Rituals may not be scientific but they are pathfinders
Many of us are aware that rituals and rites are unscientific and “unsound”, and yet we do indulge in them in some form or the other in our daily life. Even those who call themselves ‘not religious’ do have their own rituals to perform. Maybe, they are not aware of them because of having forgotten to do a ‘look within’ or because of ‘ignorance’.
Ram S Ramanathan, in The Gift Within, says, “All religions prescribe rituals to absolve oneself of sins and related guilt. Religions control humanity through guilt; commandments have been laid down. No human being can live without violating one or the other of these commandments.”
And to atone for these violations, there are other rituals to take care of you and cleanse you of all the sins you might have committed. Mantras, Pujas and visiting temples are there to “relieve you” of your guilt feelings. One can fast, one can walk on fire, go to the holy rivers and the sea on auspicious occasions and come out ‘cleansed and purified’.
But Ramanathan brings in Lord Shankar to say that such rituals are all meaningless and have no value as absolute reality. And without such truth of the reality, we merely pretend to walk the path of spirituality and “we cannot experience the liberation and realisation of the absolute truth.”
The Dhammapada too has this point of view laid out clearly, “Rather than a thousand rituals month after month for a hundred years, better to honour for a moment a man who has realised himself; rather than tend the fire or bathe in holy rivers for a hundred years, better to honour one who lives in wisdom.”
Many of us may contest this and stress the importance of rituals in that they have a tremendous psychological value and help the believer have peace of mind and happiness; and that what is the harm if one remains happy and contented the whole day after his/her morning rituals? This argument cannot be dismissed on irrationality ground. After all, all of us are not ‘equipped’ with the ways to be in a position to see reason and attain direct experience of liberation.
As such, I would love to agree with Michael Pollan, “A successful ritual is one that addresses both aspects of our predicament, recalling us to the shamefulness of our deeds, and at the same time it celebrates what the poet Frederick Turner calls the beauty we have paid for with our shame.”