Thursday, October 20, 2016

Importance of Rituals in Our Lives

"Spiritual practice is a direct experience. When we follow our breath in the Zen tradition, or repeat the names of God in Islam, or kindle the Sabbath candles and welcome the Shekinah on Shabbat, or offer the light of a butter lamp to Mata Durga, we are harnessing timeless technologies precisely engineered to open the heart and transform consciousness. Practice knocks on the door of the soul and it opens to the presence of the sacred. It shifts us from the intellectual realms of theology into the embodied space of spirit as it pours into and animates all that is." ................................Mirabai Starr, author and adjunct professor of philosophy and world religions at the University of New Mexico-Taos, on practicing a tradition and what it brings [1]
Many times I have confronted people asking the question as to why I go to a Catholic mass or participate in any ritual when I write and speak so much about the need for an intuitive journey and believe in spirituality which has a unique personal character. I think the above quote on the role and power of ritual in spiritually empowering us.
First of all we have to understand the evolution of rituals which had a survival bias and slowly evolved into the psychological space as the human consciousness evolved from magical character in the hunter – gatherers into the rational sphere in the post-modern human beings. Underlying the entire spectrum of human consciousness evolution is always a belief system. 
In the early homo sapiens, before he went out on a hunt, they used to gather around and draw the rough picture of the animal they intended to hunt and the leader of the hunt would shoot an arrow into the heart of the drawn figure and this ritual was rooted in the belief that somehow this act would transpose itself on the prey when they go on the hunt. Later when man settled down near the source of water as agrarian society, the fertility of the soil, the nourishing rain and the warmth giving and heat from the fire to cook and ward off animals were symbolized as Mother Goddess, Rain god and the God of protection and transformation. These gods were then worshiped in the hope that they would be bountiful and provide the seasonal flooding of the river, the timely rain and the life enabling food. The ancient worship of Agni and copious reference to it in the Vedas is an example. Recent archaeological investigations have revealed that the figurines of mother goddesses unearthed reveal that Mother Goddess worship dates back to more than 20,000 years.
It was the practice of the Nile valley civilization that in every process in the agricultural operation, from breaking or ploughing the ground , the planting of the seed to harvesting was celebrated with singing and dancing. The breaking of the ground and planting of the seed was symbolic of the burial of the god Osris and the sprouting of the grain a symbol of resurrection of Osris  and final the harvest festival was the symbol of Osris, his consort, thanking Isis for reviving him from the dead. This was celebrated by singing and dancing while a sheaf of corn was raised towards heaven. Can you see the similarity between this ancient practice and the raised offering of the host to ask Christ to resurrect back into the material realm. (I had written an article on the symbolism of the Holy Mass earlier [2])
“Archaeologically, the earliest evidence for Indo-Iranian fire worship is found at the transition from the Sintashta-Petrovka to the Fedorovo culture around 1500 BC, together with first evidence of cremation. While cremation became ubiquitous in Hinduism, it came to be disavowed in Zoroastrianism. However, even earlier evidences of Vedic fire altars have been found at the Indus Valley sites of Kalibangan and Lothal, giving rise to speculations towards earlier assumed the geographical location of the early Indo-Iranians.”[3]
The ritual of fire sacrifice or yajña is a worship of transformation which is the continuous process in all manifestation. The ingredients fed into the ritual fire such as Sandalwood, Clarified butter, incense and other millets produce a specific sensory smells and together with the Vedic chanting induce a transformation of consciousness.
Brihadaranyaka Upanishad hymn 3.1.6, states that the mind is the Brahma of yajña and the goal of yajña is complete release and liberation (moksha).
The spiritual significance of Hajj is the elevation of the faithful to a cosmic dimension. There is a parallel to the movement of cosmic objects and sub-atomic particles orbiting around a central Black Hole, which is an entity beyond human comprehension and hence representing the unknowable and unnameable power which is expressed as a common act of worship in the language man. While electrons ceaselessly orbit the nucleus of an atom, the earth and planets tirelessly traverse space in an orbit around the sun. In turn, the solar system becomes the whirling dervish orbiting the centre of the Milky Way. It seems that circling a central point of reference is a universal act of worship. Muslims join in this cosmic mode of worship and synchronize with the whole universe and all existence by circling the Ka'bah as the reference point of the oneness of Divinity.
It is important to realize that rituals evolved from a purely mind-body matrix to its current state at the stage of mythological consciousness of the homo sapiens (from 5000 B.C)  through the wisdom of those who codified and formatted these processes of spiritual exercise. The aim was elevation of consciousness by symbolically appealing to the higher mind that lies beyond the rational domain.
Love to you all

[1] Parabola Magazine July 28, 2014

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