What’s the point of Ritual?
Well, to start to answer that, you have to ask yourself: what is the point of spiritual practice?
In these strange Coronavirus times my inbox is full, as I’m sure yours is too, with lots of invitations to use this period of quarantine to develop myself, to be all I can be, to break free of all my limitations.
This pitiable and feeble language is indicative of a spiritual materialism which is absolutely endemic. So endemic we don’t even notice it. So, if the same question is posed to these people – what is the point of the spiritual practice? – their answer surely is obvious: the development to perfection of the individual.
That is a complete reversal of how the spiritual life has been pursued and seen through almost all of our common history.
The purpose of spiritual life is not to exalt and glorify the individual but to exalt and glorify and flood with gratitude the whole of creation.
If we embark on practice with the idea that through practice we will become a great person we are completely deluded, because we will never be a great person. We don’t need to be a great person because we are already part of the great person of all being. The purpose of our practice is to drop off our individual concerns and vanities so that, at least fleetingly, we can live as part of this great person.
We can see ritual from this perspective.
Ritual takes us out of a thinking position and into a feeling position, takes us out of an individual perspective and moves us into a collective one, where the perspectives of each of us form the whole, like shards of glass making a mirror.
Primarily, what we are doing when we wholeheartedly enact ritual is enacting this shared, connective and dynamic reality, which is our true life.
I think that this is what the contemporary writer and teacher Taigen Dan Leighton means when he talks of Zazen as ‘enactment ritual’- it’s not a means to something. It’s the expression of everything.