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Not "clinging to rites and rituals" is one of the three requirements to become a Sotapanna.

But in creating a Sangha with strict rules (especially given the extensive permutations within the Tripitaka), the recitation of the Patimokkha etc, do followers of the Dhamma and Vinaya inadvertently accept the usefulness of ritual? Was the Buddha's warning more specifically against any practice that is not grounded in empirical experience?

And given that the Noble Eightfold Path establishes a concrete method and practice for the attainment of the goal, did the Buddha embrace Ṛta - the natural order of the Universe or Truth - if only in its most stripped down, empirical form?

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Sīlabbata-parāmāsa: Attachment to rites and rituals

I struggle with this one but I think the key word here is attachment. Coffee, tea, cell phones: at what level is the attachment? Being aware of avoiding extreme approaches to these words would be wise in this context. Which means pursuing "no rituals" could become a ritual.

Be cautious, avoidance of rituals, or repetitive inaction can become an "extreme" attempt to be free from this chain (or fetter). In this sense you might free yourself from one chain only to become shackled to another. In the end I found guidance from:

Ud 6.08 wrote:

What's been attained, what's to be attained,

are both defiled by one who trains in line with the afflicted.

Those for whom precepts & practices

are the essence of the training,

for whom celibacy is the essence of service:

this is one extreme.

Those who say, "There's no harm in sensual desires":

this is the second extreme.

Both of these extremes cause the growth of cemeteries,

and cemeteries cause views to grow.

Not directly knowing these two extremes,

some fall short, some run too far.

But those who directly know them,

don't exist there, don't conceive things through them.

And for these people, there's no whirling through the cycle to be described.

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Clinging to rites and rituals

It is mis-belief in something miracle and shortcut. It is mis-belief in worshipping the creator or god can bring the worshipper's liberation/salvation. It is something one is throwing away own efforts and nurturing own knowledge and wisdom. It is just mis-belief in some powerful beings (god) or some powerful things (fire [in some india place people worship to fire]) that ultimate liberation/bliss can be offered/transferred from it. It is mis-belief that the manners, habits and practice of dog or cow(bull) can cleanse one's impurities in mind.

Noble Eightfold Path

Noble Eightfold Path is one needs to practice oneself. The practitioner of Noble Eightfold Path never expects the salvation from anyone/anything. The very first of the Noble Eightfold Path, Right View already gets rid of the idea of "Clinging to rites and rituals" and so the two path clearly opposite to each other.

Vinaya

Vinaya is set of rules to monks. The tipitaka indicates that it is purely from Buddha's authoritative order (there is no one who defined Vinaya and only Buddha did). The purpose of Vinaya is clearly stated by Buddha in Vinaya pitaka as follow:

  1. To accept and be disciplined by Sanga that Sanga likes to comply
  2. To be in Sanga with pleasant mind/body by complying Vinaya
  3. To identify and punish the committed one
  4. Complied monks stay together peacefully/cherishing
  5. To get away from present dangers/prosecutions by broking the law (vinaya)
  6. To get rid of future dangers/sufferings
  7. To be pleased by lay people who has not done to do so
  8. To be more pleased by lay people who already has done to do so
  9. To maintain three Sasana(s) more longer
  10. To promote the vinaya (rules)

    So it is the purpose of Vinaya and it is clearly intended to Sanga (the organization of monks) to be followed, disciplined and complied. The lay people is not abided by the Vinaya.

To attain the Nirvana, it is only one needs to follow the Noble Eightfold Path. It is not necessary to to be part of Sanga, be a monk(eventually it is not necessarily to be disciplined by Vinaya). So Vinaya is optional to lay people and it is only adopted when joining the Sanga.

For about Rules (Vinaya)

In above 10 purposes of Vinaya, Buddha clearly stated that to get rid of dangers and sufferings by complying it. By following it, one can free from accusing/prosecuting oneself at least. On closer learning of vinaya, it is trying to get rid of Five hindrances to some extent.

There is another example that would not go deep like above statement. Even in some club membership (and some religious matters) in real world, there are some ridiculous rules need to follow by new members. The only explanation is "it is tradition" and nothing more will be detailed.

Here is another example also stating that rule is not ritual. For travelers to Singapore it is illegal to bring/consume Chewing Gum but nobody say Singapore is in ritual by applying this law. There are many queer/odd rules applied by a number of countries but it does not totally apply those countries are in ritual. So there is clear distinction between rules and rituals.

