[Advaita-l] RITUALS - 1 of 2

S Jayanarayanan sjayana at yahoo.com
Mon Sep 12 13:19:10 EDT 2022

by Prof. Shri R. Srikanta Kumara Swamy
Rituals have been a part of every religion, from the time of the inception of the religion and those that exist today. But we often find people referring
to Our Hindu religion as a very "ritualistic religion", i.e. a religion consisting of many rituals. The way they are being conducted now, in these times
has made many understand "Ritual" as just an act done or as an act to be done with! "It is a ritual to be gone through" is a common refrain. It has come
to mean anything done mechanically without applying our minds to it. Is it so bad as all that? What is a ritual after all?
Whenever a teacher comes to the classroom, the students stand up. It is a ritual. Whenever the President enters the Parliament House, all the members stand up.
It is a ritual. In our religion whenever we see our elders, we touch their feet and do Pranam. It is also a ritual. Are all these rituals devoid of any meaning
or significance? No. All these rituals are nothing but the manifestations of the students' respect to the teacher, the members' respect to the President,
the youngsters' respect to the elders. In the same way, whenever we feel grateful to someone, we say "Thank You" to him and shake hands with him. If we feel
extremely grateful, we may even press his/her hands so much, that it will be painful to them! When we feel happy meeting someone, we shake hands, hug and
embrace . All these acts can be called rituals manifesting our inner feelings to the individual concerned. The same holds good even in the case of rituals in
religion. We go to temples, perambulate and prostrate before the idol.We also undertake piligrimages, perform various havans and pujas etc. Why does one do
all those actions?If we dig deeper to find out, one of the reasonable explanations for those actions would be that we are only "manifesting" our feelings.
We are expressing outwardly, the feeling of respect, love and affection towards GOD. We get Pooja performed with flowers. Again, another way of manifesting
our gratitude or respects to HIM. We repeat his names 108 times or 1000 times. It is a ritual manifesting our eagerness to remember HIM always with all
respect. We get Abhisheka performed. It is a ritual. Again manifesting our respect to him by offering him all the Upacharas that we would offer to an invited
guest at home. The same meaning is there in the poojas performed at home too. We perform a Homa. What is that? Again, a ritual manifesting our gratitude or
respect in a slightly different way. We believe that Agni is Havyavahana (one who carries the food that we offer to other deities) and promptly delivers the
food (Havis) given by us to the proper deity whom we are invoking.
Hence we can conclude that any ritual performed is nothing but the manifestation of our inner feelings. That is why Sri Sri Swamiji of Sringeri in his
commentary on Viveka Chudamani mentions, "Bhaktihi maanasadharmah tadabhivyanjaka dehavyaparaha prahvibhaavaha ."
(Bhakthi is an intellectual disposition, "Prahvi bhaava" is nothing but an articulation of the body to manifest the feeling of "Prahvi bhaava" or humility).
So, it connotes that the feeling should arise first and then the rituals follow. Imagine an individual shaking hands with us, absolutely without any feelings,
or an individual who performs Pranams without any feelings or does worship without any feeling. We can easily discern the mechanical nature of the ritual,
devoid of the internal feeling. We simply say he is doing it mechanically. What is the use? Absolutely nothing, except an exercise for the body!!
The question may arise, "What is the use of a ritual at all? Isn't it is enough if one has only the feelings? No. Man's nature compels him to find an outlet
for his emotions by doing various actions. We find satisfaction in doing something under its influence. That is Ritual.
There may be rituals or actions which do not require any feelings to be aroused. But we know that any action done with "Shraddha" or "faithfully", is better
than one done without any feeling of Shraddha. Teaching in a class is a ritual. It can be done in two ways. The teacher prepares well and delivers in such a
way that all the students understand it well. This is the feeling of Shraddha. It can be delivered just like that without proper preparation, without bothering
himself to know whether the students have understood or not. The first way of delivering is definitely better than the second way. A man has to give back the
debt to the individual from whom he has taken the money. This can again be done in two ways. With all reluctance, he can just give back the money without even
a murmur of thanks. It can also be given back with a pure sense of gratitude, profusely thanking the individual. The second way is definitely better. It is
therefore said that, the intention behind an action is much more important than the action itself.
As Aldous Huxley puts it, "A well-performed ritual is a work of art by which even a skeptical spectator will get a kick. It will give an enduring and lingering
satisfaction to both."
How can we get the intentions or feelings of gratitude, love and respect aroused? It may not be difficult towards an individual who has helped us, or one who
