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Going beyond superficial ritual and shallow religion

Last-DoorAt the yoga conference Richard became good friends with Bhikku Vivekananda, a spiritual leader from Thailand, who had thousands of students at his monastery. They attended a lecture of J.Krishnamurthi, a world renowned author and orator. Born in South India in 1895, he was educated in England and at the age of twenty seven formally accepted the role of the enlightened master, and was worshipped by over 60,000 members. But seven years later, in 1929, he rejected his position and dissolved his religious movement. In his fiery speech, he enthusiastically called for all to reject ashrams, for they are simply concentration camps for the mind. He also declared spiritual gurus to be dictators, and meditation systems to be futile. Richard thought of his friend Bhikku, and wondered how he would react to this call for revolution. Bhikku accepted Krishnamurti’s words as true, and joked, “I will reject the teachings of the teacher who teaches us to reject teachers and teachings.”

Richard felt that although Krishnamurti was a great debater, on a personal level he was gentle, kind and humorous. He then pondered on his teachings: “Eastern literature was filled with histories of enlightened saints who carefully followed their religion or their particular Guru. How could I disregard them all on the basis of one man’s realizations? However, Krishnamurti had impressed upon me that superficiality had no place in spiritual life. We must take personal responsibility. If we become overly attached to the externals, we may forget their very purpose: to purify the heart.”

Radhanath Swami balances the need for rituals with an awareness of its purpose. He emphasizes that Rituals are certain practices- unique to each religious tradition- that prescribe procedures for worshipping God.  A religious person, through a set pattern of behaviour, regularly performs these ceremonies. However, today these customs have earned a negative connotation and have been misunderstood by many. This is due to the rituals being used to serve different purposes (other than service to God); they often help a person express his loyalty to a religion, or helps gain acceptance within a community. These practices-obliging a person from birth to death- also consume substantial time, money and energy of the practitioner. Thus the rituals which are in essence positive facilitators to remember and serve God, get diluted, and are reduced to mechanical, repetitive acts. Not surprisingly intelligent people like J. Krishnamurti are put off by these blind rituals.

The purpose of rituals is to reawaken the divine love of God that’s within every living entity. This love, although natural, is presently covered by the thick layer of material consciousness. A set of rituals are thus offered by the founders and teachers of each faith, to help the followers gradually purify their consciousness of material contamination. For example, in the Indian culture, we perform the aarati ceremony where a devotee offers fragrant incense, fire lamp, and water to God. These rituals are intended to help the devotee realize that God is the source of fragrance (corresponds to the incense offered), heat (connected to the fire lamp), and all other elements in this material creation. A devotee acknowledges God’s proprietorship and our dependence on Him for basic amenities. Through the aarati ceremony, we offer the elements back to God, reciprocating with His kindness and expressing our intention to love Him.

Radhanath Swami urges us to always remember this goal of rituals, “When we forget this divine purpose of rituals- connecting our consciousness with the Supreme consciousness, God- and instead get distracted by the loud and grandiose externals, the rituals become an end in themselves. The traffic laws have a purpose; to help the driver reach his destination smoothly. If a motorist is unsure of his destination, he’s eventually lost despite his strict following of the traffic rules. Similarly, if the follower of a religious faith is unaware of the goal of spiritual enlightenment, he’s lost in the material world, even in the garb of a religious conviction. Then the rituals have the opposite effect of what they’re supposed to achieve-they keep a person bound in material consciousness.”

Source: http://www.radhanath-swami.net/going-beyond-shallow-religion/going-beyond-superficial-rituals-and-shallow-religion

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