Why rituals?

by October 13, 2011

Question: What is the need of rituals? Is it not enough to just think of God in the mind?

Answer: Rituals are the essential external means to think of God internally.

Rituals are not restricted to religion; they pervade all fields of life. Let’s consider two worldly examples:

1. When we meet a stranger, the ritual of extending our hand and saying “I’m pleased to meet you” gives tangible, recognizable and appreciable form to our desire to express cordiality and warmth.

2. On a birthday, the ritual of blowing a candle and cutting a cake brings structure and verve to the celebration.

Many people would still find a birthday celebration jarringly incomplete without candle-blowing, although candle-blowing has no intrinsic connection with a birthday. If the ritual were intrinsically connected with the essence of an occasion, then how much more would it be necessary on that occasion? For example, bowing down or kneeling down in a holy place is a ritual to express our humility in the presence of the divine. Could we experience the same profound humility if we were to sit cross-legged, leaning backwards on an easy-chair with the head resting on the palms of the hand? Arguably not.

Let’s analyze: what is the precise connection of the outer ritual with the inner essence? There’s a dual connection: rituals are the means to both expressing the essence and experiencing the essence. The handshake helps express the essence of cordiality, the candle-blowing helps experience the essence of happiness, and the bowing down helps both express and experience the essence of humility.

Let’s now consider another ritual: the repeated chanting of the names of God. The theistic wisdom-traditions of the world declare that God extends his presence to us through his holy names. For those with devotion for God, chanting his names is the ritual to express their devotion for him. And for those who don’t yet have that devotion, chanting is the ritual to experience that devotion. Those who do away with the external ritual of chanting run the risk of making their attempts to internally think of God self-congratulatory and hallucinatory.

Why do some people want to do away with rituals altogether? Often they are disillusioned with rituals due to seeing them enacted heartlessly and perfunctorily. However, their blanket rejection of rituals generally backfires on them; it minimizes their access to the essence to a merely conceptual or superficial level.

How then can we reach the essence? By education about:

1. What the essence exactly is,

2. What the connection between the ritual and the essence is and

3. What the principles and techniques for connecting the ritual with the essence are.

By such systematic education, we will soon experience that the ritual of chanting is synonymous and synchronous with the essence of heartfelt devotion.

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  • tushar vora
    October 13, 2011 at 10:53 am

    The article so candidly and clearly, in a very lucid language clears and ends the misconception about rituals. Please continue writing such articles. They are necessary for the public, who is disillusioned in general. Congratulations!

  • Bhargav
    October 13, 2011 at 12:23 pm

    I agree…..its usually said that when “Science stops Spirituality starts”……

    In simple words when Science has exhausted all its resources trying to find an explanation to any point thats where you need to start looking for answers in the Spiritual space.

  • Piyush Dwivedi
    October 13, 2011 at 1:28 pm

    Nicely Presented Simple facts in a way to strike the mind of a thoughtful person. Awesome !!

  • October 13, 2011 at 2:08 pm

    Nice article. From the article it is very clear that without rituals (to be performed sincerely and with devotion) we cannot progress in spirituality.

  • sourabh
    October 13, 2011 at 6:53 pm

    very nice article. please start publishing the articles in pdf format again

  • October 14, 2011 at 4:05 am

    pamho., agtsp., agtsg&g.,

    I thought that you might like this that I found some time ago from the writings of Baladev Vidyabhusna:

    “As for the various fruitive results, such as the attainment of rain, a son, or residing in a celestial material planet, that are offered to the followers of the karma-kanda rituals in the Vedas. These benefits are offered to attract the minds of ordinary men. When ordinary men see that these material benefits are actually attained by performing Vedic rituals, they become attracted to study the Vedas. By studying the Vedas they become able to discriminate between what is temporary and what is eternal. In this way they gradually become averse to the temporary things of this world and they come to hanker after Brahman. In this way it may be understood that all the parts of the Vedas describe the Supreme Personality of Godhead.
    Vedic rituals bring material benefits as a result only when the performer of the ritual is filled with material desire. If the performer is materially desireless, then he does not gain a material result, but rather the result he obtains is purification of the heart and the manifestation of spiritual knowledge. Therefore the meaning of the verse ‘tam etam vedanuvacanena brahman vividisanti’, ‘brahmanas study the Veda to understand the Supreme Personality of Godhead'(Brhad Aranyaka Upanishad 4:4:22.) is that in the Vedic rituals when one is required to worship a particular deva, one does so as a limb or representative of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, and thus by worshipping them one is actually worshiping the Supreme Lord, the result being that one gradually becomes pure in heart and awake with spiritual knowledge.”(Baladev Vidyabhushana. Govinda Bhasya commentary on Vedanta Sutra 1:4:4. Adhkarana sutra 4.)

  • October 25, 2011 at 9:13 am

    Hare Krishna Prabhuji,
    Dandavat Pranam. All Glories to Srila Prabhupada.
    It is great pleasure to read all articles published in The Spiritual Scientist. Thank you so much for doing such a great work. Haribol,
    Your servant,
    Raman Monohara Dasa
    Asst. Prof.,
    IIT Patna

  • brijesh mishra, melbour e
    September 30, 2014 at 1:25 am

    Great read. loved the simpliciy of the language as well as the concept.
    also, Raman prabhu, you have dobe a great job by putting icing on the cake…
    Hari Bol

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