Rituals as living myths
A myth is a narrative that attempts to explicate a natural phenomenon, the relationship between man and god(s), or the way the world works. Conversely, a ritual is a religious ceremony that consists of a number of actions, which follow a fixed order. Sacred refers to connectedness with God or Gods. Alternatively, it is something that people set aside for a religious purpose. ‘Profane’ refers to something that is not sacred or holy.
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Rituals can bring religious practitioners into contact with the sacred owing to the importance attached to the ritual. It is not the beliefs that lie underneath the rituals that make them significant; it is the actual ritual. When a person gets involved in a set of behaviors or actions, he or she can get a holistic experience that would strengthen that person’s relationship with the deities. The physical sensations created by performing the ritual have an immense effect on the participant’s emotional and spiritual beliefs. Furthermore, that person will feel close to the religious traditions of the past. The state of carrying out these rituals requires minimal intellectual input in order to eliminate doubt in the procedure. This whole process causes the religious follower to learn that the sacred or the spiritual is a vital part of the human world (profane). In this sense, the ritual becomes a living myth because it teaches the practitioner how the spiritual can penetrate into a human being’s world (Tunnels 120).
To understand how this works, one can examine the Hindu faith. Several rituals, such as Puja, characterize Hinduism. This term means ‘to worship’ or ‘to show reverence’. Hindu devotees perform the Puja ritual every morning after taking a bath and dressing up. They normally gaze at an image of a divine being. The worshipers do not think of the image as the actual deity but assume that it is merely a demonstration of the energy of that divine being. In this process, the devotee must pour an offering to the object by using food or flowers. The individual may also light some incense or candles in this ceremony. Sometimes a person may perform the ritual silently or may accompany it with prayers. Here, a person may request his or her god for blessings.
As the individual carries out these activities, one realizes their importance immediately. This reinforces the idea that the person is indeed a part of a spiritual world. One myth that may contribute towards a better understanding of the connection between rituals, myths, the sacred, and profane is the myth of the Brahmacharya. The Hindus believe that, at one’s early stages of life, one must remain celibate, sober, and in a state of contemplation. They claim that this will prepare the individual for a different phase of his life. The myth, therefore, reinforces a person’s belief in divine values and purpose, in his or her life. This myth allows the person to contemplate about his Guru or spiritual knowledge and thus leads to a greater connection with the spiritual world. The Puja ritual does the same thing, as well.
Muslims engage in an annual ritual called the Hajj. This entails visiting the holy place – Mecca. During the visit, believers often circle a black stone seven times and engage in several other acts (Tunnels 320). Followers believe Noah and Abraham carried out the rituals that they normally perform. As Muslim followers carry out these acts, they tend to contemplate upon ancient Muslim leaders such as Abraham. This causes them to understand the qualities that drove their spiritual leaders to obey God. Pilgrims find that they become spiritually connected to their divine being after performing the ritual. Therefore, one may explain that this ritual does bring pilgrims closer to the sacred. Muslims believe that one of their spiritual leaders – Ibrahim – erected a building whose foundation already existed. This belief is a myth and serves to reinforce the idea that man and God are constantly working together in the same way that the ritual does.
Judaism and Buddhism
The main problem with the universe in Buddhism is pain and suffering. Pain fills birth; death is painful; falling ill is painful and so is old age. Buddha taught that all these components were ordinary in life, yet they were highly undesirable. As can be seen, this worldview has no reference to an external deity. The problem with the universe centers on human agency rather than a spiritual agent. Conversely, in Judaism, the main problem with the universe is the lack of spiritual connectedness with God. Since the religion is monotheistic, Jews believe that God is the controller of the universe; if an entity moves away from this plan, then that ruins the order of things. When no association with God exists, then this results in a state of disarray (Tunnels 45).
The Buddhists explain that the cause of this problem is desire or greed. When one starts to crave happiness, wealth, and other material benefits, then that leads to excessive suffering. Buddha explains that desire leads to pain and suffering because greed can never be satisfied. This world view focuses on personal, human responsibility for the problem of pain and suffering. One does need an intermediary deity to straighten out the problem. In contrast, Jews believe that failure to maintain holiness creates poor relationships between man and God. Therefore, in this viewpoint, an external party defines the problems in the universe. The centrality of God takes precedence too.
The main goal in solving the main problem of the universe among the Buddhists is to get rid of desire. When desires no longer bound an individual, then people can live in a state of Nirvana. This term refers to a state of immense peace and job. At this level, one eradicates all suffering in the same way that one would put out a candle. Conversely, the Jews believe that the main goal is to become holy. Adherents assume that for a man to fit into the presence of God, one must be sanctified from one’s sins. Once again, the main reference in Judaism is God – the Supreme Being. However, in Judaism, the reference point is the mind or the intellect. In this regard, Judaism is absolutist while Buddhism is relative. In this religion, the individual must cultivate his or her wisdom.
In Buddhism, people recognize that an individual can convert from one existence to the other. Therefore, the solution for reaching this goal is through enlightenment or elimination of ignorance. One must use the intuitive experience as well as intellect in order to eliminate those desires. Followers achieve intuitive experience through long periods of spiritual and mental growth. This religion also teaches an eightfold path that leads a person to the state of Nirvana. The Jews propose that individuals must continue to sanctify themselves in order to get close to God; they can achieve this by worshiping God and practicing certain rituals. Since man is always in a state of uncleanness, he must continue to sanctify himself through worship. Therefore, one can assert that, in Buddhism, followers give a greater emphasis on spiritual rather than physical performance. On the other hand, Judaism tends to value ritualistic observations. Nonetheless, the rituals still possess a spiritual element in them. In this religion, man’s actions are not enough to solve the problem of impurity; therefore, to achieve this goal, he needs to rely on an external party. Both religions require humans to make the conscious choice to achieve the ultimate goal.
Hinnells, John. The new Penguin handbook of living religions. London: Penguin books, 1998. Print.