FIRST of all, let it be made clear that we are not against any ritual or any religion. Our theory is: “The end of Religion is the beginning of spirituality….” Ours is a purely spiritual path leading to the realization of the Ultimate Essence of Existence.
The aim of Religion is to show man that there is something infinitely superior worth aiming at; and once man realizes this in the true sense, and desires or wills to attain that Ultimate Aim, denoted as God by religion, the work of religion is over. Man has to take up the path of Spirituality only for further progress.
When Religion itself begins to offer the method of Spirituality, it has to necessarily put forth rituals, ceremonies, mythologies, etc., to preserve its own colour and individuality. These, in turn, take up so much complicated and elaborate forms that religion is completely converted into ritualism.
Every religious ritual has got some sense, some meaning, some symbolic representation, or some suggestion of a subtler expression. When its Spirit is lost sight of, it degenerates into mechanical ritualism consisting of only ordered formalities. Ritual starts with the intention of worshiping the Supreme, but due to perversion it degenerates into a mere show and self-aggrandizement.
The power of suggestion is immensely used in almost all rituals; it is more so in vedic rituals. If a ritual is properly carried out by a competent and worthy personality, the suggestion implied in a ritual is directly absorbed by the sub-conscious mind of a performer, and the intended result is effectively achieved. Even lasting and permanent results can be achieved if one who conducts a ritual, has got command over the sentient powers of Nature. But such persons are very rare. And for such a one there is no necessity of any ritual.
Ritualism can be very effective for the fulfillment of baser aims. But in this, persons to be exploited should be of weaker minds. Indeed, some so-called spiritual organizations have used and are still using various rituals, in the name of occultism, spiritualism, etc, to keep their members and supporters in firm grip and even under mental bondages. Instincts like fear, curiosity, and desire for pleasure, etc., are fully exploited in tightening the grip. Mind is fully drugged by the habit of and addiction to ritualism. Such persons’ inner condition becomes extremely gross and solid, without any hope of sublimation. One should always guard oneself against falling a prey to such secret and occultist ritualism and societies.
Really speaking, every act done with the idea of dedication to some noble ideal becomes a ritual. Religion says man should dedicate his each thought, word, and deed to God. This idea of dedication moulds any thought, word or deed into rituals. A ritual, thus, instead of becoming a mechanical habit. remains as a living link between man and God. But as such a thought is likely to push a man beyond the four walls of religion, each religion prescribes its own characteristic rituals. some to be performed compulsorily and some optionally by everyone of its members, and some to be performed collectively by groups of its members.
The multiplicity and mechanicalness of rituals have influenced different people in different ways. At one end there are the so-called intelligent class of persons who. mistaking ritualism for religion, have left off all rituals and even their religion, and turn their noses up on hearing the name religion, and wish others to consider them as agnostics or atheists. At the other extreme there are the so-called religious persons who have also mistaken religion for rituals and go on performing all rituals punctually and timely, and demand God to give them a gate pass for heaven. There are also various intermediate types. Strictly speaking, as rituals have become a part and parcel of the people’s religious, social and cultural heritage, one should not abhor them. And, as many of them have become extremely elaborate, mechanical, and even too expensive, the intelligent members of society must try to simplify and spiritualise only the essential ones.
There is a certain beauty and charm in a ritual. It directly appeals to the sensitive heart and inspires some noble idea or thought. But once it becomes mechanical and spiritless, it becomes a useless burden. A ritual is an external means for enforcing discipline. Its power can be utilised, as described above, to also discipline the mind. But great care and precaution should be taken to see that the mind is not adversely affected by getting addicted to the grosser aspects of a ritual. Almost all great reformers in the past have criticised the ritualistic trends of their times. They have exhorted their fellow men to rise above all ritualism. The only reason for their exhortation appears to be the excessive addiction to the external formalities only and losing the inner spirit entirely.
It is, however, certain that a mere ritual cannot give man liberation or realisation of God. It can, at the most, inspire one’s heart with a noble idea. It is the practice of Spirituality alone, which can take man to higher and subtler and nobler levels of being. Yet simple and powerful rituals may be occasionally required to inspire man to take up the right path leading to Ultimate.