The last thing most people want to do is to “vow” themselves to something – an organization, a religion, a spiritual teacher. Rightfully so. There are too many examples of the abuse of power perpetrated in the name of spirituality. Even when vows are administered with the understanding that they are taken to God and not an organization or a person, they usually wind up becoming just that – a means to govern and control the spiritual lives of others. I believe that the entire concept of vows needs to be re-envisioned in a way that serves people, not corral them into a prescribed way of life or ideology.
The vows are not about what we have to do. Nor are they about what we have to not do. We can’t do anything anyway, not of ourselves. So why make them a “have-to”? The vows are states of consciousness. Taking them opens the door to the experience of those states. Thinking that you will have to change yourself if you take vows is like thinking that you will have to change your personality if you move to a different city. You will take on a different character with time, that’s for sure, but that isn’t something you can make happen. No one changes by force of will, either yours or someone else’s. God does the changing. All you have to do is show up.
The nine Lesser Mysteries were designed to teach people basic moral principles, so that they could begin to bring the animal part of their nature up to a certain level of refinement and development. We’ve all been through these initiations. But the tendency is to think that we have to continually revisit them, because the slightest act of selfishness, pride, avarice, anger, or lust makes us edgy. We start to doubt ourselves, and we begin to feel unworthy of the Higher Mysteries of Illumination, Self-realization, and the Priesthood. If we try to perfect that which has already been sufficiently established, we are only wasting valuable time. It is egotistical to strive for perfection, because perfection serves no purpose in this world, except to prove yourself better than others. Good is good enough.
The Lesser Mysteries raised our consciousness to the level where we could recognize the existence of higher worlds. Physical survival is no longer that important, spiritually speaking. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, as Joseph Campbell points out, carries no weight in the lives of artists and mystics. The Vision is the important thing, even more important than life itself. “He who loses his life will find it.” We all have a vision; it is what carries us forward in our spiritual strivings. If we are not obedient to the energies that arise out of that vision, our life becomes a living hell.
The vows are not meant to be enforcement mechanisms. Maybe they were at one time, but not now. The laws of God have been written in our hearts, and no one needs to tell us right from wrong. Now, disobeying our conscience requires a concerted effort of will on our part, whereas then we had no choice but to simply obey our instincts. Conscience had not yet come into existence.
The vows are openings into higher states of consciousness. They are meant for us to use as tools to help us achieve our higher calling into God-consciousness. They are made for us; we are not made for them. If we know that we are on the spiritual path, no one has to coax us. No one has to convince us that we should seek reality. We already know that that’s what we want, and we look for anything and everything that will help us get there. If we can see the vows as aids along the Way, they start to look attractive. We take them willingly. We understand that they strengthen our relationship with God, not weaken it. We don’t need layers of intermediaries between us and the Self. Rather than tell us what we have to do, the vows show us the reality they represent.