Is Authentic Best?

Do not seek to follow in the footsteps of the wise.
Seek what they sought.

Matsuo Basho

In any field of human knowledge with at least a generation or two of transmitted history a common question arises. It starts as a discussion and often ends as a debate about authenticity. Are the follower’s interpretations true to the founder’s intention? Does modern expression accurately represent traditional practice? What exactly constitutes fidelity to the original?

For those who are past-oriented, authenticity is the preservation of ritual forms and norms. We can describe their ideal as traditional. They are like archaeologists researching artifacts to formulate coherence from partial records.

For those who are present-oriented, authenticity is the prioritization of direct relevance and application. We can label their process as progressive. They are like engineers finding ways to create practical tools with useful functions. Neither the traditional or progressive view is more or less authentic than the other, nor are they mutually exclusive objectives. The primary meaning of authenticity and its source merely differs. Continue reading