Living up to the Past

Let’s take a moment and ponder how traditions survive. Like ones started either in pre-historic or chaotic times: schools of philosophy, martial arts, religion, art or science. It is always amazing to us (or to me, at least) that various things have survived the ages.

I have two lines of thought in this area.

One – most of human culture did not or has not survived because it was destroyed or all its proponents were killed, died or failed to maintain their tradition. I mean that only a small fraction of humanity’s inventions and explorations have been passed on to us. Which brings us to my second point…

Two – traditions can only survive through exceptional diligence and perseverance.

Are the traditions passed on to us the best that humanity has had to offer? We know even from recent experience that the victors of war and political power, the dominating forces of the world, will write and thus censor records of events. However, there are many cases of traditions being passed on “underground”, in secret. Traditions which are thought to be extinct and still yet survive. What is interesting is the importance of historical documents. Historical documentation is the evidence used by third-person parties to recognize the tradition under examination. So without historical documentation from an “authoritative” source, traditions are not usually acknowledged by nations and cultural institutes. Documentation can be dated, a kind of time-stamp we can put on things, which can then hold up under scientific scrutiny.

Which leads us to recognize that gaining recognition of one’s tradition, while prestigious, is not the essential facet of it’s survival. Rather, survival has nothing to do with records, and more to do with day-to-day practice and repetition. Day-to-day practice is the key to mastery in any devotional art, and the real secret to passing on a tradition and lineage. Because here we can also see another similar idea: that each day is actually a generation, and a tradition only survives by being passed from generation to generation. In this sense, traditions are a vividly real link to our ancestors, of which one needs no outside verification. Survival is the message.

When a tradition is placed under the ill-fated circumstances of being persecuted by the country’s law, the dedication to tradition is put to the test. Dedication to tradition is measured by what it means to its practitioners. Which is all that really matters in a modern age. Old traditions no longer are the same key to survival, but their importance or enjoyment can indeed be proportionate to the level of significance they held in securing the survival of human or cultural lineages. In this same line of thinking, modern laws erode cultural artifacts by making them expensive and no longer necessary for the same reasons.

Modern technology puts a new spin on these ideas. As culture becomes more expensive to maintain in our modern life, our awareness of our culture and ancestry depends more and more upon historical recognition. A smaller number of people to uphold traditions in their daily lives means cultural preservation relies upon historical evidence more than ever before. Also a product of the modern world, is the criteria by which traditions are preserved. One can suppose that quality overcomes quantity in the end, which is similar to wondering whether the warrior who survives in battle is necessarily the virtuous one.

The modern era has given birth to an extreme plethora of cultural variety. A higher ratio than ever before is probably junk, and at the same time our methods of data storage are more precarious. It is interesting to consider what a failure or major shift in modern technology would reveal about our traditions and cultural heritage. Because the most important traditions lay beneath the surface of the historical radar and always survive, held the most steadfast by the smallest, most dedicated groups.


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