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The Quest for the Royal Road: Worship and Recitation

Published: 11.03.2016


The young generation of today believes that worship and recitation are not at all necessary in life. The aim of religion is the purity of heart. If the heart is pure, worship and recitation are meaningless. And if the heart is not pure, what is the need for worship and recitation? What would you say to the young people, who think along these lines?


As far as the purity of heart is concerned, there are no two opinions, for, purity of heart is indeed the objective of religion. When one's life is not pure, when his dealings are not honest and the mind is not pure, all religious ritual become burdensome. But I do not agree that they do not serve any purpose at all. It is also a one-sided statement that when the mind is not pure, whether one worships or not is all the same. There is a Sanskrit shloka which supports this very view:

The person who eats healthy food and avoids rest, needs no medicines and the person who does not follow these rules of diet needs medicines either."[1]

This is so, because medicine has its effect only when it is followed by the necessary diet. But even after agreeing to this view, it must be accepted that even cine is only one factor. There are many illnesses which can never be cured without medicine. Accompanied by healthy food, that medicine would act better. But no doctor or chemist would agree that medicine serves no purpose.

Worship and recitation too are useful as sadhana. I am not against them so long as they are helpful in the attainment of the main objective. But stopping merely at worship and recitation and accepting the state of stagnation is a symbol of inertia. From that point of view, it is neither right to completely reject worship, nor to take worship alone as everything. To the extent that worship and recitation make the mind pure and increase concentration. They have their own usefulness. But they have no purpose to serve when people take to them merely to keep up a tradition.


Some people believe that religious performances are meant for hiding one's impure mind. If that is the case, we shall have to agree that it is merely a pretence. If not, it should surely bring some results?


Looking at the state of the people indulging in religious rituals and the double standards in their lives, one may as well say that they do those things to cover up their sins. Cheating the customers at the shop all through the day, taking bribes, fighting false cases, stealing and telling lies and then go round the idol in the temple, touch the feet of saints, join in the singing of devotional songs to protect themselves from their evil effect—this are not really religiosity. In view of these situations, what people think about religious performances are not altogether wrong. But such things have been happening in the field of religion all along and religion has not brought out any favourable results. In my view, righteous conduct and rituals are two aspects of religion. Rituals are like the outer skin and righteous conduct is like the pulp of a fruit. The outer skin is necessary for the protection of the pulp. If the fruit is peeled away before time, the fruit starts rotting. Similarly, if rituals are rejected altogether, one aspect of righteous conduct may be forgotten.

We use a boat to cross the river. If we abandon the boat midstream, there is a real danger of getting drowned. But holding on to the boat even after reaching the shore is just stupidity.

It is necessary to use the staircase in order to reach the upper floors of a two-storeyed or multi-storeyed building. But there is no sense in sticking to the stair-case after reaching the top. We can understand the distinction between worship and righteous conduct by these examples.


Why did our sages and acharyas lay so much stress on religious performances? How is it that they have no impact on the present generation?


Those who laid stress on religious performances disregarded the relative outlook. One-sided ideas lead to conventionality in life. As a matter of fact, all rituals need to be abandoned at the advanced stage of spiritual pursuit. They cease to serve any purpose after reaching a particular stage. Idol, rosaiy, mantras, having darshan of saints and listening to religious discourses are all the means to awaken spiritual awareness. But they may not necessarily awaken such consciousness. Some individuals do not need crutches of any kind. They are able to concentrate their minds on their goal without depending on any of these things.

The young generation of today is not interested in religious rituals because most religious people have come to the means as the ends. They are encouraging conventional attitudes. Since the idol is the means to have concentration, the beads of rosary are also expected to be worshipped. But the enlightened people do not see any sense in worshipping inanimate objects. If attempts are made to convince the young people about the scientific basis of the rituals and their usefi lness to some extent, they would not reject them. But onventional religious practices, unscientific outlook, one-sided treatment and psychological pressure are the compulsions that turn the young generation against religion in the form of worship.


Today, people have been following the routine of worship and recitations not only in India but in many other countries like England, France, Germany, Norway, Belgium, Italy and Japan. Large number of people regard worship and recitation as their ultimate goal. Should we infer from this that human mind draws inspiration from the same source? Otherwise, why such stupidity should be prevalent all over the world?


Irrespective of his country, man is subject to some weakness or the other. He needs some kind of support in order to cover up his weakness. If evil forces are active in life and one wants to avoid its bad results, he would necessarily need the support of some religious practices or the other. Otherwise, his mental depression would not let him live in society. Religious practices have been regarded as a kind of protecting armour for it certainly is a help in keeping up as well as raising his morale.

Looking at it objectively, it seems that in Jainism there are minimum rituals to be followed. The 24th Tirthankar of Jainism, Bhagwan Mahavira never even talked about superficial rituals. However, it is amazing that his followers are flowing with the current. It is always easy to flow with the current. Going against the current is difficult. There is always the possibility of risks. That is why people are attracted by the routine of worship and recitation. Even the young generation which proclaims to be free from it, is also being driven towards it under the force of circumstances. I regard this phenomenon not as an allround stupidity but as following the current. When man develops the strength to be in the counter- current, this charge would get automatically wiped out.


Do mantras have some meaning or is the recitation of mantra only a traditional practice?


Scientists are engaged today in doing special research on the science of sound. According to them, we just cannot imagine the explosive power of the word. That explosive power is used for destructive purpose as well as for creation. The usefulness of mantras lies with the scientific basis of their sound. Creating certain vibrations on the basis of the sound waves and experiencing them anew in one's body and mind and studying their effect on the surrounding atmosphere reveal that every mantra has its own meaning, which is also expressed by sadhana following the prescribed process.

What do mantras contain? They are mere words. But the word is like an atom which has its own power. The word gets purified when pure atoms are transferred into it. How the atmosphere in a room changes merely by lighting an incense stick! If fragrance has such effect, how can the impact of the word be denied? Another thing is that the impact of the word is clearly visible.

A student went to a sannyasi who asked him to recite a mantra. The student ridiculed the suggestion. "Mahatmaji, it would be better if you do not talk about. those ancient things. What is there in words that we should go on reciting them?"

For some time, the sannyasi kept that student engaged in other things and then said, "Why don't you understand anything? You are an absolute donkey!" The student was furious that the sannyasi had called him a donkey. Calling that sannyasi's saddhana a mere pretense he said, "Why did you call me a donkey?" The sannyasi said with a smile, "I only used that word for you. Why did you get upset if words have no power?" The student realised his mistake. He asked the sannyasi to forgive him. The sannyasi said to him in a persuasive tone, "Son, if a word of abuse has so much power, how would a mantra not have its power? The power of a mantra is unimaginable. Its power can be known if it is used in the prescribed manner."

It is clear from this incident that mantras have their power. But when someone accepts them only as a matter of convention, he can benefit from their power only to a certain extent. What is needed today is that every mantra, with its scientific quality, should influence people's lives so that the spiritual powers of mankind are awakened.


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Title: The Quest for the Royal Road
Acharya Tulsi
Publisher: Adarsh Sahitya Sangh
Edition: 2013
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Some texts contain  footnotes  and  glossary  entries. To distinguish between them, the links have different colors.
  1. Acharyas
  2. Bhagwan Mahavira
  3. Body
  4. Concentration
  5. Consciousness
  6. Darshan
  7. Jainism
  8. Mahavira
  9. Mantra
  10. Sadhana
  11. Sanskrit
  12. Science
  13. Shloka
  14. Tirthankar
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