Western philosophy has emphasized the autonomy of the individual, and encouraged thinking for yourself. What does your faith teach about the freedom of individual members to dissent from the faith's teachings and the consequences of their decision?

The goal of Buddhist practice is sometimes described as the "unshakeable deliverance of the heart." This is an inner realization that is deeper than thought. It is not merely an intellectual conclusion, a belief from scripture or teacher, a view held because of a cultural bias, or a popular idea based on a recent fad. This inner realization comes about through the patient and diligent work of a compassionate and ethical lifestyle, contemplative exploration of one's inner world and the development of heart and mind through meditation. This is of course more than thinking for yourself it is knowing for yourself.

This kind of knowing and personal development is greatly enhanced by spiritual companionship and the support of community. When there is disagreement within the community about the spiritual goal, about the method or the way of living one's life to realize that goal (and help others realize that goal), then the opportunity exists to deeply explore these differences and test the validity of one's insights and realizations. If the quest is for truth, then the ensuing dialogue should be fruitful both for the individual and the community as a whole.

Dissent, disagreement and doubt are very important for spiritual development because they call for a willingness to inquire into the nature of the issue. For each individual this means there has to be humility and openness to the perspectives of others. As well, it requires courage to express a contrary view that might not be easily heard by the group. Often times this is where spiritual communities gain strength and maturity because they are willing to hold the tension that dissent often engenders. Sadly it is often the time when things also fall apart. The consequences are dependent on the depth of wisdom and strength of compassion that each individual brings to the situation.

Ajahn Viradhammo

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