The book we are reading (Saddarsanam by Ramana Maharsi with commentary by swami Tejomayananda) had this to say about its tenth verse:
"The discrimination of the means and the goal is important for a spiritual seeker. If the means are mistaken for the end or vice versa, then there is trouble. For example, money is the means to purchase objects of pleasure. Happiness is the goal. When collecting money and objects becomes the goal of life, happiness is left far behind."
I like that he doesn't say that getting money or purchasing objects is bad, it's just that one has to be aware of what end goal one is hoping to achieve with one's actions. When we get the means confused with the ends, then we don't get to the end because we are stuck in the means.
"...various spiritual practices are prescribed in different religions by different masters and scriptures for different students as means to purify and concentrate the mind. For a student whose mind is already very well prepared, spiritual practices are superfluous...The desired end is achieved with sincere practice of any one or more of [rituals and practices like puja and japa and meditation]. Thereafter they are dropped, e.g., the car is given up on reaching the airport. The mind is ready for the flight within."
This makes a lot of sense to me. The ritual is there to guide us toward the goal of being at peace and being one with God. Once we are enlightened and merged and realize that we are the Self, we don't need them anymore. The danger, of course, is that we might think we are further along than we are and drop our spiritual practices because we think we have already surpassed them!
The end of the passage is what gave rise to the other conversation that night:
"The unthinking man feels that he is spiritual just because he does japa or visits the temple daily. The fanatic says 'My path alone leads to salvation' and 'My God alone saves.' He has not understood that the worship of the name and form of the Lord and following a particular path are only means to purify the mind and this can well be achieved by other ways. Sanatana Dharma...gives each the freedom to adopt his own means suitable to his inclinations. The goal however is abidance in the Self...the seeker has become one with the sought."
We do these rituals and practices to purify our minds and hearts and allow deeper understanding to enter. It is easy to get caught up in the idea of rules, though, to feel like we'll get to the goal if we just follow all the rules. But enlightenment does not have a formula. You can't just follow certain steps and after you've performed japa exactly 85,000 times, then you are enlightened!
I like that this passage emphasizes trusting your own heart and following the rituals and practices that work for you.