We live in a world which is made up of assumptions conceived on past circumstances, interpretations limited to our level of understanding, perceptions based on inexperience & tenets established on untested facts! Why?
We live in a world, which is more commercially viable, materialistically accessible, unrealistically factual & opportunely mutilated! We pursue Popularity over Righteousness & Action over Intention! Why?
We allow our Morals and Values to succumb to the greed of Possessions. We limit our Intelligence with the absence of appropriate Knowledge & substitute the same with worthless Speculation! Why?
The Modern We are so engaged in our daily errands that we hardly have enough time on our hand to focus on anything for a steady duration. We are constantly fire fighting situations at work, besieged in time management, concerned about our reputation rather than character & striving to strike a balance between our family & social life. So much so, that we barely devote enough quality time to thank the All Mighty! Why?
But yet we manage a lot of time to incessantly bribe the Lord to improve our existence! How?
Have you ever taken a child shopping? The child repeatedly asks for one thing & then the other & then another. Even if you negotiate for just one thing it will show keenness to buy another as soon as you have bought him one. That’s the way a child is; always looking for more, desiring for extra. Now – imagine yourself in that child’s place repeatedly asking for things from God. How irritating it would be for him that we constantly keep our hands spread out; asking for more & more.
God’s response would be, “I have given you everything you need; your want is your concern!”
If you do not board the ‘Boat of Spiritualism’, you will drown in the ‘Ocean of Materialism’!
Some will agree with the above statement, some may differ; some will be forced to introspect! Some may find themselves in the shallow or in deep waters & some may identify themselves onboard a ‘Boat’. But we persistently fail to identify which ‘Boat’ are we onboard - ‘Ritual’ or ‘Spiritual’?
Today, we are so ritualistic in our approach that we forget the Spiritualistic aspect! Our orientation towards rituals is so extreme that we get disintegrated spiritually! We concentrate so much on the process that the spirit in itself starts to get feeble & our spirituality ends the moment the said ritual is over!
Let us evaluate a few cases of Ritual over Spiritual phenomenon in the 5 major World Religions:
The Buddhist monks may not be consciously killing an animal when they accept meat (while begging for alms) but they are in every sense supportive of killing. Now the householders, who are dependent on the monk for appropriate knowledge, remain uninformed as the monk fails to enforce the teachings of Lord Buddha!
Practicing Buddhists of today believe that if the said living creature is not killed for him in particular then he can partake its flesh. But Buddhism insists that they have nothing to do with destruction of life in any manner. So although Buddhism preaches compassion & wisdom; its followers fail to enforce the spiritualistic essence of their religion over ritualistic convenience.
‘Shechita’ is the ritualistic slaughter of mammals & birds according to the Jewish laws; it lays down the manual of butchering. The tradition says that the animal must be killed with respect & compassion to make it Kosher. And here is the first instance of Ritualism over Spiritualism – to kill with these two sentiments is not humanly possible. And interestingly the Torah (5 Books of Moses) has no mention of these dietary laws for slaughtering. Undue importance is given to the ritual of slaughtering over the spiritual sentiments of the Genesis (1:29 & 3:18) which clearly instructs its followers to eat vegetables & fruits.
Some Jews choose not to circumcise but still want a symbolic ritual; hence they change the ritual by slitting the skin (of any part of the body) of the infant to symbolize circumcision. This again is a classic case of ritual sentiments over spirituality. Action over Intention!
Galatians 5:22-23: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.” This clearly mentions that anyone who does the opposite are punishable, yet Christians continue to derive demand for flesh & animal skin!
It means the right of initiation in the Christian community. Practiced from the first century onwards, it underwent certain transformation, which has resulted in diverse practices within Christianity. The main modern debates are over whether it should be administered to children or restricted to adults, and whether it should be by pouring, sprinkling or immersion. Most Christian churches baptize both infants and adults, but some believe that baptism is only rightly performed on adults.
This is another classic case of giving importance to ritual over spirituality! Action over Intention!
Is the 9th month of the Islamic calendar, which lasts almost a month. It is the Islamic month of obligatory fasting, in which participating Muslims refrain from eating, drinking & having sex during the day and should control their emotions (such as anger) in order to improve their spirituality in the holy month.Muslims believe Ramadan to be an auspicious month for the revelations of God to humankind, being the month in which the first verses of the Quran were revealed to the Muhammad – the Prophet.
Surprisingly, statistics show that consumption of food during this particular period is at its peaks. A study released by the National Council for Social Research estimates that 83 per cent of Egyptian families change their eating habits during the month. Consumption of sweet products increases by almost 67 per cent, that of meat and chicken by 63 per cent. Sales of nuts, a seasonal favorite, are up by 25 per cent. A second study, this time by the Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics (CAPMAS), claims that during the first week of Ramadan 2.7 billion loaves of bread, 10,000 tons of beans and 40 million chickens are consumed.
