Spirit + Ritual = Spiritual
Some 4,000 miles away from London, I am currently in the ancient and holy town of Vrindavana. Krishna, the speaker of Bhagavad-gita, roamed these lands over 5000 years ago. From the external point of view there seems to be widespread poverty and decrepit infrastructure, but from the spiritual point of view this town is thriving. Crowds of pilgrims, bustling temples, lavish worship and constant devotional chanting fills the air at all hours. A visitor, however, challenged me with a thought-provoking inquiry. Why spend so much money on flowers, dresses and golden ornaments for elaborate temple worship? Wouldn’t God be happier if we spent that money on helping the poverty stricken? Is God pleased when we offer Him sumptuous feasts while thousands of malnutritioned individuals lie on the temple doorstep? Are we satisfied in building huge ornate marble temples while orphaned children suffer in makeshift shanty towns? Have we become so interested in our own spiritual wellbeing that we’ve lost touch with the ‘real’ world?
Religious worship is aimed at reviving our dormant relationship with the Divine. These acts of worship are not simply token deeds, but thoughtful activities meant to invoke a sense of awareness and personal relationship with God. While we are impersonal and insensitive toward the Divine, it is very difficult to be personal and sensitive toward the multitude of living beings around us. Scriptures do state that one who simply performs ritual worship, but does not work to alleviate the sufferings of others is a neophyte and elementary practitioner. However, that does not deem ritual worship void. Performed in the proper spirit, such rituals invoke a deep spiritual vision, where one becomes sensitive to everything in the universe, seeing different creations as part of the Divine. On that level, the spiritualist feels the sufferings of others as his own suffering, and dedicates his life for their upliftment.
The ultimate welfare work is to reconnect people back to their spiritual nature. It is this disconnect which is the root problem in our modern civilisation. A spiritually ‘connected’ individual can effectively benefit humanity by simultaneously serving the needs of the body, mind and soul. We may serve others without seeing any need for a God in the picture, but such efforts may not be as comprehensive and lasting as we would like. Time, energy and resource spent in strengthening our personal connection with the Divine will ultimately benefit the entire world in a very tangible and practical way.