In practically every religion, there is a certain degree of Ceremony, rites and rituals. Meaningful rites and rituals do play a role in Buddhism. They are the devotional aspect of Buddhism, whether in Theravada, Mahayana or Vajarana. Some meaningful devotional rites and rituals can serve to :
· Enhance our confidence in the Triple Gem.
· Generate an atmosphere of serenity and spirituality.
· Help us reflect on certain Dhamma points through the symbolic meanings of the rites or rituals.
· Promote a certain degree of spiritual brotherhood or fellowship.
· Give a meaningful form to a religion which otherwise would be so drab and psychologically unappealing.
However, we need to be ever mindful and careful when it comes to rites and rituals. They can be a hindrance, a fetter to our Dhamma growth and realization especially when they are rooted in ignorance and superstition leading to attachment, clinging and delusion.
I remember when I was young, I got pretty disillusioned with the meaningless rites and rituals in our so-called “Buddhist” practices :
· Slaughtering innocent animals ( pigs, chickens, ducks etc ) and offering them to the gods . ( My young mind used to reason that the gods, as gods, would not need to eat these ... and they could not possibly come and eat these physical things .... I had seen a number of devotees ( with craving ? ) waiting to grab at these food items instead ! )
· Meaningless burning of a lot of joss sticks , joss and other paper paraphernalia . ( I suffered and choked whenever I went to the Chinese temples. How could I have a calm, compassionate and peaceful mind in my praying ? Poor Mother Earth ! How she is being polluted ! )
· Asking the gods for all sorts of talismans, amulets etc to ward off evil or bad luck. ( Today, how much commercial business has come out of this ? And how many innocent and ignorant people have been conned ? )
· Consulting Almanacs, mediums, fortune-tellers etc as to what days and times are lucky enough to do this and that .... and there is a sum of money to pay for this “spiritual” advice. ( Reflect on what the Buddha said : “ Fools wait for a lucky day; for the industrious one, everyday is a lucky day.” )
· The numerous ‘pantangs’ ( irrational and superstitious beliefs ) observed on occasions such as births, marriages, deaths, New Year, “Hungry Ghost” Month etc.( so much conditioned fears, unhealthy mental attitudes and reactions are being planted in the mind .... )
To my mind, meaningless and harmful rites and rituals should be phased out. This would come through more study, understanding and realization of the Dhamma. Rites and rituals which
1. waste unnecessary money ( that can be put to a better cause like welfare, charity etc )
2. waste unnecessary time ( time that can be better spent in Dhamma-based activities )
3. cause our mind to be less peaceful but more attached , clinging and deluded
4. cause disturbance, harm and suffering to other beings ( for example loud noises, killing for sacrifices )
5. cause harm and negative effects to the Environment ( for example, pollution through open burning )
should be eradicated as we develop our wisdom and compassion for all.
It is indeed amazing that for generations we keep on practising meaningless rites and rituals born out of ignorance, fear and conditioned habit and thinking .
Let us have the understanding and courage to change.
Bro. Oh Teik Bin