Why Ritual Matters (Criticisms of Hinduism Series)

Why Ritual Matters (Criticisms of Hinduism Series) March 19, 2015

It is amazing to me that people could complain that Hinduism has too many rituals. Apparently these days rituals are out of vogue and and non-religious people scoff at the “superstition” of ritual while religious people emphasize spontaneous prayer.

There is a time for spontaneous prayer, certainly, but there’s also a time for ritual prayer.

To start off with I’d like to address this idea that believing in ritual makes you superstitious. The truth is, we are all superstitious. It’s a natural part of the human brain and how people process the world. Even Cracked.com agrees! 

We’re all a little superstitious about some things, even if it’s just, say, the belief that we can control a rolling bowling ball with our body language. The human brain is kind of built that way. –http://www.cracked.com/article_22148_5-silly-superstitions-with-insane-global-consequences.html

I see superstition in rational people all day long. I see it in baseball players with lucky socks, I see it in children who don’t want to step on cracks, I see it in gamers who think their dice will like or dislike them, and I see it in people with various degrees of OCD. And yes, I see it in religious people. 

Those of us who are religious have our superstitions wrapped in the language and stories of that religion. It isn’t the crux of the religion for me, but it can be for some people. There are those who use faith to keep themselves feeling in control of life and I don’t see anything wrong with that. Whatever gets you through the challenge of life.

So if ritual to me is not about superstition and trying to feel in control in life, what does it do for me?

1) Taking part in a ritual or performing one at my home helps to center me. It focuses my energy and allows me to go more deeply into myself. It keeps me steady and more calm. There are some people who meditate to do this, and there are some people who just do it naturally. For me I have found that participating in structured prayer makes it easier for me.

2) It connects me all the way back to ancient times. Sanatana Dharma has existed for thousands and thousands of years. These rituals I perform today are in a language that predates written history. The lanaguge, the chants, the prayers have been passed down in an unbroken lingeage for thousands of years. There is power in connecting with a practice as ancient and as pure as this.

3) God is difficult to conceptualize. The beauty of Hindu worship is that we have images of God to focus on and a place to direct our prayers. God is bigger than any one image of Him/Her, but we have prayers that give us one corner of God to start to understand. 

4) The rituals are built like roads. Some holy and wise person sees a way towards Truth and understanding, so he builds a ritual that can guide people there. While we can go off and explore in the wilderness, we should also take advantage of the roads that have been built to get us closer to Truth faster!

These are just a few reasons and there are probably as many reasons to love rituals as there are Hindus in the world. Having a strong practice of structured worship is not a bad thing. It is one component of a rich spiritual life. 


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  • Ananth Sethuraman

    You may like these two articles:
    (1) http://swarajyamag.com/culture/a-defence-of-hindu-ritualism-and-superstition/
    (2) The Meaninglessness of Ritual ( https://www.google.com/?gws_rd=ssl#q=frits+staal+recursive+syntax+of+rituals )

    Here is an excerpt from the second article:
    This goes a long way to explain the curious fact that rituals, so
    apparently meaningless and useless, are at the same time readily engaged
    in. Eo ipso it explains that ritual activity has a pleasant, soothing
    effect. If you give up desire, you will be happy. This idea and the
    notion that ritual is performed for its own sake are closely connected
    and clearly foreshadowed by the Indian doctrine of tyaga, the teachings
    of the Bhagavad Gita and by similar notions in other traditions

  • Seeker

    I like rituals. They help me connect so to speak with the entire worship process. As I do ritual, I think about what is going on at a deeper level and in the cosmic sense.

    There are rituals attached to many things. As you said “Those of us who are religious have our superstitions wrapped in the language and stories of that religion”. There are also rituals associated with ball games, family celebrations and so on….

    You wrote a really good piece and I am basically just saying I agree and I love my rituals. I have even invented some of my own that enhance my private commune with God.

    Aum Namah Shivaya

    ead more: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/whitehindu/2015/03/why-ritual-matters-criticisms-of-hinduism/#ixzz3VQgHCbwn

  • J N

    Ritual is like a vast deep ocean.Rituals of religion, like the husk of a seed preserve its life and make it germinate.

    Philosophy without religion becomes meaningless. Religion without rituals becomes insipid. The rituals of a religion, like the husk of a seed, preserves its life and make it germinate. It is only when the rituals are separated from the faith and assume an independent existence that they become mechanical and lifeless.

    Stages of Ritual:
    The process of ritual unfolds in three stages. In a basic tree pooja, for example, the first stage is after you have settled down in front of your tree. You mentally remove yourself out of the mundane energy, and shifting into sacred space you greet your tree. In the second stage you make your offerings. In the third stage you finish your pooja in whatever respectful manner is appropriate for you to thank your tree and say goodbye.

    The invocation is your greeting of the tree, acknowledging the life force within. The symbols are the water, flower, incense and flame. The symbolic actions are your offerings with these elemental symbols. The sankalpa is the heart’s desire to connect with the dormant energy of the tree.

    Types of Ritual:
    Rituals are performed for many reasons. Collectively they can be divided into five categories:

    The first category is to honour, give thanks, make offerings or entreat the creator or aspects of the creator. For example, any direct worship of God or aspect of God as a particular deity or guru, or any aspect of God in nature, like trees, rivers, mountains, etc.

    The second category is to honour and support an individual or group’s transition through a traditional rite of passage. For example, birth, adolescence, death, marriage, birthdays and various initiations.

    The third category is to honour and support an individual or group’s transition through various life changes. For example, illness, graduation, divorce, retirement, new career, the healing of trauma, milestones and achievements and various initiations.

    The fourth category is to honour, give thanks, make offerings, entreat the creator or to participate in the cycles of nature and the cosmos. For example, seasonal changes, full moons, solstices, planting and harvest time.

    The fifth category is to celebrate traditional festivals and special days. For example, Diwali, Christmas, Thanksgiving and Mother’s Day.

  • Madhu K Agnihotri

    One is outcome of the other. Need both action & wisdom.Yagna Vidhi Vidhan was only meant to Rishis as Satya Yuga passed the depth philosophy in it declined

  • Kumar

    Rituals are essential in that it provides a path. Philosophies like advaita are way too abstract for us to be able to hold on to them without a path.

  • buddhiarts

    Maybe most importantly, rituals, at least in the Hindu context, allow us to connect with great spirit beings in the inner worlds (lokas) like Lord Ganesha, who smooth out the path and assist our evolution in a myriad of ways. They inspire and energize us, and give us courage to continue on the sometimes arduous spiritual journey. Ritual performed with mindfulness and intention is a direct line to Divine Grace.
    Aum Namasivaya