The Spirit of the Law
We live in a world teeming with rules and regulations while at the same time the human spirit is yearning for greater freedom of expression. How we reconcile these two opposing factors remains one of the big questions of our times. To quote the Roman historian, Tacitus: “The more corrupt the state, the more laws” – an interesting thought to ponder upon in relation to the complexity of burgeoning legal systems of modern societies.
Although there is much corruption, this complexity is evidence of other phenomena as well. The kinetic energy of the human race is increasing dramatically as its mental and emotional faculties unfold. Human ingenuity is constantly launching new ideas and initiatives and these all need regulating to ensure that they don’t infringe the rights of others. These rights in turn are constantly being redefined, leading to further new laws, rules and regulations. Until the higher, spiritual faculties of the human race unfurl and assume control of its thoughts, feelings and actions, complex man-made laws are necessary impositions simply to maintain some semblance of civil order.
Unsurprisingly though, the growing intricacy of law and order is being paralleled by a rebellion against authority of all kinds. In technologically developed countries, the voice of public opinion is more informed, sure of itself and consequently louder, leading, in most cases, to a greater democratisation of society.But alongside this, the championing of minor personal rights and gain has contributed to an excessive focus on the letter of the law with its stifling effect on society.A bewildering amount of dos and don’ts are now enshrined in law concerned with relatively minor issues and offences, while the greater crimes often go unpunished due to clever legal manipulations. As the law grows more complex, so does the potential to challenge one law with another and to defend misdemeanours through clauses, loopholes and obfuscation.
Perhaps though, this is all to be expected in the “meeting place” between the old age of the privileged few and the new age of universal rights that we are entering.Maybe it is a temporary side effect of the enormous freeing-up process that is occurring worldwide as people rise to take on autocracy, corruption and injustice. In undemocratic countries this is a great cause for rejoicing and indeed we should admire the bravery displayed. But in the world’s democracies, freedoms gained through centuries of suffering, conflict and heroic endeavour could be strangled by the insidious creeping in of an age of legislation.
Several centuries ago, the philosopher Jeremy Bentham observed, “every law is an infraction of liberty”. But the only escape from this situation is the realisation that true freedom is only found when it is actively sought for through service to others. In the words of Alice Bailey, “the idea of freedom can itself constitute a prison. There are no free souls anywhere, except those who of free choice imprison themselves and find themselves within and by the law of service.” If we are not to crucify the human spirit through entanglement in the letter of the law, we need to live more by its spirit, and to let our thoughts and deeds be on behalf of humanity, not just ourselves. Our actions must be guided by one great law of love – that attractive principle in the universe through which right relationships at all levels of manifestation are built and sustained. Only through right relationships can the love of God flow unimpeded throughout creation and true freedom be found.
Religious and philosophical teachings have set before us the spiritual laws with which to live our lives.We have the Christ’s injunction to “Love one another” and the Buddha’s familiar Noble Eightfold Path to right living and relationships: right values, right aspiration, right speech, right conduct, right modes of living, right effort, right thinking and right rapture or joyfulness. Since their first utterance, these simple tenets have now become crucial to humanity’s future and no longer just an ideal for the individual aspirant.But are they too obvious, too simple, for humanity to recognise their power as solutions to world problems?
Essentially, human laws are, or should be a reflection of spiritual principles, a means of safely containing the released potential energy of groups of people, organising and directing it for the shared benefit of all. As humanity is still learning to appreciate the concept of “shared benefit” as opposed to that of “vested self-interest”, the organisational aspect grows ever more complex in order to contain rogue elements that harm the group good. As long as individuals try to take more from a group than they put in, others are deprived of an equitable share of the group energy; competitiveness, disharmony, vice and finally, disease, then inevitably follow – the “Tragedy of the Commons” being a prime example of this.
While Tacitus saw the corruption of the Roman state in the number of its laws, we look around and see quite a different trend in the many international laws and agreements of our times. Behind the letter of these agreements, the movement towards integration and group sharing is clearly discernable. In a world whose problems are global, there is a growing recognition of the need to encompass all the rights – of individuals, nations and the one humanity alike. The need to act together in the face of shared concerns is edging the laws of right relationship towards the forefront of human consciousness. Midst the complexity of world affairs and the suffering of its peoples, the signs are there that Humanity is awakening to the spirit of the one great law – the simple law to love one another.