Practitioners of mainstream religions are very familiar with ritual worship. Much of the activity of religion is scripted around a set formula of external worship that has developed from perhaps an initial experience or, over time, as a result of habitual action. The intended purpose of this ritual is to bring together the believers in a common form of activity that will hopefully promote and develop the sense of oneness and devotion in the congregation.
There has also developed a form of habitual worship practiced by individuals following various religious or spiritual paths. Worship or divine service, puja, and specific forms of devotional activity take place in a prescribed manner.
If this worship is carried out by rote without active and motivated focus of the mind and heart, it has little actual benefit attached to it; but if it is part of a living conscious action, imbued with a real sense of devotion and aspiration, it can enhance the spiritual result and bring the vital nature and the body into a status of aspiration that supports the inner spiritual impulse.
There is an occult reality to physical forms of external worship, in that they act as a form of “mudra” or “asana”, a gesture or a seat, for the spiritual energy to develop and flow. This occurs when it is done consciously and as part of an inner expression. The worship service can also be an aid to concentration or meditation when it acts to quiet the mind, emotions and vital being and bring about a state of calm focus. In some cases, concentration on an image, presenting of flowers or fruit, lighting incense, or creating a ritual process that includes the flow of thought and emotion, the chanting of mantras, and the concentration of the entire being on the process can unlock spiritual experience as the mind-body complex responds to the habitual action by setting itself in tune with the energy that was to be set in motion.
Sri Aurobindo observes: “What is meant by bahyapuja (external worship)? If it is purely external, then of course it is the lowest form; but if done with the true consciousness, it can bring the greatest possible completeness to the adoration by allowing the body and the most external consciousness to share in the spirit and act of worship.”
“There is no restriction in this yoga to inward worship and meditation only. As it is a yoga for the whole being, not for the inner being only, no such restriction could be intended. Old forms of the different religions may fall away, but absence of all forms is not the rule of the sadhana.”
“These are exaggerations made by the mind taking one side of Truth and ignoring the other sides. The inner bhakti is the main thing and without it the external becomes a form and mere ritual, but the external has its place and use when it is straightforward and sincere.”
Sri Aurobindo, Integral Yoga: Sri Aurobindo’s Teaching and Method of Practice, Chapter 6, Sadhana Through Love and Devotion, Divine Love, Worship, pg. 164