The cure for ritualism is not the rejection of ritual but the infusion of emotion into ritual
Some people criticize religious rituals as mindless performances and campaign for their rejection.
However, rituals are present in every walk of life. For example, when two people meet, they shake hands. Handshaking is a ritual that gives tangible structure and recognizable form to our desire to greet people cordially. But some people shake hands perfunctorily – business rivals, while shaking hands, may be scheming to backstab the other person.
When devoid of the underlying emotion, any ritual can become superficial, even hypocritical. Nonetheless, we don’t campaign to ban handshaking even though it is sometimes done hypocritically. Then why discriminate against religious rituals?
The corrective is not rejecting the ritual, but infusing it with genuine emotion. When shaking hands, sometimes a smile may come naturally on our face and sometimes a smile may need to be placed there. The same principle of intentional infusion of emotion applies to spiritual practices too.
The Bhagavad-gita (09.14) states that enlightened souls practice bhakti-yoga wholeheartedly. Bhakti practice involves many rituals such as bowing down to the Lord, worshiping his deity manifestation and chanting his holy names. Enlightened souls don’t reject these activities as ritualism, despite knowing that many perform these activities ritualistically. They set the correct example by cherishing bhakti rituals as precious means to access the transcendental Lord who makes himself accessible through his various manifestations.
What if we don’t feel devotional emotions while engaging in bhakti rituals? We can use our intelligence to meditate on Krishna’s all-attractiveness and to recollect our past enriching experiences while practicing bhakti. Such conscious contemplation will activate our dormant devotional emotions. By investing in our bhakti practice whatever emotion we have, we become purified.
Thus practicing bhakti consciously, we will penetrate through phases of barrenness and relish Krishna’s sublime, supreme sweetness.
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