I was out walking with a friend after breakfast on Sunday. As we walked along a bicycle path, she suddenly pointed to my right. "There's a Ganesha over there!" We walked over to take a look. A path had been created through a small clearing in the trees, and there were actually 2 Ganeshas, a Hanuman, and a couple of broken Devis. Beyond this was a parking lot, and a garden center, which had a whole display of statues--Ganeshas, Devis, Buddhas, and others.
We walked back to the path, and my friend dusted off the two Ganeshas. "This is all very bad luck. They should not put these outside." She went on to tell me about a temple created by a Western couple, that everyone said was amazing. She had been to a program at this temple, which had a Ganesha "installed" by the man's guru, who she said was just an Indian priest. (In case you don't know--it is one thing to have a statue of a deity, it is another thing to "install" it. Installation means "establishing life", and making it a real object for temple worship). She talked about a Swami that she had discussed this with--he said that the temple was tended to, but anyone who visited could do the rituals. He shrugged and said, "well, it's better for them to do that than to hang out in bars." She then went on to discuss groups that allow anyone to chant archanas, which she said would have ill effects. (While I don't entirely agree, I have heard really awful recitations of archana that really destroy the devotional mood). Things have to be done "correctly". I thought this was odd, since she had just been discussing her annoyance with traditions about women and holy rituals and places.
Later, I thought more about what she said, and I realized that I totally disagree with her. I couldn't put my finger on what I found wrong with her argument at first, but then I realized that it was a very Western way of thinking. Deity should not be in Nature--Nature is inferior and impure, and only very special "pure" people are capable of doing the rituals. I understand that this is her tradition--and perhaps taught as regular Hindu doctrine--but it's crap, as far as I'm concerned. I am sure that rituals performed in this atmosphere of reverence and "purity" are very effective. I also understand that those who have given up worldly life often feel pained or weighed down by "worldly" modes of worship. I think of Sri Ramakrishna and his wife, Sarada Devi, who cried out in pain if a devotee touched their feet. They were not living a "human" life, and were acutely aware of the weight of worldly living.
However--to say that a deity image should not be in nature is to relegate nature to an inferior status, and make the god into something "out there", something of which we are unworthy. That is completely contrary to Eastern thought. Everyone is treated with respect because everyone--and everything--is a manifestation of the Divine. This is monism, not monotheism. Not everyone does treat others with respect, but that is because of ignorance--they have forgotten their divine status, and that of others.
With regard to chanting--yes, I realize that the proper intonation of the words creates a certain vibration designed to raise awareness. However--I think of a footnote I read in the "Secret of the Golden Flower". A man overheard a monk chanting his mantra, and decided to chant it as well. However, he was saying it incorrectly, and ended up chanting "I am the latrine". However, the footnote states, "he chanted 'I am the latrine' over and over until he achieved enlightenment." Just because it is not the traditional way doesn't mean it can't work or doesn't work. Similarly, Amma has said that a mother does not reject a child's offering of a drawing because it's not a technical artistic masterpiece.
Ritual is psychological, and to believe that it "must" be done a certain way is to be attached to the ritual rather than its effect. It probably has the maximum psychological effect if one does it exactly as tradition records it, but it isn't necessary. Notions of purity and sanctity, while they have value, can also end up being alienating. The goal is to unite, not to separate. If someone is shooed away from practice because it's not "traditional" enough and therefore "bad luck", you will have created the "bad luck" by creating a separation from the "divine".
We also tend to forget that rituals are man-made, no matter how well-crafted or inspired. While they point towards something beyond the material, they are still nothing more than the material. All religions agree that on some fundamental level there is only Void--there is a No-Thingness, a state that cannot be described or comprehended through images. Out of that Void worlds are created, but they are illusory because they are temporal. The rituals, writings, experiences, and beliefs that anyone may have and subscribe to are going to be as individual as their own creation of the world via their perceptions. At a time when there was one community shaman, and the community acted as a unit, it may have been appropriate to say that there was only one way to do things. In the modern world--which focuses on the individual development towards unity rather than everyone acting as a unit--there are as many ways to do things as there are people. And if "God" isn't everywhere--especially if you are a Hindu or Buddhist--then "God" is nowhere at all.