There are many traditional rituals such as the those performed annually for the ancestors and many others. While some people strictly observe them, many other don’t. So what is the role of rituals on the spiritual path and what should be our attitude towards them?
We can arrange the rituals in the following four groups.
The first kind of rituals, though the most common, are the mechanical rituals that people follow out of convention. To this also unconscious adherence there is often added some kind of fear of harm if the ritual is not done or a favour that the ritual is supposed to grant us if we observe it. Many of the fasts and common temple rituals are of this nature. Of course sometimes the element of faith and prayer comes in which gives it an uplifting feel. But most often it is done mechanically and hence hardly of any use other than giving us the illusion of being a religious person.
The second type of rituals are related to the occult vital worlds. These are special Pooja ceremonies wherein mainly entities and deities of the lower order are invoked. Even when sometimes the deity being invoked is regarded as some benevolent one, it is actually something else that comes because of the nature of the Pooja. These can be dangerous at times and they are best avoided for a seeker on the spiritual Path since sometimes one can come under the influence of these beings who may grant us wishes but start having a grip upon us because they have been given a foothold through the bait of desire.
The third type of rituals are largely individual and symbolic such as lighting a lamp or offering of flowers with the idea or aspiration that may darkness be dispelled from our life and may the flower of love and devotion and faith blossom within our heart. These are used in certain kind of tantric Pooja also and are generally good, provided we are doing it consciously with the meaning in our head and the feeling in our heart.
Finally, there are rituals or rather spontaneous gestures and bodily actions that are the expression of certain soul states within us. They arise naturally out of a great love or reverence for the Divine and flow outwards to include the bodily life in the aspiration that has already awakened in the our soul. These are the throwing of oneself at the Feet of the Divine or bowing down in a gesture of pranam to give oneself to the Lord and Master of our being. If done truly and with the real bhava they can be very powerful in moulding our spiritual life. They can hardly be called rituals though some may see it that way or even do it mechanically so to say.