Flowery speech is uttered by the unwise, who take pleasure in the eulogising words of the Vedas, O Arjuna, saying: “There is nothing else!”
Full of desires, having heaven as their goal, they utter speech which promises birth as the reward of one’s actions, and prescribe various specific actions for the attainment of pleasure and power.
For those who are much attached to pleasure and to power, whose minds are drawn away by such teaching, that determinate faculty is not manifest that is steadily bent on meditation and the state of higher consciousness.
— Bhagavad Gita 2.42-44
The ancient Indian religious scripture, the Vedas, is not just about religion and philosophy, it’s a complete manual on living, fully relevant to the civilization at that point of time. In addition to some of the deepest philosophical inquires on the nature of the Self, it has a huge ritualistic portion that prescribes specific rituals to attain specific results, like health, wealth, power, a better afterlife, etc.
The ritualistic portion of religion is helpful, but Self knowledge is essential. Self knowledge and Self-realization enables a person to understand reality and experience the oneness and connectedness of all life, so it’s the real basis of peace and morality. With Self-knowledge, one can apply the rituals in a meaningful way that’s helpful to oneself, helpful to the society and the environment. But without Self-knowledge, there is selfishness and narrow-mindedness, there won’t be right perspective. Without the right perspective, and without the right kind of wisdom, the rituals could be used in a way that’s harmful to the environment, to the society and ultimately prove to be harmful to oneself. Without knowing this, the unwise become so engrossed in materialism and obsessed with the ritualistic religion, they don’t even consider the possibility of Self-realization. To them, pleasures and material achievements is all that is there to live for, at best they think about performing some rituals to attain a more pleasurable afterlife. The wise ones are careful, they give the highest priority to Self-knowledge, Self-realization and spirituality, and use the rituals whenever needed.
We can draw a parallel between this and how we use science and technology in modern era. Scientific understanding of the material world has developed exponentially in the past century and we are able to harness the power of nature in a way that makes our lives simple and easy. Communication across the world has become easy, travel has become easy, finding knowledge has become easy, washing clothes has become easy, there is a device for everything. Nothing wrong with that, such a development is entirely welcome. When used in the right way, it can be very helpful in the evolution of consciousness in a manner that’s harmonious with the environment. But not everything is going the right way. Has our understanding of the material world matched by the understanding of the self? Self-realization, which is the real basis of inner peace and morality, is lacking. Without this kind of real morality we are still a primitive race even though we polish the outside with all kinds of technological gadgets and quote all kinds of scientific theories. And when very powerful technologies go into the hands of people who are still primitive at heart, the result could be destructive. As Eckhart Tolle puts it in his Power of Now, “Humans have learned to split the atom. Instead of killing ten or twenty people with a wooden club, one person can now kill a million just by pushing a button.” He asks, “Is that real change?”
So it’s important that wisdom prevails and we get our priorities right. Self-knowledge and Self-realization is the most important thing. One has to look inside as much as one looks outside. We have to learn to connect with each other and all of life from the level of the heart as much as we connect with each other through phones and internet and Facebook. With the right kind of perspective we can use the rituals and scientific knowledge in a way that’s helpful to ourselves and all life around us.