There is a concept in Tantric thought, especially of the Avadhut or Nath streams, of “Svecchācāra” (स्वेच्छाचार), or the following the path of one’s own Will. It has been expressed similarly in the West by writers such as Saint Augustine (“Love and what thou wilt”), Francois Rabelais ("Fais ce que voudras"), and later by Aleister Crowley ("Do What Thou Wilt Shall Be the Whole of the Law."). Guruji Amritananda was also fond of saying, “Do as you like, just minimize harm.”
Within the Avadhut and Nath streams, this is seen as the highest way that one can live one’s life, though it usually seems alarming or frightening enough that many will rush to either condemn it or explain it away. Mahendranath described it as "an injunction which strikes fear and terror in the hearts of the moralists, ministers, and mini-minds." However, it is not some libertine fantasy that relishes in hedonism and depravity.
In many ways, it is merely a statement of fact: we always do what it is in our nature to do. It could even be compared to the dictum of the Bhagavad Gītā to perform the actions that we are suited for. As Lord Krishna says, Karmaṇyevādhikāraste, “Perform the actions that are right for you.”
It is also, perhaps, actually the strictest of all moral codes: to make sure to do only what is right by your own estimation and examination.
Looking a bit more extensively at how the concept is used by Francois Rabelais, the wonderful 16th Century French writer, humorist, and humanist, in his hilarious and insightful book Gargantua, may help to shed more light on the idea. In the book, a monk helps Gargantua to win a war and so Gargantua wishes to reward him by giving him his own monastery:
“But the monk gave him a very peremptory answer, that he would never take upon him the charge nor government of monks. For how shall I be able, said he, to rule over others, that have not full power and command of myself.”
He instead asks that he be allowed “to found an abbey after my own mind and fancy.” This Abbey is built to be entirely the opposite in structure from other monasteries. For the monks and nuns of this “Abbey of Thelema” (Thelema being the Greek word for “Will”):
“All their life was spent not in laws, statutes, or rules, but according to their own free will and pleasure. They rose out of their beds when they thought good: they did eat, drink, labour, sleep, when they had a mind to it, and were disposed for it. None did awake them, none did offer to constrain them to eat, drink, nor to do any other thing; for so had Gargantua established it. In all their rule, and strictest tie of their order, there was but this one clause to be observed,
DO WHAT THOU WILT.
Because men that are free, well-born, well-bred, and conversant in honest companies, have naturally an instinct and spur that prompteth them unto virtuous actions, and withdraws them from vice, which is called honour. Those same men, when by base subjection and constraint they are brought under and kept down, turn aside from that noble disposition, by which they formerly were included to virtue, to shake off and break that bond of servitude, wherein they are so tyrannously enslaved; for it is agreeable with the nature of man to long after things forbidden, and to desire what is denied us.”
And so the argument here is that much of the discord we see in our lives and world is due to authoritarianism, repression, oppression, and dogma and that, if we were actually all following our own truest wishes, we would actually live in far greater harmony, peace, and happiness. Most of us spend much of our lives hemmed in by various rules and injunctions, either imposed externally or from within. If we were to be truly free to live our lives as we pleased what would that actually look like? Perhaps it does require some hard work to develop the insight into our own selves to determine what we actually desire and want and to develop the courage and strength to live to that end, but what are we without those things anyway?
The development, as best as possible, of liberated, empowered, and conscientious humans seems to me to be the best social end we can attain in this world because it seems to be the only way to any kind of justice and social harmony, but the real Svecchācāra is the inner path of individuation where each of us learns to do the work necessary to pursue our own happiness, development, and sense of meaning.
It seems to me that the colorfully written inscription over the Great Gate of the Abbey of Thelema would be a powerful motto for any Temple or Community:
“Here enter not vile bigots, hypocrites,
Externally devoted apes, base snites,
Puffed-up, wry-necked beasts, worse than the Huns,
Or Ostrogoths, forerunners of baboons:
Cursed snakes, dissembled varlets, seeming sancts,
Slipshod caffards, beggars pretending wants,
Fat chuffcats, smell-feast knockers, doltish gulls,
Out-strouting cluster-fists, contentious bulls,
Fomenters of divisions and debates,
Elsewhere, not here, make sale of your deceits.
“Here enter not attorneys, barristers,
Nor bridle-champing law-practitioners:
Clerks, commissaries, scribes, nor Pharisees,
Wilful disturbers of the people’s ease:
Judges, destroyers, with an unjust breath,
Of honest men, like dogs, even unto death.
Your salary is at the gibbet-foot:
Go drink there! For we do not here fly out
On those excessive courses, which may draw
A waiting on your courts by suits in law.
“Grace, honour, praise, delight,
Here sojourn day and night.
Sound bodies lined
With a good mind,
Do here pursue with might
Grace, honour, praise, delight.
“Here enter you, and welcome from our hearts,
All noble sparks, endowed with gallant parts.
This is the glorious place, which bravely shall
Afford wherewith to entertain you all.
Were you a thousand, here you shall not want
For anything; for what you’ll ask we’ll grant.
Stay here, you lively, jovial, handsome, brisk,
Gay, witty, frolic, cheerful, merry, frisk
Spruce, jocund, courteous, furtherers of trades,
And, in a word, all worthy gentle blades.
“Here enter you, pure, honest, faithful, true
Expounders of the Scriptures old and new.
Whose glosses do not blind our reason, but
Make it to see the clearer, and who shut
Its passages from hatred, avarice,
Pride, factions, covenants, and all sort of vice.
Come, settle here a charitable faith,
Which neighbourly affection nourisheth.
And whose light chaseth all corrupters hence,
Of the blest word, from the aforesaid sense.
“The holy sacred Word,
May it always afford
T’ us all in common,
Both man and woman,
A spiritual shield and sword,
The holy sacred Word.
“Alluring, courtly, comely, fine, complete,
Wise, personable, ravishing, and sweet,
Come joys enjoy. The Lord celestial
Hath given enough wherewith to please us all.”