Author Topic: Why are rituals necessary?  (Read 1307 times)

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Offline sithari

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Why are rituals necessary?
« on: August 24, 2006, 12:50:32 AM »
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Rajah Kuruppu

Buddha Image: It is said by many that the worship of the image of the Buddha is actually a homage to a great teacher of gods and men. There are offerings of flowers to the Buddha, the lighting of lamps and the burning of incense.

Apart from the gesture of homage, there is a deep symbolism in these practices as expressed in the Pali formulae that are recited along with these practices. In the offering of flowers the transient nature of life is reflected. Just as these beautiful flowers will fade away with time so my own body would age and die.


Candles and lamps recall the great teacher whose wisdom dispels the darkness of ignorance with a clear understanding of the problem of life and the way to overcome it.

The burning of incense reflects the sweet and cleansing fragrance of the Dhamma and the pleasing odour of wholesome actions. There is also the mental and vocal recitation of the superior noble qualities of the Buddha. When one is thinking of such qualities, evil and unwholesome thoughts fade away.

At the time of the Buddha there were no Buddha images since the Buddha was present to be seen and respected. The images of the Buddha became popular centuries thereafter and are unlikely to truly depict the actual features of the Buddha.

More probable, the expressions indicate the philosophy of the Buddha where the face is calm and composed with a mind free of defilements and a supreme contentment arising from the realization of the truth.

Perhaps the image of the Buddha is the symbol not of a person but of Buddhahood, the Buddhas of the past ages and the Buddhas yet unborn.

The serenity of the image represents the supreme understanding and infinite compassion of the Buddhas who identified the basic problem of life and the way to overcome it.

A calm and serene image of the Buddha, a common concept of ideal beauty and a great work of art, could inspire even intellectuals and men of letters to lead a life of morality and spirituality.

It is said that Pundit Nehru, the former Prime Minister of India, had an image of the Buddha in his room so that when he got out of bed the first thing he saw was this image.

The well known French writer, Anatole France, has recorded his impressions of the Buddha image in his autobiography as follows. "On the first of May, 1980, chance led me to visit the museum in Paris.

There standing in the silence and simplicity of the gods of Asia, my eyes fell on the statue of the Buddha who beckoned to suffering humanity to develop understanding and compassion. If ever a god walked on this earth, I felt here was He. I felt like kneeling down to Him and praying to Him as to a God."

A recognized British General of the World War II gifted an image of the Buddha to then Prime Minister of his country, Sir Winston Churchill. In doing so he remarked as follows to Sir Winston: "If ever your mind gets perturbed and perplexed, I want you to see this image and be comforted."

Emphasis on Dhamma
Several commentators on Buddhism are of the view that the immediate presence of the Buddha is felt more in the Dhamma that he taught than in the images of the Buddha.

The Buddha emphasized the Dhamma rather than his own personality cult. He declared that he who sees the Dhamma sees Him. He also said that "He honours Me best who honours My teachings best".

This indicates the emphasis He placed on the practice of Buddhism, which is to lead a life in accordance with the Dhamma, rather than engage in Rites and Rituals.

Once the Buddha reprimanded a monk who was carried away by the physical appearance and mental composure of the Buddha and was consequently neglecting his progress along the way to Nibbana.

On another occasion, when He was about to pass away a large number of monks were gathered around him to administer to His needs and perhaps to listen to His final words of wisdom.

On that occasion, the Buddha perceived through His clairvoyant eye that one monk was in his cell in deep meditation and was making substantial progress towards the realization of the truth instead of awaiting on the Buddha. The latter action was commended by the Buddha.

Most Buddhists, while paying homage to the Buddha, do not pray to Him for favours or protection. Still, some do engage in prayers which are a waste of time and energy. For the Buddha has stated in very clear terms that he was only a teacher who would show the way but each individual had to go along the path discovered by Him by themselves.

The Buddha could not confer any benefits on His devotees other than advice and guidance.

Psychologists and psychiatrists of modern times claim that most men, including even some intellectuals, feel the need for a creator God or Gods for protection.

Children look up to their parents for protection but as they grow they realize that the parents cannot protect them from the vicissitudes of life. Thus, a God or Gods are a convenient mechanism to satisfy this need for protection.

For this reason, Voltaire once remarked that if there is no God we should invent one. In contrast, the Buddha declared that His Dhamma is not for the timid.

Devas and Bodhi pujas
The worship of Devas and Bodhi Pujas came to be adopted long after the passing away of the Buddha. The main objective is to seek favours from such practices.

However, this approach is a negative factor in Buddhism that encourage rather than restrain the craving for sense pleasures, which is the primary cause of the unsatisfactory nature of life.

Happiness in this life and thereafter are ensured by limiting the craving for sense pleasures. A desire strong enough to warrant the seeking of external assistance from Devas and Bodhi Pujas means that it could be classified as a craving.

According to Buddhism Devas do have limited powers to assist humans. Nevertheless, their influence is marginal since the Buddhist philosophy underline that one's destiny is largely in one's own hands and not with external agencies.

If not, it would be a negation of the law of kamma, the law of cause and effect, action and reaction, an important part of Buddhism.

Under this law, kammic actions which are accompanied by cetana or will would follow one where wholesome actions lead to happy results and unwholesome actions to unhappy consequences.

Worship of parents and pilgrimages
Some would even consider the practice of the worship of parents and elders to be ritual. This could be undertaken with genuine affection and respect for elders rather than as a mechanical exercise so that it would not be a mere ceremony.

On the other hand, even if mechanically undertaken the workship of parents have a positive value in that the hands that are accustomed from childhood to worship parents are unlikely to be utilized for violence against parents even when under stress and agitation that disturbs one's sense of balance and equanimity. Violence against parents and elders is considered a heinous crime.

Pilgrimages to places associated with the life of the Buddha and Buddhism could be useful to Buddhists if undertaken with spirituality observing the Buddhist code of ethics more scrupulously than on ordinary times and as a source of inspiration.

If, however, they are undertaken as a picnic or without spiritual significance it would be tantamount to rites and rituals.

Pancha-sila
It is a common practice in Buddhism to recite the five precepts prior to the commencement of any Buddhist activity and on other important occasions. Many recite these precepts mechanically without any concentration on their significance.

Often when these precepts are not administered by a monk, many conclude the recitation in next to no time which is inadequate to recite these precepts even at a high speed. Such recitations could be characterized as rites and rituals.

However, such occasions could be utilized valuably for deep concentration and mindful recitation of these precepts with a determination and inner will to observe them. The importance of these five precepts is in their observance and not in their recitation.

In this connection, it should be noted that the sincere effort to practice these precepts is considered the minimum requirement for those who consider themselves to be Buddhists.
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