Realization comes by riveting to the relationship, not the ritual
Reciting mantras, worshiping the Deity, fasting on holy days – many such rituals characterize spiritual life. As these rituals are visible and tangible, it is easy to rivet ourselves to these rituals, to rationalize that rituals are all that matter in spiritual life and to reassure ourselves that we are spiritually well-off as long as we are doing these rituals.
Riveting ourselves to rituals is easy, but not efficacious. It doesn’t engender the realization, purification and redirection that are the substance of spiritual life. We need to realize higher spiritual truths like Krishna’s existence and benevolence; we need to purify our hearts of the base desires that bind us to petty worldly things; and we need to redirect our love from the world to Krishna, the source of the world.
Why are realization, purification and redirection the substance of spiritual life? Because our ultimate purpose is to develop our relationship with Krishna, to fall in love with him, and to return to his abode for an eternal life of ecstatic love.
We cannot fulfill this purpose by mechanically adhering to rituals; we have to consciously rivet ourselves to the person for whose pleasure we are performing those rituals. By thus thinking of Krishna internally and doing rituals for his pleasure externally, we nourish our relationship with him; we relish the sweet fulfillment that comes by remembering him; and we cherish the rituals as precious expressions of our love for him or at least of our desire to love him.
The Bhagavad-gita (18.65) points to the symbiotic relationship between the inner and outer aspects of spiritual life when it first exhorts us to offer our mind and heart to Krishna and then urges us to express this externally by offering our homage and obeisance to him.
“Always think of Me, become My devotee, worship Me and offer your homage unto Me. Thus you will come to Me without fail. I promise you this because you are My very dear friend.”