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Dry Ritualism Is A Spiritual Liability

Dry ritualism, bereft of an iota of God love, is a spiritual liability. The sorry plight of confirmed ritualists is graphically portrayed by the Bhagavata (10.22-3.) through a concise tale of surpassing charm. The story depicts one of the less known sports of Bhagavan Sri Krishna. It is in fact a vivid portrayal of the sharp contrast between self-centered ritualism and self-giving devotion and demonstrates the fact that while the frenzy of ritualism blocks spiritual vision, the upsurge of unmotivated love of God identifies the Divine, though appearing in a human garb, with a sure eye.

Normally Krishna, a great lover of good food, made it a point to carry with him a variety of items consisting of rich delicacies, including milk and butter. Today, however, he sallies forth without carrying any victuals, apparently in a fit of forgetfulness. But whatever Krishna does or does not do has a certain purpose. His act of not carrying anything to eat is no exception. Even as he sprints spiritedly with his friends on the verdant landscape of the wooded groves, he waxes eloquent over the selfless service-mindedness of the large trees, which live for others (parartthaikanta - jivitan) and, themselves enduring the cruel vagaries of the shifting seasons, shield others from the fury of wind, rain, heat and cold (vatavarshatapahiman sahanto varayanti nah). This praise is not an empty tribute uttered casually on the spur of the moment. It acquires, as we shall see, a special significance when related to the later happenings in the unfolding drama.

As the day advances, Krishna’s cowherd friends become weary and feel the pinch of hunger. As was their wont, they report their gnawing hunger to Krishna and Balarama, begging them to get them something to eat. They say in piteous tones, ‘O Rama! O Krishna! We are distraught with hunger. Please do something to assuage it.’ The psychological moment for Krishna to stage His sport has arrived. He already has a fascinating plan up his sleeve which he orchestrates in order to convey a couple of spiritual messages.

Now, with a view to blessing the pious wives of a group of brahmanas (bhaktaya viprabharyayah prasian), Krishna says, ‘Friends! Certain brahmanas who are well versed in scriptural lore are performing a sacrifice with the desire of attaining heaven (svarga kamaya). Hasten to them and beg food of them. Do not forget to mention that you have been sent by Krishna and Balarama.’ As instructed, the cowherd boys rush to the brahmana sacrificers and petition them for food. They prostrate themselves before the brahmanas and with folded hands say, ‘O Bhumidevas (gods on earth)! We have arrived here as commanded by Krishna and Balarama to beg food from you. They are tending the cattle not far from here. They are as hungry as we are. Please give us some food.’ The brahmanas pretend not to hear the appeals of the cowherd boys. They give no reply at all, either positive or negative. They maintain a willful silence that speaks volumes for their ritualist arrogance.

The cowherd boys, smarting under the slight they suffered at the hands of the proud brahmanas, return to Krishna and report what transpired. Krishna, far from being offended, smiles away the impudence of the brahmanas. He asks the cowherd boys to approach the wives of the brahmanas and beg from them. The moment the brahmana wives hear of the presence of Krishna nearby, they are in a whirl of excitement.

They provide food for all and achieve moksha by being in the presence of Sri Krishna. While their husbands never achieve anything through dry ritualism.