Significance of rituals

Rituals and observances form an important part of all religions. Whether it is fasting, special modes of worship, going on pilgrimages or other methods, people carry out such rituals as a token of their respect and adoration for their chosen deity or as an  expression of their gratitude for fulfillment and granting of their wishes and requests. From a simple folding of the hands or bowing of the head, a genuflection or prostration before the idol or image of the deity to elaborate procedures, rituals are an inseparable part of religious observances. When carried out with the conviction that they are one’s humble offering to the supreme Lord, when they are free from the appendages of one’s egotism, vanity and pride,  rituals serve their true purpose-that of ennobling and edifying the worshipper. Otherwise, they remain just as a display of man’s mechanical attitude, (do it and forget about it), as a request-list of his desires for which he is trying to strike a deal with the Lord or as a showcase for his  wealth and riches! We see this everyday when we see rituals being conducted just as a matter of routine. “This should not be done” says Adi Shankaracharya in his work ‘Vivekachudamani’.

“The true purpose of rituals is to purify the mind” says Shankara. Purifying the mind by removing the undesirable traits like greed, anger, hatred, lust, egotism, selfishness, avarice and many other ‘disposable’ characteristics!  But “remember, this purification is possible only if the acts are done with faith and conviction in the words of the scriptures and noble men” says Shankara.  Shankara gives an example to drive home the truth about how this purification is achieved.  All the aforementioned undesirable traits are like a sheet of moss that covers the water in a well. When this moss is removed, clear water is seen underneath. Similarly, when rituals are observed correctly, all negative characteristics get annihilated and the mind becomes pure, free from these unwanted accretions, receptive to positive influences.  Shankara makes a vital observation here. “All these negative traits are inborn, without beginning or end, quite natural in everyone”. No one is born a saint (except some rare souls)! But, “make efforts, purify your minds and elevate yourselves” urges Shankara.  

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