Ashoka Approach

Ashoka Approach to Training

Human beings have always marked important events with ritual. Meaningful rituals that truly meet human needs reflect individual and communal values. These values represent the foundation of all cultures and spiritualities; they can be reliably mapped and measured. As societies became more and more urbanised, responsibility for the creation of ritual passed from small groups to institutions and values evolved accordingly.

Just like our ancestors, we need rituals that are powerful enough to touch us on a special day but also to sustain us as we move through daily life in an unpredictable world. At a time when institutional rites seem irrelevant and ineffectual, families and friends crave meaningful rituals to help them welcome newcomers and mourn the loss of loved ones. In a throw-away society strongly influenced by consumerism, where overconsumption of disposable items is the norm and marriages are notoriously short-lived, couples yearn for rituals they can identify with, that make sense to them and that tend towards long-term commitment.

Our first challenge today is to reclaim our right to create rituals.

The second is to re-learn the craft of ritualmaking so that we can create rituals that meet our needs and reflect our values. Those looking for an assortment of ready-to-use rituals should look elsewhere. ‘Ritual is work, endless work. But it’s one of the most important things we humans do.’§

Key elements for successfully learning ritualmaking include awareness of one’s emotions and bodily reactions, interaction with others, humour, plain old enjoyment and strong roots in transcendent wisdom. Without these components, fundamental values such as personal and world peace and respect for oneself, other people and our universe are doomed to remain dry, abstract theory. Where there is no human experience of the basic value exposed, the heart remains untouched and the value is rarely transformed into action. A child who feels respected can respect others. A person who feels peace can work effectively for it. Action is the true test of both values and knowledge.

* Although this approach is not associated with any institutional tradition, I was pleased to learn that it also serves people working in religious and civil institutions who wish to renew their traditional rites.
§ Seligman, Weller, Puett et al. (2008) Ritual and Its Consequences: An Essay on the Limits of Sincerity. New York: Oxford Press. p.182.