Symbols And Rituals

Some spiritual traditions are filled to the brim with symbolism and rituals while others strike a lighter key.

Tibetan Buddhism for example, makes me think of prayer wheels, butter lamps and an abundance of temple decorations. Other traditions take a more straightforward approach without the loud music and dramatic paintings on the walls.

Now, why meditate to the sound of beating drums and what purpose do all these religious symbols play? In this article, I'll take a close look at a number of symbols and rituals from various spiritual traditions to find out how they can support your meditation practice.

The holiest place in a temple is usually referred to as the shrine room. Altars or shrines are often decorated with candle lights, burning incense and fragrant flowers. But why go through all the trouble of maintaining an altar?

There are a number of reasons for this. By having a small shrine in your meditation room you create a sacred space that also becomes a great source of inspiration and support.


In Buddhism a lit candle symbolises wisdom, the burning incense represents concentration and the beautiful flowers act as a reminder of morality.

In new age and other spiritual traditions, fire may be a symbol of purification, transformation or spiritual growth.

Whatever is placed on an altar is usually offered with reverence.

Meditating At Home

So, should you have an altar at home, kneel before religious images and chant in foreign tongues? If it puts you in the right mind state, then it's helpful. On the other hand, if you find the whole thing odd or even embarrassing - then it doesn't serve the purpose.

These symbols and rituals are meant to support spiritual practice. If you like, put some spiritual images or crystals on your altar. The point here is to create a supportive and inspiring space - a place of stillness.

Personally, I don't even light candles anymore when meditating. I don't feel the need for any such support. However, I used to have a fully-equipped altar in my apartment for years which supported my meditation practice a great deal. Now, I find support in other things such as a simple and stress-free lifestyle.

The Heart Of Spirituality

An image of the Buddha, act as a reminder of his wisdom and beautiful characteristics. We could read an endless number of qualities into an object like this, however spiritual images are only representations of purity, wisdom and truth. The images themselves don't possess any of these qualities.

Symbols and rituals simplify spiritual practices by bringing them down to a level where even a child gets the message. A smiling angel conveys comfort and warmth, doesn't it?

The bottom line is that spiritual practice takes place in the mind and not on golden altars. True spirituality is about awareness of the present moment and the pure feelings, thoughts and actions that follow in the wake of mindfulness. Anything other than that must be ascribed to cultural interpretations of the true path.

Explore and find out what works for you. If meditating next to a waterfall supports your practice, then that's beautiful. But what lift your spirits today may not inspire you tomorrow since the nature of all phenomena is change. It's beneficial to be aware of these changes...

Finally, let's not attach too much value to any symbol or ritual. After all, spiritual practice is about letting go.

Best of luck!

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