Figures for the cost of imported dried fruits vary wildly, with one report estimating that 20 million US Dollars have been spent on this Ramadan essential, while another came up with the astonishing figure of 1.25 Billion US Dollars worth of imports in 2008 in Egypt alone.
People in Qatar spend around $247.2 million on food alone in the holy month of Ramadan, while food consumption in the remaining 11 months of the year is almost half, a local daily said, quoting market sources and experts. Moroccans spend 28 percent more on food during Ramadan.
UAE nationals cook almost four times the amount of food during this time & waste about 50 % of it; which is about 500 tons per day, according to Environment Agency of Abu Dhabi (EAD).
All in all, the month of Ramadan, which is supposed to be a time of self-control; for some people, is considered a time for the Euphoria of Consumerism! The spirit of Ramadan, is reconciliation and rapprochement with the Almighty, while refraining from food and drink from sunrise to sunset. This teaches obedience to a Muslim & also educates a moral to feel and understand the hunger, depravation and suffering of fellow human beings. The entire outlook of renunciation & coming close to Allah is trounced. It is only because of the undue importance given to Rituals over being Spiritual!
Followers of Islam believe that every Muslim must at least once in his lifetime take up the Hajj pilgrimage to visit the Kabbah in Mecca, Saudi Arabia. Sadly, the Stoning of the Devil (Jamarat) & the various stampedes until today have resulted in innumerable deaths & that too in a place which is considered the ‘the Holy direction for Qibla (prayer)’! Action has again prevailed over Intention!
Diwali (or Deepawali); the festival of lights is one of the biggest occasions for a Hindu. Families are engaged in exchanging pleasantries, an explicit and imperative worship/puja of Goddess Laxmi (denoting Wealth) & the bursting of fire crackers at night.
Most Hindus would not know that it is the welcoming of Lord Rama from his exile & no other reason for celebrating this day. And if one introspects the puja (worship), the very person for which this day is celebrated is missing in the worship – Lord Rama!
And this festival of lights also hands us one of the biggest illustrations of Ritual over Spiritual! The Hindus are so in line with the ritual that they remember the Goddess of Wealth (Laxmi also known as Sita) but forget Her Lord Rama. A wife would seldom accept an invitation if her husband isn’t invited for the same occasion; and that too is the case in Diwali. Every Hindu is busy pleasing the Wealth Minister hoping for her shower of blessings but conveniently forgets the Lord who is the source of her Wealth! Action over Intention!
Another instance; we consider ourselves children of God. Now as a parent, you would never want your child to inflict pain on others & on oneself. Some Hindus are piercing their bodies & lashing themselves in processions to please God. If they had enough knowledge of the Lord’s intent then I am sure they would stop these outrageous acts at once. Action over Intention!
Ganesh Chathurthi & Durga Puja are also very popular festivals in the west & east of India respectively. They last for about 10 – 11 days & are ended by immersing the statue of the respective idols (made of clay, porcelain & paint) in the adjoining water bodies. Regrettably, the entire few days of festivities ends with hypocrisy. I say this because if the same followers visit the banks of the water bodies the following day; they will realize the unnecessary loss of aquatic life due to the pointless contamination of our fresh waters.
The above said examples represent the inadequacies of our knowledge, the superficialness of our rituals, altitude of our intelligence & attitude of being a follower than a seeker of Truth! One should ideally ‘Believe those who are seeking the truth & doubt those who find it!’
‘Jainism & Sikhism’ are also prominent religions of today. Jainism’s philosophy and practice emphasize the necessity of self-effort to move the soul towards divine consciousness and liberation (Moksha) while Sikh beliefs emphasize the principle of equality of all humans and rejects discrimination on the basis of caste, creed, and gender – to lead a well balanced pious life. But with the initiation of modernization; sorrowfully their principles are too, losing ground.
Compassion for all life, human & non human is central to Jainism. Jainism acknowledges that it is impossible to discharge one's duties without some degree of violence, but encourages minimising as much as possible. Jains are strictly forbidden to use any leather products since they are derived by merciless and inhumane killing of animals. Jains also cannot consume root vegetables (such as potatoes, garlic, onions, carrots, radishes, sweet potatoes, turnips etc) as they interact with soil and therefore contain far more micro-organisms than other vegetables. Some Jains do not consume food left overnight because of contamination by microbes (fermentation due to bacteria). Some avoid fruits & vegetables containing seeds as seeds are considered to be a source of life.
And interestingly, every Jain of today has his own version of ‘strictly forbidden’! Most of them avoid onion & garlic but savor the other root vegetables as per convenience. It has again just become more ritualistic in nature & the true essence of Jainism is lost. Leather is an appreciated product in daily life & the luxury merchandise of branded companies has become an integral part of one’s life. The need to sport a brand is of grave importance today & since it has now become the new judge to assess ones affluence, it is a requisite rather than an accessory.
