Why do we make rites and rituals? There are thousands that exist in hundreds of various forms all around the world. How are these born, and what is the purpose of them? What is the purpose of them for you who practice them?
So, let us speak to the one who is suffering. You have worry, stress, anxiety, doubt. Or you get pissed off, furious, or depressed, or fed up with what is around you. Or you are always stressed. Or you have a phobia, or dread of something terrible happening to you. Or you’re so lost in the cloud, you’re not able to pay proper attention to anything. Or you are unbearably bored. Or you are grief-stricken, in despair over what you have lost. Or you are so confused, you don’t know what to do and you don’t know how to decide what’s best. Or maybe you’re desperately lonely, longing for a companion. Or all of the above.
When you have all this pain inside, you don’t like having it there, right? You want to get rid of it – you need a hug, a drink, a shoulder to cry on, a movie. You need to cover it up, distract yourself from it, find something that will ease it; somewhere to channel it. You cannot stay holding it always inside you.
One big part of what we generally do as human beings in response to suffering is that we create rites and rituals as a way of easing pain. We find some object outside ourselves in which we take refuge.
In the past we have worshipped gods and deities, saints and holy images. In the East it is still so, but in the West, we have done away with all that, so we gather other rites and rituals wherever we can find them. We take refuge in the planets and stars, or in the Spirit of the Universe, or in the sea, or we go and hug a tree, or we go to get our tarot cards read, or we go sit in a church, or we pray – whatever our religion, we pray or we chant. If we have no other more spiritual rite and ritual, we make the human body itself into a kind of source of spirituality, hence the obsession with hatha yoga of all varieties in the western world.
There are a thousand kinds of rites and rituals we can create. My mother set up a statue of the virgin Mary in the corner, not because she was really religious or really believed in the Christian God, but because she liked the statue and wanted to have something to pray to.
There is the practice of asking questions to a pendulum whenever we are in confusion, the practice of lighting candles as though they will burn a hole in the fog in our minds, the practice of gardening with the moon, cutting one’s hair according to the tides, we could go on for pages and pages. Anything, any ritual, any object, this becomes your refuge, this becomes your security, even this becomes a part of how you identify yourself.
And does it help, this, really? Does it solve the problem? Does it get to the root of what is wrong?
Or is it more like you have cancer, and you take an aspirin for the pain? Is it like you have a garden full of quack-weed, the one whose roots spread deeply over the whole field, and now you go with a scissors to cut it? Do you still have all the same problems and keep needing to go to your refuge to get some relief? Aren’t you a bit like someone who is just drinking cup after cup of coffee instead of sleeping?
Maybe the one who drinks coffee all night instead of sleeping is too afraid or having nightmares to allow himself to sleep.
In the same way, you look to objects outside, because solving the real problem -the root of it – is too hard, too painful, too uncomfortable, and you don’t want to do it. Why are you crying? Do you have regret? Do you have guilt? What for? What wrong have you done that you don’t want to face?
Rituals made for cheating fate
In practicing rites and rituals, we make sure that we are depending on an outside force, giving it a greater power over our happiness and well-being than us and our own actions. We divest ourselves in this way of responsibility, and allow ourselves to remain without changing anything or challenging our beliefs or our comfort zone.
It is often accompanied by a belief in “fate” “destiny,” or “good/bad luck,” which is the opposite to a belief in the law of kamma.
When you believe in kamma, you believe that in everything you do you are a gardener. If you plant a potato, you will get to harvest a potato, and if you plant a tomato, you will later get to harvest tomatoes. If you have planted a potato, no prayer, ritual or ceremony of purification will make your potato plant produce tomatoes; or vice versa. Whether you plant it at high tide or low tide, at full moon or half moon, the potato plant will still stubbornly continue to produce potatoes. That is the law of the universe.
In the same way, to believe in kamma is to believe that you will always inherit the results of whatever you do; that whatever actions you take, whether knowingly or unknowingly, will come back to you. Going to confession will not save you (although telling somebody about what you have done with the sincere intention to correct it in future can be helpful in that it lightens the heart and helps you to start fresh.)
Instead of relying on prayers and rituals, it is therefore better to act knowingly rather than unknowingly: if you don’t like potatoes, learn what the seed of a potato looks like so you can avoid planting one. (Hint for anyone who does not know: the seed of a potato is a potato. 🙂 ) If you want to eat tomatoes, learn how to grow tomatoes and what conditions these seeds need.
If you believe everything is laid out for you, and that you have nothing to do with the events that happen to you whether happy or unhappy; it means that you will feel fate is unjust to you when things go wrong, you will ask “why me?”; you will feel angry, you will feel afraid.
But if you see everything that happens to you as your just deserves, there is no anger or hatred for those who persecute you, no fear of what will happen to you. You know that you have to pay for whatever you have done. You don’t blame your situation, you blame yourself. What have I done? Instead of having a thousand problems that come from outside, you have one problem that you can solve here and now by facing the source of your problem and correcting yourself.
But it’s rather hard to correct yourself and solve this problem from inside, it doesn’t sound fun or enjoyable. It’s much easier and more fun to go and do a purification ritual with the moon, or to read your astrological chart, or to go see a tarot-card reader. What do you prefer?
The moment to stop praying
So now, with this meditation, what we want to do is that we want to remove the problem, cut out the cancer. This you have to do for yourself, by yourself. You have to see how the anger is formed, how fear is formed, to cut the legs from under it. You have to learn how to see this inside yourself and get rid of it inside yourself, drop it from where it is born.
If you want to learn how to do this, you cannot keep all your refuge in whatever ritual you had outside. You cannot do it. You will learn to become your own refuge instead, but first you must be empty. If you come with your cup already half full of coca-cola and I want to serve you earl grey tea, you have to throw out your coca cola if you want to taste the tea.
I understand, it is scary to let go of all the things that have made you feel better for so long. It’s as if you have cancer and someone is offering the cure of it, but tells you that first you have to throw all your painkillers in the dustbin as they will interfere with the new medication. You have to be fed up of having this cancer that is never solved no matter how many painkillers you take. You have to learn the art of letting go, to be prepared to take a risk for a moment, to put your faith in something as yet unexperienced and unknown; that is, your own self, and your own strength and courage.