Without going into a detailed discussion on what constitutes a ritual, this post intends to show that even the most overt kinds of rituals that we associate with religions such as Roman Catholicism can be found in Suttanta material.

This isn't meant to be by any means an exhaustive search but will illustrate enough to show that rituals and rites not only existed in early Buddhism but were performed by the Buddha and on behalf of the Buddha at his bequest.

The first idea that will pop into one's mind is that stream-entry eradicates ones clinging to meaningless rites and rituals, and this calls into question how we interpret this precept.

In the Ratana Sutta commentaries we see Ananda and the Buddha leading a procession and sprinkling ablutions all the while supplicating solar deities to abstain from harming and to protect worshipful humans.

In this very sutta, we see the list of the first three fetters which are abandoned by the stream-enterer. Yet no one thinks of it as a contradiction.

What is really happening here?

Lets take the stock phrase that we hear when considering a quality of what the stream-enterer has abandoned: sīlabbata-parāmāso.

Now lets put this in context where the meaning of the term is drawn out:

The Pali Text Society has gathered definitions of Parāmāsa and seem to point to it as a misunderstanding of dhamma:

touching, contact, being attached to, hanging on, being under the influence of, contagion (Dhs. trsl. 316)
Bdhgh analyses as parato āmasantīti parāmāsā: p. means "they handle dhamma's as other" (than what they really are, e. g. they transgress the real meaning of anicca etc. and say nicca).
This suggests that mere going through the motions of sila is not sufficient for stream-entry.

It doesn't mean that Buddhism, as originally developed by the Buddha was devoid of ritual.

In some cases he accepted Vedic Ritual as praiseworthy.

And in other times he superseded it by speaking directly with the gods without the help of Vedic verbeage.

Therefore it seems our common translation of "meaningless rites and rituals" does not tell us the entire picture what we have translated as from the term sīlabbata-parāmāso.

The Buddha was aware of the Rig Veda, a tool which supplicated gods for intervention, just as we see him doing in the Ratana Sutta, see Sn 3:4 Where the Buddha explains that the correct sacrifice is to honor the Buddha and not the decadent Brahmins:

Don’t, brahman, when lighting kindling,

imagine that purity comes from that outside,

for the skilled say that purity doesn’t come through that:

whoever searches outside for purity.

Having abandoned the lighting of kindling, I,

brahman, ignite just the inner fire.

Constantly afire,

constantly centered in mind,

I am a worthy one, living the holy life.

Conceit, brahman, is the burden on your shoulder,

anger your smoke, false speech your ashes.

The tongue is the ladle;

the heart, the fire-altar;

the well-tamed self

is the fire of a man.

The Dhamma is a lake

whose ford is virtue

—limpid, praised by the good

to the good—

where attainers-of-knowledge, having bathed

cross, dry-limbed,

to the further shore.

Truth, Dhamma, restraint, the holy life,

attainment of Brahmā dependent on the middle:

Pay homage to those who’ve become

truly straightened:

That, I call a man

in the flow of the Dhamma.

The Brahmins abandoned the path and therefore are worthy of absolutely zero respect and honor outside of being regular members of the Sangha, not above or below anyone else by way of birth but to advance on merit alone.

It appears that only the Buddha, the Kinsman of the Sun, and his followers can intervene on behalf of heaven, having taken over this responsibility from the Brahmins, who are Brahmins in name only, and who have lost their meaning in society altogether by clinging to stale ritual without meaning, without virility, that had already lost its meaning during the time when the Buddha walked the earth.

Buddhism is not devoid of ritual, it is devoid of ritual that is meant to enrich oneself via fees for services rendered and committing acts of violence by way of ritual, both human sacrifice and animal.

This type of ritual and its pure counterpart, that of ritual done mindfully and with Metta which is pure and praiseworthy, is clearly laid out in the above link to Sn 2:7.