Spiritual Law vs. Formal Law

A teacher I know recently commented that spiritual law must supercede formal law, and I’ve been thinking about that statement for several weeks. It seems that the key to unpacking it ultimately lies in considering how inappropriate the word law is in both contexts, since in truth neither “spiritual law” nor “formal law” quite fit the bill of law. Spiritual law is not law as commonly understood, and formal law is not the source of law.

The person who originally made the statement was attempting to communicate that connection to the spiritual or to the divine forms the basis for understanding and awareness in a dynamic reality, and that those who remain connected to the divine are “sorted out.” Such people will understand what is right in the moment, however hellish the changes taking place around us may be in that moment. Those without said connection will lack this clarity, and if things change dramatically around us for the worse, such people will become hopelessly lost. Those so lost can and often do propose legislation, but such legislation when it passes is law only in the sense that people are punished who violate it.

Thus it seems that in fact there is only spiritual law; that formal law is not law at all, it is at worst the forced will of fools and at best an echo of the authentic law handed down from connection to the divine. Formal law at its best is only a distillation of spiritual law formalized such that it will be as high resolution as permitted by common understanding. It will never be the authentic spiritual law itself, it will merely be a formalism of it, reduced in several crucial respects. Depending how bad things get, formal law may even be wielded inappropriately by those who become lost to countermand and undermine the spiritual law which was the original thrust.

People often point out that law must change as times change. This is true of formal law, but it is not true of spiritual law. Spiritual law is timeless, and entirely at home in all conditions of man and society. It is only the reduced formalism that moves out of phase with conditions as those conditions change, and this is the reason law must be continuously updated. Thus the formalized law is newly formalized to keep it in sync with the conditions of our changing existence. Yet without access to spiritual law, how can the formalized law even be fully understood? And if it cannot be, then from what wellspring of insight are the changes and updates in formal law being directed? Formalized law understood formally, after all, can never duplicate the source of vision originally provided by spiritual law. It can therefore never be expected to fully understand itself, much less competently update itself toward a desirable common outcome. Such change without the necessary insight is therefore only devolution, and it means that spiritual law does indeed supersede formal law by definition.

Understanding this problem, the American founders designed a system of separation of powers and put in place procedures by which the American constitution could be amended and updated, requiring a high standard of consensus. This consensus was not put in place as a replacement for spiritual law, but as an expedient to prevent formal law understood formally from easily undermining itself and the spiritual law that guided it. The clearest way to understand the American founding is therefore as a group of people who did not attempt to address the deficit of spiritual law by elaborating formal laws more clearly or with greater permanence, but by separating the powers that they recognized would ultimately fail to live up to the standard of spiritual law.

Spiritual law, as mentioned earlier, can probably not be said to be law in the truest sense of the word, but merely connection with that which facilitates awareness. Considering this as law itself perhaps mischaracterizes the inherent flexibility of authentic vision as a static penultimate realization. In the case of the American founding, it would probably be difficult to recognize the spark of creative genius in devising a unique solution to the ultimate problem. The timelessness of spiritual law is therefore probably the timelessness of authentic awareness from which authentic law springs regardless of circumstances.

What then is law? Certainly it is not the foolish and short-sighted contrivances brought about by those elected to positions for which they are unqualified and who believe the American constitution stands in the way of instituting those laws necessary to “get things done.” It is also not truly the formalizations handed down by sages, which after all can be and often are misused to undermine their own purpose. Nor is law even the awareness of those sages. Law is truly where the rubber meets the road; it is where authentic awareness and connection meets and negotiates with a world largely devoid of that awareness and connection. It is simplification due to a lack of alternative, and a translation of one language into another, in which the translation serves to teach the native tongue.

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