Religious tradition has often been a negative factor in the world. It sets up various authorities and conditioning patterns that stifle individual intelligence and creativity. It establishes vested interests who war with one other to control the minds of people. It appears that we would be better off without it. However, if we look deeply, we see that such criticisms do not apply to tradition itself, which is continuity in a field of knowledge, but to authoritarianism, which is not even beneficial for maintaining a living tradition.
It is not possible to avoid tradition. We must develop teachings that grow and continue with time. This development through time itself becomes tradition. As soon as a teaching endures beyond the lifetime of a teacher it becomes a tradition. Or as soon as it expands beyond the teachings of one person, it becomes a tradition. One person in isolation cannot accomplish much in any field.
Without a tradition of science to work from, what can one person do in the name of science, for example? Just as we need continuity, which is tradition, in other branches of learning, so we must have it in the spiritual realm. Otherwise each person is compelled to start from the beginning.
Culture and intelligence are collectively developed phenomena. They are the product of many people working together over a long period of time. Tradition is important in all that we do. Language, for example, cannot be developed by one person alone. It is part of a great collective effort. A comprehensive and open spiritual tradition is the need of our times. Tradition provides a guideline of experience to help us grow.
Yet a religious or spiritual tradition must be kept open and alive and not become rigid or authoritarian. For this it must base itself not on fixed forms but on living spiritual experience. Tradition should be a field of resources for all to benefit from, not a set of dogmas no one is allowed to question.
Taken from ‘Hinduism: The Eternal Tradition’ by David Frawley