Saturday, 2 July 2016

Potential and pitfalls of religious rituals and worship - from A Geography of Consciousness

Edited from the chapter 'Levels of Consciousness' in William Arkle's  A Geography of Consciousness (1974) pp 122-3.
Ritual can evolve when individuals are trying hard to keep their consciousness tuned to the intuitive and ideal levels of awareness in the face of low-level attitudes which are prevalent in the world about them.

Ritualistic behaviour prevents the attention of the individual wandering onto other things such as the hundred-and-one practical issues that arise in physical level existence. The physical action of the ritual enforces the desired focus upon high ideals and does not leave room for other physical perceptions to intrude.

But that repetition of the ritual is also dangerous, for the reason that it enables the mind’s automatic systems to take over that process which lends itself perfectly to the task for which these automatic systems developed, namely, to do standard repetitive tasks. So while the adherent to ritual is closing his consciousness to outside interference, he is also prone to numb it all together; since there will be nothing for consciousness to do when the automatic systems have once got hold of the ritual.

This would all be fine if we belonged to the angelic form of evolution, because angels are meant to enjoy such repetitive behaviour; and no doubt this aspect draws them to the ritual.

But this is a complete disservice to human evolution unless it is on a very small scale, for while ritual may enable something of the angelic attitude and presence to be sensed; it does at the same time invalidate the main purpose which is to achieve self-conscious understanding of divine nature and aspiration.

A few sincerely felt moments of deep concern for this divine aspiration are therefore of far more value in the end than hours and years of partly-felt and partly-mechanical requests for help, forgiveness, undeserved benefits and ultimate safety. Thus religious ritual often degenerates into a sort of spiritual insurance scheme.

We can also see that even worship, when it is not a high and natural form of love, creates a dichotomy. For how can we consider ourselves in our own divine right while we are worshipping that right? The very basis of worship is to keep the object of our worship at a respectable distance in deference to its untouchable qualities.

We cannot therefore be expected to enter into these qualities and at the same time worship them. We can only enter into them if we self-consciously and simply love them. 

(by William Arkle)