Getting Lost In Rituals
The daughter of my close friend said in exasperation, “I’m feeling a sense of religious suffocation.” When asked to elaborate she said it was the continuous rituals that her religious and ritualistic family coerced her to do all the time, all through the day, year after year, that was choking instead of liberating her. That which was making her rebel her faith rather than embracing it more deeply. I know the parents of this girl to be otherwise quite liberal minded but it is pressure that is put upon them by the community that compels them to follow the others simply so that they can be seen to ‘belong’ to the community and its followers.
It is true that rituals, including those of study, recitation, chanting, puja and other forms, comprise an integral part of almost every faith. However, unlike conventional subjects and streams of study, rituals don’t help us much in our spiritual development. In fact, Buddhists are convinced beyond doubt that without practice even study becomes an obscuration on the path. We cannot afford to lose our practice in the rituals. Are rituals really required? Indeed yes, but only up to a certain point. All three vehicles in Buddhism have elaborate rituals mentioned in the Sutras and Tantras. They help us in two ways: to understand the subject better and to help us focus our mind on the visualisation. However, just as the vehicle is of no use to us once we arrive at our destination, similarly once our practice is stabilised, we no longer need the rituals.