Reading books can improve one’s knowledge, when one has the right attitude. When done mechanically and out of obligation or as a show-off, however, it doesn’t do much.
Similarly, performing religious rituals does help with internal spiritual transformation, when one has the right attitude. When done mechanically and out of obligation or as a show-off, however, it doesn’t do much.
In the end, it is mental activity that brings about internal transformation. Rituals are meant to provide a framework/template to facilitate conducive mental activity. As this mental aspect is de-emphasized or ignored, rituals are reduced to mechanical physical actions that do little.
Though mechanical approach of most ritualists does justify the dismissive attitude of many intellectuals and philosophers towards rituals, rituals do serve a purpose.
One may know theoretically that a movie one is watching is not real and yet get scared when a scary scene comes or be revulsed when a disgusting scene comes or be enamored when another scene comes.
Similarly, one may theoretically know that all is Self and yet be scared, disgusted and enamored by various apparent manifestations of Self!
Deeply ingraining the theoretical knowledge that “all is Self” in every action, thought and instinct, takes a looooot of conscious effort.
Watching dancing Fire consume everything offered and reducing to ashes may make one appreciate how Self manifests as zillions of things and how wisdom of Self-knowledge reduces all of them back to Self.
Worshiping Shiva can make one contemplate the qualities of Shiva and how he is detached and has everything at his disposal and yet needs nothing.
Worshiping Vishnu can make one contemplate the qualities of Vishnu and he how upholds balance in the world.
Meditating with a mantra can make one contemplate a sound/image and experience how other vibrations of mind are transient and can be silenced.
Various rituals and sadhanas were designed by rishis, yogis and gurus to take mind away from its regular preoccupations, expand its outlook and focus it more on the all-pervading Truth rather than its various, varying and transient reflections.
However, these rituals may be mechanically done out of obligation and one may be relieved at the end of the ritual everyday that one has finished one more day.
Or they may done with with much fear that one may be making mistakes and breaking rules and technicalities. One may be anxious throughout the ritual.
Or rituals may be done with a great sense of pride that one is doing terrific sadhana and one is going to get great material benefits or moksha.
When a mind is burdened by pride or frustration or anxiety, rituals do not help much.
Pick what you can do comfortably and without obligation. Do it because it genuinely interests you. Rules should provide a structure and not become suffocating constraints. Don’t be afraid of God and rules. Don’t be anxious about errors. Enjoy the ritual, but do not entertain pride and be grateful that God has inspired and enabled you to do it!
One word of caution: Lethargy is an important characteristic of Tamas. So it may be necessary in the beginning to force oneself to do something one does not enjoy. But, eventually, one has to start enjoying it. If that never happens, one should probably re-evaluate and change the sadhana or work on one’s attitude.