Existence occurs in two areas: the subjective and the objective, reality and the truth. Subjective existence, or reality, is valid enough in the field it occupies but not elsewhere. In contrast, the objective reality, or truth, is universal. If reality were a rule, truth would be the law.
For example, a nation’s constitution is real, but it’s subjective. It’s just a set of rules belonging to a particular era and country. It cannot be forced to fit another time or country. Of course, it’s valid enough in its own country and among its own people at its own time.
In contrast, the balance between food and population growth is truth. It’s objective, a law. It can be observed everywhere in every age. When the supply of food increases, the population grows. When the supply decreases, the population wanes. This applies to mice and their food sources, foxes and rabbits, trees and the ground’s nutrients, and even to a religious or political viewpoint and the conditions that feed it.
We should respect the rules, the reality and subjective values created in that time and place. These rules can be changed, but not by us. Only time and new conditions will do this.
For example, in Hindu culture, it’s taboo to touch the top of your head. In this culture, it’s a rule that needs to be respected. Most other cultures do not have such a rule, and we may think it silly to believe your destiny can be affected by touching your head, yet it’s not silly to Hindus. In Hindu culture, it’s considered indecent for Hindu women to not cover their upper arms, but people in the west would not even blink at this.
Regardless, when you’re among Hindus, the right thing to do is to respect their culture and not tamper with their reality. We may find their ways puzzling, but they probably think the same about ours. None of this matters, though, because every place and time creates its own rules and reality. Even though they are temporary, they create an existential condition, and the rules of that reality must be followed.
That said, some may not understand this truth and claim that the rules of their time and place are universal, leading to great conflicts arising. For example, if Hindus insisted that everybody should accept the divinity of cows and live to a caste system, they would be confusing rules with the law, reality with truth, the subjective with the objective. They would be presenting their own subjective reality as something universal and regarding all other subjective realities as threats, and this is where the trouble begins.
The subjective existence of the time and place we live in creates reality and rules. These rules, this reality, may turn into a structure that infringes on the truth, even though they are particular to the time and place. In this situation, reality is presented as truth, and the rule is said to be the law. This mistake is very destructive.
Rules are forced onto daily life, but we don’t even notice the laws, just like we never notice gravity, even though we are constantly affected by it. It’s just like seeing birds and planes in the sky every day but not thinking about the laws of aerodynamics. Because rules should be forced onto people, they are assumed to be more important than the law, but this is not the case at all.
For instance, rules such as only eating vegetarian food are all well and good. Covering your arms or your head may well be respectful. These rules should not be assumed to be universal, however, because they merely resulted from temporary conditions. Rules are temporary, while the law is timeless. According to the law, starvation leads to death, so people may not care if they’re eating meat or vegetables if it means they survive. This is why rules are temporary but laws are permanent. Presenting a temporal situation as a permanent one puts truth and reality in conflict. The rules can only be effective when they don’t contradict the law.
This is why someone in search of an intellectual or spiritual awakening should learn to follow the rules but not be defined by them. When the transient nature of rules and their origins are not understood, when they are considered universal, this misunderstanding can only lead to conflict and pain. Anyone trying to move forward on intellectual and spiritual paths—whether they be managers, politicians, philosophers, or whatever—should learn the rules and respect them, but they should always live according to the law. If a rule tries to claim precedence over the law, it’s like asking the ground and the sky to swap places. The real universal humanitarian values would be degraded, and temporary values and inhuman acts could be justified instead.
If we want to wake up, we must first learn to keep the sky and the ground where they are and not confuse rules with the law. We should respect the rules but live by the law, and not confuse the temporal with the timeless.
However, when the rules are used as a path that can take us to the law, the unity and awakening of all beings will be inevitable.