Statistics advocate that Jains & Marwaris which inherently were vegetarian are adding considerably to the demand for meat in every form. They continue to be slaves of their rituals (action) & at the same time - now of their tongues! The vision of their respective religions (intention) is lost somewhere; its teachings are being buried under their uncompassionate desires & the respect for life is overshadowed by the chauvinist self! The hypocrite personality fails to identify with the unintended malice for the want of materialistic possessions!
False pride & the consequent loss of giving respect, is one of the scourges of our Modern World!
I am sure that if one insistently ‘Feeds his Faith then his Doubts would starve to Death!’ We should listen not merely with our Ears but with our Heart too! After all; Religion without Philosophy is ‘Fanaticism’ & Philosophy without Religion is ‘Mental Speculation’!
If a parent cannot teach its child what the purpose of life is, then his/her own life is a failure! This is one reason why we must motivate ourselves to read the Holy Scripture. We must inspire the generations to come to learn the right intent of the Lord!
If we introspect our respective religions (from the ritual point of view), you will only concur that it inflicts superfluous pain, sacrifice & annihilation. And if so, then we need to ask our intellect whether the Lord would ever want us to follow him with that travesty? The Scriptures speak a very easy & loving way of remembering/patronising him but over the decades; these Scriptures have been corrupted in the name of correction & words have been twisted to accommodate our ever acquisitive insatiable desires!
We relentlessly make offerings to God, observe fasts to please Him, proud ourselves of visiting shrines, in doing charity (to keep up the good karma) & all this is done for merely two reasons, namely Desire of sense gratifying riches & Fear of being rubbed the wrong way by Him! Very seldom do we come across individuals who are in love with Him for the right reasons.
Most people of today who think that they are spiritual will boast of their faith in the Lord. But they rarely realize that their faith is strong enough to its weakest link. One ill circumstance in their life will be enough to change their faith or shatter it into countless pieces. So ideally what one needs to have is ‘Devotion’! Because Devotion is devoid of external forces & enriches the heart to see the Lord from within.
I would like to ask:
What about those who do not have the resources of taking up a pilgrimage? What about those who are illiterate to read the Scriptures? What about those who are unable obtain knowledge of the Lord? What about those who are believers but have no clue about the rituals that need to be performed?
Do you think they will never attain spirituality? Do you think they will never unite with the will of God? Do you think they will have no way of improving their spiritual conscience?
The Scriptures endorse that the Lord himself helps anyone who is inclined towards Him spiritually! The Lord enters his heart, enriches his intelligence & aids the soul towards the journey of the inner self. That soul need not know the hymns to perfect his spiritual being because what God looks for is our Intent & then Action!
And there is just one thing in this universe that is not in the Lord’s control! It is our ‘Freewill’ & it is upon us to resolve what we do with it! We can waste our lives running behind worldly pleasures or we can focus our freewill on Him & attain the same in the process! Read your Scripture – it will reinforce this fact & more!
Rituals are meant to keep us in discipline, align ourselves with his intent & his imparted knowledge. Rituals should allow us to express our freewill effectively, to concentrate on the soul efficiently, for personal advancement & to live a life of piousness. But today, the same rituals are taking us away from Him. We live a more speculated life, embroider our rituals as per our own convenience & are straying away from Spirituality! Our crisis of today is the corruption of our hearts. We fill our bellies with processed junk, livers with decayed spirits, lungs with smoke, characters with false ego, minds with spurious attitudes, desires with sense gratifying possessions, intelligence with incomplete knowledge and allow our souls to be stripped of its riches!
Spirituality should be in the process, not only the outcome of the process! But we end up spending large amounts of time (& money) preparing for a Ritual when we can spend the same amount of time in remembering the Lord, chanting his name; in being Spiritual! We repeatedly forget that whatever we offer to Him was given to us by Him; so all we can in principle give Him is our freewill, our consciousness!
Prayer is not an attempt to change Gods Minds; but it is a process to let Him change ours!
Hopefully since we now understand the distinct divergence between Ritual & Spiritual, I feel it is imperative for us to differentiate here between Spirituality & Religion. History has attested time & again that Religion has only instigated violence rather than eliminate it! Religion brings along a sense of belonging towards a caste, a class or a social group, a rift among humanity & a conflict of opinions & beliefs! Spirituality is a sense of belonging towards the Lord, towards his teachings, towards righteousness & towards Liberation or Moksha!
We need to introspect, explore the inner self, inquire for the truth, prioritize our Intentions over our Actions & read our Holy Scripture! It is the only means of liberation from this life cycle & is the key to overpower the three S’s namely - Superficialness, Superstition & Speculation!
We have what we need in the Material World; we need to tackle our poverty of Spirit in the Spiritual World!