A ritual (påjàvidhi or vata) is a series of actions always carried out in the same way and which are believed to have some religious effect when done properly. While the Buddha generally had little regard for rituals, he had no objections to ones that were harmless and which gave people some comfort. On the other hand, he also said the notion that performing, participating in or having rituals done on one's behalf can have a spiritual value (sãlabbataparàmàsa) is a false belief which ultimately hinders one's progress on the Path (Dhp.271). For the Buddha, only ethical behaviour, acts of kindness, calming and clarifying the mind and developing understanding can bring one closer to enlightenment.
Despite this, devout but misinformed people throughout the Buddhist world perform various rituals in the belief that they have a spiritual value. Some of these rituals include doing large numbers of prostrations, making elaborate offerings before statues of the Buddha and participating in blessing ceremonies. While such things can give comfort and reassurance and may be motivated by good intentions, they all too easily become a substitute for the practices that really bring change; meditation, keeping the Precepts, helping one's neighbor or the poor, generosity, comforting the distressed, etc. The Buddha said: `The skillful say that purity cannot be gained by one who seeks it by outward things (vinipàta)'(S.I,169). See Clinging To Morality and Rules.