities exist. It is the relinquishment of all preconceived notions which may have been programmed into the individual from the time of birth. This has to include methods "proven to work" by others. The individual reaches full realization, "I have no need of things seen or unseen," but the ability to make use of those things - entirely as the practitioner sees fit to fulfill his life goals, spiritual enlightenment and self-deification, without concern for the opinions of others - is what separates this path from all others.
In fact, there are innumerable methods left hand path practitioners can employ to attain self-knowledge and fulfillment of ultimate potential, because they are not limited by convention, conformity or the approval of others. It can be immersion in the business world, or material comforts, with the ultimate purpose being enlightenment, and not attachment to that which is being enjoyed. When those attachments begin to form, the goal of the left hand practitioner becomes clouded, achieving it ever more difficult.
Such detachment as practiced in this quest is, of course, subject to a balanced viewpoint. The left hand practitioner sees the self as "separate" from other human beings, untouched by the illusory influences of the mundane or feeble desires nurtured by the predominant consumer mindset reflected in media advertising. Still, there is a connection which remains inescapable,.
It must be acknowledged, without a connection to the material world and nature, no human being can survive. The need for sustenance, housing, clothes, etc., makes it impossible for any one person to stand totally alone. The action of nature, as well - with its weather patterns, growth cycles and pre-determined laws - forces the interaction of humanity with it, either in a pro-active or reactive sense. No one is outside the day to day flow of the natural world or the universal energies. Those who understand this honor the connection for its beauty and mystery, and benefit from it accordingly.
Followers of the left hand path can benefit, as well, from one of the methods most despised by society and religious authorities: sex. Again, dating back to ancient Hindu practices of Vama Marga, consciously willed sexual union can render tremendous change within the practitioner, and raise phenomenal energies to be used in magickal workings. The stipulation is, indeed, that the activity be consciously willed, and not merely a pleasant tumble in the hay to relieve one's primordial urges.
This is not to say the latter is unacceptable. The left hand practitioner is free to choose the purpose of a sexual act: for pleasure or geared toward enlightenment. Nothing is forbidden in that realm, so long as one's self-defined ethical parameters are observed. It is recommended to consider a few key factors involved in a left hand path sexual collaboration, using someone who as a regular partner, in order for the effort to produce viable results:
Whatever the methods chosen by the left hand practitioner, the epiphany of enlightenment brings with it transformations which cannot be described in mere human language. Experiences will occur - deemed "mystical" by some - where it may feel as if one's skull will crack, to let the mind be truly free of its physical confines and soar to the heights.
When a person comes to total self-knowledge, discovering and accepting all those facets of the being which may have been buried over time for so many unspeakable reasons, and integrating them into one's view of the world in a balanced way, the changes to the psyche are indescribable. In a similar manner, taking advantage of the countless opportunities offered by the world - whether it is enjoying a gorgeous sunset, buying new clothes or a car, being promoted at work, or enjoying a night of magickal sex - can also expand one's comprehension and initiate transformation at the deepest levels.
As these changes occur, there will be moments when the practitioner "touches" something outside the realm of the tangible, even though it is no less real than what the human senses can encounter. It is the "true self", the spiritual self, beyond the physical shell in which it is encased for this term of existence. As with the altered state of consciousness so often discussed in regard to magickal operations, this state extends beyond all human rules, skewing time, place and sensory input, though full consciousness of that true self remains intact.
This is because the true self belongs on the plane where tangible limitations do not apply. It is the being's real home and, while this experience is only temporary for some - settling back into their mundane life and soon forgetting the truth of the matter - the left hand path practitioner can remain thusly changed on a permanent basis, continuing to bask in this splendor and living the most complete life possible.
Depending on who is consulted, the definition of "mystical" or enlightened states cited here may be disputed. It remains undeniable, however, such states transpire as a consequence of adhering to the genuine left hand path. The blending of philosophy with spirituality or personal faith, though not necessarily formal religion, proves this a holistic and mature quest for serious seekers.
By clarifying just what is involved in following the left hand path, perhaps those who have associated the phrase specifically with Satanism or other "darker" lifestyles by mistake will gain an understanding beyond the accepted definitions and find the freedom within the self to reach absolute fulfillment of being.
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