Introduction to Ritual Worship
The suppression of rituals in today’s society is interesting. The word “ritual” often scares people, because they associate it with a cult or black magic, with good reason too. We have all seen religious worship that is coming from a place of separation: I am not God; God is out there somewhere. I can only contact the divine through these ritual practices. We sometimes see people come to worship from a place of desperation, praying to something outside of themselves for help. Therefore, ritual worship is something that is often very misunderstood and not widely practised any more.
Many people who are involved in certain religions such as Buddhism, Sikhism, etc. have removed the concept of ritual worship altogether, deeming it as unnecessary, as sort of a blind faith. However, the more advanced practitioners in these religions have always incorporated ritual procedures into their sadhana. It enables them to enter states of ecstasy, surrendering ego self to God. There are different forms of worship: from elaborate visible external forms such as puja (ritual of worship) to subtle inner forms such as mantra or visualization.
God is not separate from us (“yoga” means union). So if God is not separate from us, why would we worship it? As the famous William Blake once said:
To see a world in a grain of sand
And a heaven in a wild flower,
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand,
And eternity in an hour.
– William Blake
To externalise divinity is a method to help us to evolve.
Worship is the offering of all existent things and states of being into the Highest Divinity, in order to attain the firm understanding that they all subsist within the Highest Divinity alone, and there is nothing other than That.
Long ago, during a time when the Vedic period thrived–ritual worship was common and seen as necessary. Vedic worship or rituals were a collection of self transforming meditation techniques designed by enlightened masters to connect with the divine within and to experience deity (God’s energy) in all its diverse forms. Vedic rituals, when performed with full understanding and consciousness, could directly put you in-tune with God.
What if Science were to Practise Worship?
In the modern science based world, if we were to incorporate ritual worship, it would be similar to worshipping the quarks—the smallest particle in the Universe–the thing by which everything is created. Each quark would be further broken down into smaller components and given divine attributes and names, similar to the Vedic deities. During worship of these tiny atomic structures, you would be contemplating and seeing them as forms of the divine. You would settle for nothing less than seeing God in every moment of the ritual.
The ancient sages had ritual worship for all the beautiful and diverse forms of God(s energy): the breath, the five elements, the sun, the senses, etc. They understood that you can see and worship God everywhere.
From a Kashmir Shaivism perspective, ritual worship on these various forms are important to achieve a state of Oneness with Lord Shiva.
When aarti is performed, the performer faces the deity of God (or divine element, e.g. Ganges river) and concentrates on the form of God by looking into the eyes of the deity (it is said that eyes are the windows to the soul) to get immersed.
The flame of the aarti illuminates the various parts of the deity so that the performer and onlookers may better see and concentrate on the form. Aarti is waved in circular fashion, in clockwise manner around the deity. After every circle (or second or third circle), when Aarti has reached the bottom (6–8 o’clock position), the performer waves it backwards while remaining in the bottom (4–6 o’clock position) and then continues waving it in clockwise fashion.
The idea here is that aarti represents our daily activities, which revolves around God, a centre of our life. Looking at God while performing aarti reminds the performer (and the attendees of the aarti) to keep God at the centre of all activities and reinforces the understanding that routine worldly activities are secondary in importance.