Are you a ritualist or spiritualist or both?

Somebody close to me asked: “How come you do not perform elaborate rituals during festivals?”. It’s a fair question. My husband and I come from families who are very religious but not sure why we turned out different! We always pondered if rituals were more important than being spiritualistic?

During childhood, my parents encouraged to participate in all the rituals for every festival — I used to and I loved it except never understood why the rituals were being done and till date I still don’t. I completely believe there is a supreme power but s/he did not ask for such rituals. Don’t you agree? If we don’t perform rituals, are we going to get punished in any way? Absolutely not!

I was reading a book (quick read on internet so don’t remember), and it explained how and why rituals were created. Living and breathing religion is hard, hence the rituals were invented. Rituals are nothing but a series of actions performed in a systematic manner with a certain goal in mind. Each ritual has internal and external perspective. External includes materialistic objects and is easy to follow because it is systematic. But we all perform these rituals out of fear or with a sense of expectation. Also learned that in ancient times rituals were created in a way to bring communities together for social bonding. Rituals internal purpose was to channel one’s devotion and re-kindle the sense of awakening but over the years what remains is superficial external perspective only. These days, ritualistic performances have become glamorous, way to display stature, source of social entertainment and cultural activities.

I found this excerpt which I want to share, it is Q&A between Mandana Misra (Indian Philosopher) and Adi Shankara (Shankaracharya — Indian Philosopher and Theologist).

— — — — — — — — — — — — — Q & A — — — — — — — — — — — —

Mandana: If rituals are meaningless, then why do the Vedas advocate them?
 The subtle essence of rituals lie in their symbolic or contemplative meanings and these inner meanings must be brought closer to our day-to-day life.

In order to assimilate the spiritual value of rituals, we must not only perform them, we must also live with the message that they convey — non-attachment, selflessness and remaining free from identifying oneself with the objects of the world.

Mandana: Do all rituals have symbolic meanings?
Shankaracharya: Yes. Rituals are like maps of spiritual practices. Seekers cannot reach the goal pictured on the map by simply reading the map and drawing it over and over. In the beginning, in order to become familiar with the spiritual map, they may practice rituals, but if they do not know how to internalize them, even if they have become good cartographers they will not become adept in spiritual experience.

Rituals are like maps of spiritual practices. Seekers cannot reach the goal pictured on the map by simply reading the map and drawing it over and over.

Ritualistic practices are a means of keeping busy in the external world while maintaining a relatively less worldly awareness. Rituals also give people an opportunity to interact with one another in a relatively loving environment. But if they come to a ritual with their worldly attitudes and habits, they will fight even at the altar.

Therefore, inner transformation, which requires knowledge and the direct experience of truth, is the only way to attain the highest good, the absolute non-dualistic truth.

— — — — — — — — — — — — — End of Q & A — — — — — — — — —

What is important is having a good balance between rituals and the essence of it. Practicing the spiritualistic side of the rituals is necessary too. Hence we keep our rituals to the minimum and meditate instead.