commands respect by his character itself, or one towards whom we have natural feeling of affection because he happens to be our kith and kin. But, how do we
get the feelings of respect, love, gratitude aroused towards something which we can neither see or touch? Or how can we gain that "lingering satisfaction"
or the "kick" that Huxley talks about, when a ritual is well-performed? That is where the Mantras, the Shlokas, the Sahasranamas come in. When the Mantra
extols the greatness of that Almighty, as one who has created this wonderful world, or who has given us this body of ours, or one who has provided us with all
the paraphernalia required for our enjoyment, etc, we naturally feel grateful to HIM and the ritual of Pooja in different forms attains some meaning. This can
happen only when we understand what is being uttered, be it a Mantra, a Shloka or a Nama. If we do not understand anything, but perform the "act" only,
it becomes a meaningless ritual.
It is to gain that pure feeling of lingering satisfaction, a feeling bereft of all the negative thoughts, that we MUST understand and be involved in whatever
ritual we perform.
A Pooja is being performed. The Purohit says "Paadyam Samarpayami" and asks us to offer two spoonfuls of water, by pouring that into another vessel. What is
this Ritual? "Paadyam Samarpayami" means, we are offering water for God, to wash his feet. This concept is the same as what we offer to an esteemed guest coming
to our house. We make him sit on a chair, and wash his feet or offer water to him to wash his feet himself. That is "Paadyam". When we are performing Pooja
we do not have the God in human form, but only as an idol or a photograph, or a painting or a Saligrama or Linga. We cannot see his feet and wash. What should
we do? We have to simply imagine HIM in the human form and imagine washing HIS feet when we offer two spoonfuls of water. The offering of two spoons into
another vessel is purely symbolic, but our feeling must be complete with the feeling of washing of his feet. All these are contained in the two words:
 Paadyam Samarpayami .
By any stretch of imagination, we cannot say that the two Sanskrit words or an appropriate Mantra or Sloka has the power to take the two spoonfuls of water
to the actual feet of GOD. It is ridiculous!
(The words definitely do not mean just offering of two spoons of water!) In addition ,we can recite a Mantra or Shloka in praise of the Deity and imagine
washing HIS feet. The same concept is there in all the Upacharas. We offer food as "Naivedyam" - What is that? It is no doubt a ritual, but if done with
understanding, provides a wonderful mental satisfaction of having fed God with our choicest foods. We offer many many things knowing fully well that God
does not consume them. It is only for OUR satisfaction that we offer. That is why Pooja is defined as "Poojanama santosha janakaha karma samudaayaha ."
Pooja is nothing but a bundle of rituals giving pleasure to the performer.
Today, unfortunately, even the recitation is done by the Purohit and he does not bother whether the doer listens to them or not and neither is the "doer"
interested in knowing what is being done. But the actions or rituals are gone through scrupulously. How can we reconcile with such a situation? Should we
believe that whatever we do, Abhiseka, or Naivedya, etc etc, will reach the Deity? If it has to reach the deity, then by what power or mechanism? Simply saying
that the power of the Mantra or Shloka preceeding the ritual will take the materials to the deity is meaningless. Commonsense tells us that this is a very
far-fetched imagination and cannot be a fact. Well, we can certainly imagine that the Naivedya has reached the Godhead. Nothing wrong, but it can remain only
as an imagination, a pious heart felt feeling. If such a pious feeling has to be aroused in our hearts, we must understand what we have recited. When we recite
"sahasra sheerShA purushaha" and perform "Aavahana" to the deity, what is the feeling that should be evoked? It is that, The great "Purusha", who is behind
all the heads, feet, eyes and hands in all the living beings of the entire universe, and one who is Omnipresent, and one who transcends this universe by a
large measure, is being invoked, so that we can feel his presence in the symbols in front of us. This is the essence of the Mantra. When we do the Avahanam
to any deity with this Mantra, we only feel that great "Purusha" is here, in the symbol that we are worshipping. The action of offering flowers or Akshata
to the Idol, is symbolic and only to strengthen the feeling that HE is in the Idol. The other Mantras in the "Purushasuktha" extols the greatness of that
"Purusha" and when we do each upachaara by reciting those Mantras, we feel as if that great "Purusha" is in front of us symbolically and is accepting what
we offer. All the actions or rituals for the Upachaaras are just outlets for our feelings "The Mantras of the Purushasuktha", by any stretch of imagination,
cannot literally carry what we offer, and make them reach that "Purusha". After all, where is HE? HE is every where. For our convenience, for the ease of
meditation and contemplation, we have many types of symbols to which we offer the Upacharas.
(To be continued...)

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