Worship and sacrifice are two of the most basic activities in almost every religion. If you think about the most extreme cases, thousands of people were sacrificed for various gods, but even today there are millions of people around the world who practice worship each and every day. But does worship really help on your spiritual path, and do sacrifices really work?
First of all, it’s important to distinguish between the lower and the higher form of worship. The lower form, which is not worship at all, stems mostly from fear. There’s a hidden fear in the back of your mind that if you don’t worship God, something bad will happen to you. You suppose that God wants you to worship him, otherwise he’ll become angry and punish you.
This is especially true of primitive religions that had an animistic worldview of nature, and worshipped rain gods, sun gods, and everything in between. Back then, people didn’t have a clear understanding of how nature really worked, but even worse, their life depended much more on weather conditions than nowadays.
Understanding and trying to control the weather was a question of life and death. So it’s quite natural that they came up with the idea, that some invisible but intelligent being is behind all of it, who is watching their every move. If one god controls the weather, then it’s of utmost importance to try to control this god, and through it, the weather itself.
But a god is a god because it can’t be controlled, only persuaded at most. And how can you persuade somebody much higher than you? Either by begging or by giving a gift. When you worship a god in your prayer with the intention of gaining a favor, or making him like you, that’s called the lower form of worship. I spoke about this in more detail in my episode titled: “Does prayer really work?”.
But if simply asking for a favor is not enough, you have to turn to the second strategy: offering a sacrifice. By offering something valuable in exchange for good weather, luck or favorable conditions, you are really just trying to make a bargain with God. Throughout history, believers offered food, flowers, animals and even humans; because the more valuable it is, the more God will like it.
However, as this kind of logic is based on magical thinking, sacrifice never worked, and it never will. The Incas, who sacrificed tens of thousands of innocent people, couldn’t save themselves from the drought, and their whole civilization ended. But we need not even go so far, because even the simple act of offering a flower to Buddha or Krishna or Jesus is appaling.
Just think about it: you are killing a living plant to offer it to a dead stone. The flower was throbbing with life, enjoying the sunrays, dancing in the rain, its very existence was sacred. And now you cut it off, throwing it away for nothing, believing that what you do is sacred. Do you think God would really want you to kill one of his creations for him?
In fact, the Buddha himself warned that he shouldn’t be idolized. If you want to remember me – he said – don’t build temples, don’t create statues, don’t paint pictures. Instead, plant a tree, because the living plant contains my very essence. And what are people doing nowadays? Just the opposite. They are worshipping the Buddha as if he was a God, cutting down trees to build temples, and cutting off flowers to decorate his statues.
Even logically, sacrifice doesn’t really make sense. If God created the whole universe, and if God resides in every living being, then what’s the point of offering something that already belongs to him? Killing a flower, you’re killing a part of God himself, sacrificing real life to an empty belief.
But to be truly religious, you have to do just the opposite. Sacrifice all your ideas and beliefs, especially the ideas and beliefs about yourself! Sacrifice your ego, throw it into the fire, and let it burn away until nothing is left. That’s the only sacrifice needed, but often that’s the hardest to make.
Millions of idols were created throughout the history of religions representing various gods, deities and saints. They reason that it’s almost impossible to connect to the infinite directly, so the idol can serve as a focus point, as a bridge towards God. However, for most people, the idol has become a barrier instead of a bridge.
By worshipping somebody, you are putting him on a pedestal, to a point where you think you wouldn’t be able to reach yourself. I used to keep a picture of Buddha on my wall, and just before the day I became enlightened, I kept looking at it for hours. But he wasn’t the object of my worship, he was my inspiration. He was the one who showed me and the whole world, that attaining liberation is indeed possible.
What he reached was truly something incredible, magical and mysterious. But that doesn’t mean that I, or anybody else, can’t reach to the same realization. This is the only way an idol should be used, but 99% of people will choose the lazy way, and just worship it instead. That’s why I say that it’s better not to use an idol at all.
The other sign that you’re practicing the lower form of worship is when you’re putting yourself first. When God is just a means to an end, a facilitator of a better life, a supernatural jinn you can ask wishes from. True worship is when you put God above everything else, above your selfish needs and desires, above yourself in every way.
Worship literally means giving worth to something, and the higher form of worship is none other than devotion. Devotion is not based on fear, but on love. Only when you love God more than anything else can we speak about true worship. However, this kind of worship is just as dangerous and misunderstood as the other.
Why does Christianity tell you that you’re a sinner from the moment of your birth? Why do they condemn your natural urges and desires? Why do cults make you confess your mistakes in front of everybody else? Why do they want to plant this idea in your head, that you are essentially worthless, that you’re not good enough?
Because if you truly loved yourself, you wouldn’t need them. Even if religions don’t manipulate you, you may naturally have a low self-esteem, and then you will feel a need to rely on somebody or something strongher than you. If you see everything as worthless including yourself, you become depressed. But if you find at least one thing that you value, you become devoted.
You repress your love towards yourself, and then you project it outwards. You take away your own self-worth, and give it to God. But it doesn’t just happen in religion, it happens in all areas of life. Researchers have shown for example, that those who worship celebrities tend to suffer from high anxiety, more depression, high stress levels, increased illness, and poorer body image.
It happens to the lonely mom who becomes devoted to her cats. It happens to the insecure teenager who falls in love with the singer. It happens to the antisocial artist who becomes fascinated with his work. We as humans have a need to love, and when we don’t love ourselves we search for a substitute.
That’s why it’s so important to learn to accept, value and love yourself before anything else. You have a treasure inside you, you are infinitely valuable, your life is worth more than anything. You don’t need to worship any god, because you are already a god, all you need to do is discover it. To help you with this, I created a separate video titled “How to love yourself”.
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