Buddha's vinaya is clearly path-ed/reasoned than those of that. The two reasons (7 and 8) of vinaya on Sanga are because organization of monks (Sanga) is totally relied on offerings (meals, robes, accommodations and medicine) of lay people; in terms of living on donation. So it is very heavy burden for monks to comply rules so that people are pleased to see that their offerings go not in vain (they are not offering things bought by their hard-earned money to total jerks for nothing).

And another meaningful of vinaya is by following it, the complied person can feel oneself free from harms. Opposite to this, in ritual, the practitioner cannot clearly state why ritual has to be done, the practitioner cannot explain more than it is a tradition, it must be done but no reason. After completing/fulfilling the ritual, there is no obvious proof that result/outcome is achieved. The only thing is forced to believe. Let say a weight-controlling lady avoids any solid food meal after noon and after some days/weeks practicing this she can feel she lost her weight and feel better, healthy and active. Ritual is not close enough this in the sense of "Result oriented".

In conclusion, Vinaya is not ritual and set of rules bound to Sanga only. It is optional to lay people who follow the Noble Eightfold Path. Vinaya has 10 reasons to be put in place and Vinaya is trying to get rid of bad deeds as much as possible so that the practitioner can please himself and prone to mindfulness (good concentration) but ritual only based on belief (not clearly defined outcome/result of achievement).

1

Following is a good writeup on rights and rituals:

SILABBATA PARAMASA is generally translated into meaning the adherence to wrongful rites, rituals and ceremonies. Believing that a wrong practice is a right practice is called Silabbataparamasa, which is believing, maintaining, or supporting a wrong belief in the practice. According to the teaching of the Buddha, apart from the Eightfold Noble Path, all other practices are wrong practices and taking them as right practices amount to wrong belief in the practice.

Everything that appears at the six doors of senses constitute the Five Aggregates of Grasping, namely, rupa and nama, the Truth of Suffering. Meditating on rupa and nama is practising the Path by which the Four Noble Truths will be understood. Believing in and practising any other method which keeps aside the magga Path and which does not lead to understanding the Four Noble Truths, is wrong belief in the practice (silabbata paramasa ditthi).

There are people who are preaching that "It is not necessary to practise meditation nor to observe the precepts (sila)." That is to say, they are saying it is sufficient to simply listen to sermons and learn by heart the nature of rupa and nama." It will be necessary to consider whether such views amount to silabbata paramasa. In the opinion of some, such preachments amount to teaching wrong view in practice as this method excludes the three disciplines of:

  1. Samadhi
  2. Sila
  3. Vipassana

Although a person at a lesser level of insight may participate in Wrong Practice and even be unaware of such, a Sotapanna, a person of the first level of The Four Stages of Sainthood, and those above, being well-established in the knowledge of the Right Practice are not liable to hold the wrong view of silabbata paramasas. (1)

SILABBATA PARAMASA DITTHI PRESENTED BY: the Wanderling

In essence rights & rituals here are are the ones that do not contribute to the path. Vinaya, on the other hand, contributes to morality which is one part of the path.

You can say the Buddha taught a form of Ṛta in the:

  • 37 factors of enlightenment
  • 4 Noble Truths
  • Dependent Origination
  • Cause and effect
  • Abhidhamma
  • Karma (Buddhist theory of)

But the above teaching contrasts contemporary teachings:

thus, bhikshus, regarding what was unheard before, there arose in me vision, there arose knowledge, there arose wisdom, there arose insight, there arose light

Dhamma,cakka Pavattana Sutta

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Rituals can have their useful and beneficial functions, such as reinforcing teachings of morality, Karma, generosity, humility, surrender, etc. They can even be taken as opportunities to exercise mindfulness or meditation within the movements of the rituals or the vibrations of the chanting. And of course many directly teach Dhamma.

That being said, if one is overly attached to the rites and rituals, and unwilling to let them go when appropriate, it becomes an obstacle to liberation and release (as any clinging does). It is like a booster rocket on a space shuttle, necessary to get one off the ground, but to be jettisoned once it's usefulness has passed.

While on intensive meditation retreats, I have had monastic teachers comment on the difficulty of progress on the Path to liberation for those who grew up in Buddhist communities where rituals are the norm. The rituals and beliefs accompanying them become deeply ingrained, and hard to see past or let go of. Belief that the ritual itself is the means to liberation, or letting it distract one from the pursuit of liberation, is that which a Sotapanna has let go of. They have completed the Path at least once, and therefore know what led to it's completion and what didn't, there is no more doubt within a Sotapanna.

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