Written by Jack Barratt
‘This Lord is not to be worshiped by material substances but by one’s own consciousness. Not by waving lamps nor lighting incense, nor by offering flowers nor even by offering food or sandal-paste. He is attained without the least effort; he is worshiped by self-realization alone. This is the supreme meditation, this is the supreme worship: the continuous and unbroken awareness of the indwelling presence, inner light or consciousness.’ [i]–Brahmarishi Vasishtha
All great beings who have attained to the heights of self-realisation and liberation understand that the only real spiritual sacrifice is the sacrifice of our limited sense of self into the all-pervasive, division-less self of reality itself. Any apparent sacrifice of water, oil, flowers or whatever else, which is used in whatever kind of ritual, is absolutely useless if it does not remain connected, if only in remembrance and principle, to the original principle of sacrificing our limited nature into that which is totally unlimited and immortal.
Many highly ritualistic spiritual traditions have lost their connection to their essence and root: reality—the supreme consciousness. When this crucial connection is lost, then pointless, theatrical ritualism increases in order to make up for whatever has been lost. Such rituals do not invoke the presence of reality and reality-emanations—siddhas, avadhūtas, bodhisattvas and vidyādharas (various types & orders of evolved & liberated beings) Rather, such rituals only invoke the presence of parasitic, lower-level subtle beings whose frequencies correspond to those of the inept, fake priests.
In the avadhūta tradition—the sublime tradition of Lord Dattātreya—which is sustained solely by the continuously emerging emanations, or ‘aṃśas, of Lord Dattā, ritualism is given a less elaborate role. Why? Because great power, the power of embodied perfect masters, the luminous stewards of the tradition, operates through great simplicity and profound humility. Dattā masters do not need to hide behind rituals, mantras, yantras or wordy, overly intellectual and dry discourses. Such masters deliver their results with the simplest possible means. Oftentimes, even though they make no outward displays of their work, they will move mountains for somebody solely through a sense of dharmic duty (righteous duty)
Some avadhūtas don’t engage in any ritualistic activity; some avadhūtas don’t even speak. However, some avadhūta masters engage in or empower others to engage in, ritualistic activities for the benefit of the collective consciousness as a whole. Such rituals, again, will be as simple as possible, and many are accomplished solely through the empowerment of the master and tradition rather than the discrete acts of the ritual itself. Such rituals are powerful because they still maintain their link to consciousness via the master’s own perfect realisation.
If we are blessed to engage in such ritual activities under the guidance of sublime avadhūtas, or even if we engage in more mundane religious rituals and worship, we should bear in mind the following simple truths about what such activity actually represents:
– Anything that we offer into fire is symbolic of our patterns of limitation that we are offering up for purification and dissolution with the living, unlimited and forever-burning flame of reality itself.
– When we offer food, we are offering our own body, our own grosser aspects, into the digestive flames of divinity that are represented by whatever deity we are feeding.
– When we offer water, in the form of abhiṣekam (Ritual bathing of a deity or Master) or even for drinking, we are asking for our flow of self-identified conceptual thinking to be purified in the natural wisdom space of reality that is represented by the deity.
– When we offer incense, we are seeing our own limitations being burned to ashes under the watchful gaze of the deity who represents the supreme reality.
These four types of offerings correspond to the four tangible elements. Finally, in order to offer the element of space, we are to offer the totality of our own attention to each discrete moment, and movement of the ritual. This means that, for the duration of the ritual, we totally cease to exist. Without this perspective—the perspective of sacrificing our ordinary thoughts and concerns to become totally involved, dedicated and consumed by the ritual—the ritual becomes empty and meaningless.
Outward ritual sacrifice has to be consummated and sealed by the sacrifice of our own awareness, which is ordinarily consumed by mundane thoughts, into the fire of genuine spiritual refinement that is being symbolised by the various ritual sacrifices of elemental substances.
Thus it is, in the way of avadhūtas of past, present and future, the supreme sacrifice is that of sacrificing our self-identity and the reinforcing structure of dualistic conceptual thinking into the flame of neutral, empty yet luminous awareness. When simple ritual activities are empowered by qualified masters, and when they remain rooted in the original principle of sacrifice, then they are beneficial for all involved. If ritual activities stray from this pure origination point, then falls of various degrees often occur. Except for those beings who possess impeccable purity, humility and an unshakeable faith in their master, spirituality, especially when it involves rituals, can often be a ‘snakes and ladders game’ where we can easily fall from great heights in a split second.May such falls never occur for discerning beings reading this article. May all of us aspirational and sincere beings merge our mind with the mind of Lord Dattā Saccidānanda—who is a perfect, totally unimpeded plenum of endless bliss.
[i] Vasistha’s Yoga, trans. Swami Venkatesananda, (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1993), 551.