In broad and over-simplistic terms, various approaches to the Spiritual Path have been proposed:
One is ‘orthodoxy’, a word which comes from the Greek word ὀρθοδοξία (ORTHO-DOXIA) — ‘right opinion’. As defined by Wikipedia, ‘orthodoxy’ is “adherence to correct or accepted creeds, especially in religion. In the Christian sense the term means ‘conforming to the Christian faith as represented in the creeds of the early Church.’ The first seven ecumenical councils were held between the years of 325 and 787 with the aim of formalizing accepted doctrines.”1 In other words, an ‘orthodox’ Christian is someone who has the right opinions and professes the correct doctrines.
Another approach to the Spiritual Path is ‘orthopraxy’ — from ὀρθοπραξία (ORTHO-PRAXIA) meaning ‘right practice’. For the purposes of this article, let’s say ‘orthopraxy’ refers to practices that once learned are rote. For example, one memorizes the “Our Father”, and now says the Our Father every morning 20 times.
I’d like to propose a third category: orthohody (“orTHO-hody”?) from ὀρθο-ὁδός — ‘right journey’ — committing oneself to a skill/calling that can never be mastered.
In America the word ‘kung fu’ has come to refer to just the martial art. But in China, it refers to “any study, learning, or practice that requires patience, energy, and time to complete. In its original meaning, kung fu can refer to any discipline or skill achieved through hard work and practice, not necessarily martial arts.”2
So in China there is a kung fu of calligraphy, for example.3. (Heck, there are no end of skills I will never master with a lifetime of serious pursuit: [speaking for myself] being a good husband, being a good father and grandfather, being a man of integrity and wisdom.)
In terms of Japanese martial arts, ‘do’ means ‘journey’, so ‘judo’ means ‘the gentle way’, ‘aikido’ means “the way of harmonious spirit”. Even the word ‘karate’ is a shortened version of ‘karatedo’ — “the way of the empty hand” (as opposed to martial arts involving weapons). And ‘dojo’ means “place of the way” — a place to persevere on your never-ending journey towards mastery.
No martial arts grandmaster I have known has claimed they knew all there is to know about their art — if anything they said they felt like beginners facing the infinite yet to be learned. No world-class musician I have known has claimed there was nothing left for them to learn about the piano/violin/their instrument of choice. Even Isaac Newton, arguably the greatest physicist of all time, and anything but ‘humble’ in his general demeanor, said:
I do not know what I may appear to the world, but to myself I seem to have been only like a boy playing on the seashore, and diverting myself in now and then finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than ordinary, whilst the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me.4
(I note that certain other paths like ‘raising a child’ are also endless and impossible — but we commit to them anyway!)
I note that in John 14:6 Jesus says “I am the hODOS… [the JOURNEY], the truth and the life…” That He said “Be following me” — the Greek uses the present tense indicating that an ongoing action is expected — “be [continually] following me” — as opposed to ‘follow me once’.
There is a certain ‘finiteness’ to orthodoxy: memorize the Apostles Creed, or the Nicene Creed, or the ‘Westminster Confession’ — hold fast to those ‘right opinions’ and one has essentially completed the Spiritual Path — because there are no additional significant ‘doctrines’ to add.
And there is also a certain ‘finiteness’ to orthopraxy: I’ve memorized the Hail Mary, or a Sutra5 and now all I need to do is to persevere in repeating this once mastered task (reciting the Hail Mary or the Sutra). Both orthodoxy and orthopraxy are finite/closed systems.
So both orthodoxy and orthopraxy seem committed to a kind of ‘stasis’, orthohody unequivocally to ‘growth’.
For me there is something fundamentally different about orthohody: one is committing oneself to the pursuit of the ultimately unknowable and unachievable, and to endless growth: I can never perfectly execute this martial arts move, I can never perfectly execute this calligraphic gesture, I can never play this Bach piece perfectly. But tomorrow I will be a little better.
“Progress the thickness of an onion skin is still progress.”