It occurred to me today while at the Zendo… What is the role of ritual. Zen, at least Japanese Zen is known for its very streamlined, straight to the point, no nonsense ritual. Some people are anti-ritual. I understand why though I think they are so because of a misunderstanding of what ritual is or they were raised in traditions where ritual is taught to be something different.
For one thing there are essentially two choices with pretty much everything one does in life, from brushing your teeth to exercising to placing incense upon a altar. They are either ‘habit’ or ‘ritual’. Habits are done mindlessly. Rituals are done mindfully. That is the basic difference. So yes brushing your teeth can be ritual and placing incense on the altar can be a mindless habit.
In Zen there are rituals which have been refine over hundreds, even thousands of years. Every single element has been streamlined, retained, and generated for the sole purpose of amplifying and accelerating awakening. There simply are no extraneous trappings in the practice. Simply let go of one’s aversion to them and ritual in general and after a while you recognize their profound value. Value that has nothing to do taste or temperament or the liking or disliking of ritual.
My realization today was that rituals are not simply an exercise or practice to empower awakening and awareness but are in fact a filter! They serve to filter out all the nonsense that one might bring into the training, the Zazen, the Zendo, into life. They are like bouncers at the door that bar the way to the various and numerous manifestations of the ego and its toxic illusions.
I encourage you next time you find yourself anxious about such ritual or ritual in general to consider the likely possibility that the origin of your aversion arises from the dragons that would hold you back and down and keep you out. Trust that those awakened ones that discovered and set into place such rituals knew exactly what they were doing and why. So if doing a ritual makes you uncomfortable..that is probably a really good thing. Your noble self simply has to take charge and say ‘Bring it on!.’