In the mentalist worldview, the only function of ritual could be to express beliefs or feelings. But ritual is, at best, a highly inefficient and imprecise way of doing that. Why not just say what you mean? Worse, if you interpret rituals as expression of beliefs, most of what they say is obviously false or meaningless. If you interpret them as expressions of feelings, they are mostly inauthentic. Ritual, then, is clearly a bad thing, and should be gotten rid of immediately.

This completely misses the point of ritual, however. What matters about ritual is not what it says, but what it does. And what it does is create, sustain, modify, and destroy connections and boundaries. (I have written on this blog about this as the function of Buddhist tantric ritual.)

Because modern culture denies the value of ritual, it has lost important tools for working with boundaries and connections. Therefore, it tends to fall into dualism (hardening boundaries into absolutes) and monism (denying the existence of boundaries altogether). Fundamentalism is an extreme expression of dualism; New Age woo and Buddhist All-Is-One theories of enlightenment are forms of monism. Both these are harmful failures, due in part to rejection of ritual.

Ritual works by creating what the book calls “the as if,” or “the subjunctive.” This is the world of myth. In terms of Buddhist tantra, it is both the charnel ground and the Pure Land; it is the realm in which we become the yidam. All these are “practices of view”; we see the office as if it were a Pure Land.

For mentalism, myth is either a lie or madness. An office is not, in fact, a charnel ground or Pure Land. But this entirely misses the point. No one “believes” that an office is a Pure Land; that would be madness, and to try to convince someone of it would be lying. The value of the practice is the effect of seeing it that way, not truth.


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