There is a fine line between spiritual practice and ritual.
I’m not sure there’s anything wrong with ritual per se, I guess it’s just down to the importance one may attach to it. We all conduct various repeated behaviour in the course of our daily lives, kinds of rituals that we enact for a variety of reasons.
The chanting of mantra is in itself ritualistic, repeating the same small collection of sounds, with their vowels, consonants and dipthongs, all the subtleties of the sounds as they roll from the mouth into the air. Inevitably, there is a structure that builds up around such daily practice. As far as I understand it, these kinds of behavioural habits are not seen as particularly useful in themselves, as they can become structures to which we can become attached in an unhelpful and perhaps delusional manner – doing it ‘right’ or ‘wrong’, doing things in the ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ order etc.
I have always liked the non-punitive nature of Buddhist and Hindu thinking. There isn’t much emphasis on rules as such, instead there is the acknowledgment that there are things that are of benefit and things that are not. The emphasis on guilt, fear and the fear of punishment is much less than in the monotheistic, Middle Eastern and European religious traditions.
I have a little routine that I go through every day; I stretch and open my body a bit, give it a bit of a shake, then I sit. At the start of each session I ask that my practice be of benefit; I keep the thought, the request, dare I say it the prayer, deliberately vague so as to keep it as open as possible. At the end, when I finish the Green Tara mantra below, I thank her. When I stand up I close my eyes and thank whatever it is that has kept me alive and in one piece since I last thanked it, as we just never know how the day is going to go.
It is this aspect of spirituality, this acknowledgment that we don’t have all the answers, that we don’t know the full facts of our existence, and that there is much that lies beyond our control, that I find particularly useful in life. It is easy to think that we know what’s what, but the fact is, beyond a certain point, we simply don’t. In the face of that, gratitude for what we are, for what we know and for what we have seems appropriate.
Om Tare Tuttare Ture Soha