When a rishi worships the Ganga, it might seem very pagan for a stranger to Hindu civilization. It’s just a river, why worship it? It’s just a cow, an animal, why worship it? It’s just a tulsi, a herbal plant, why worship it? But they are not worshipping the tree or the plant or the river or the cow, they are worshipping the divinity which is there. Why did Ganga get a higher status than other rivers? Because since ages, the entire length of Ganga, from its source at Gangotri to the Bay of Bengal where it merges with the ocean, has been used by individuals to meditate, to explore the inner realms of consciousness. These individuals have been spreading their vibrations and aura in this region. Energy never dies. All energies which got released for thousands of years have purified and sanctified every speck of sand along the Ganga.
Thus the water of Ganga is naturally magnetised, it has great healing properties. And anything that heals should be given due respect. When the sages offered salutation to the Ganga, it was not a salutation to a mere river, it was a salutation given to the qualities of its water and the Divinity which they could foresee. But it doesn’t mean that the crowds of people who are standing today by the Ganga have this insight. For them it is just a ritual, a tradition. Just by being born in a Hindu family you do not get higher knowledge. Knowledge doesn’t get transferred from one person to another, what to say about generations.
As it happens, enlightened masters are understood by disciples and worshipped by masses. But the people are unable to understand the density of the master’s knowledge. According to their level, they pick up few things, and then they turn it into rituals, which is very harmless. Offering flowers to a statue or a Holy River – what harm can it bring? But when rituals become defining elements of religion, then it becomes the biggest hurdle. One can mindlessly follow rituals and live life of stupidity and ignorance. It is easy to be ritualistic but difficult to be a truly religious person. People just follow the traditions and from these very rituals, religions are recognised. Every religion has its own set of rituals which gives different identity to it. But truly speaking, the real religion has to be the religion of Truth.
If Hindus have forgotten the real Hindu essence, the same has happened to all other religions. How many Christians have really understood the gospel? What Gospel says, how many Christians understand its essence? People have picked up a few sermons; they have just picked up the ritual of going to the church. Jews have synagogues, Muslims have mosques and like any other habit they treat going to their respective worship places in the same manner. Again, the Christians have their own set of rituals which they follow very religiously. Similarly, Hindus have their own set of rituals which they follow sincerely. Somehow, in this they miss the real essence, the real core. To know the reality, the desire to know has to be there in the heart of these people. But it is missing. Believing seems very convenient, seeking is arduous. So, people opt to be a believer and not a seeker. As lot of sincere introspection is required, exploration and experimentation is crucial to understand. But generally people are lazy, really lazy. So they are happy by just following the rituals. Those who do so miss the whole purpose of religion – they have missed the message.
That is the reason, in India, a great emphasis has been made on the fact that one should have a Master, a Guru through whom you get the understanding, you get the wisdom and you don’t act like a fool by just following the rituals and missing the real essence. Rituals are like an empty can of juice. There is no juice left in it and if you keep on licking the can, nothing will come out of it. People are happy with the empty cans of religion. These are the people who have missed the joy of religion. This is very pathetic. They could have been enriched with the real knowledge. And yet they are happy with just an empty set of rituals. They could have been really religious, but they are happy just to follow the belief system of any particular set of religion. So, it does not matter what religion you believe, what matters is the religiousness. Not the dogma, not the books, not the scriptures, what matters is your attitude to life.