I believe that O-Sensei gave us Aikido as a vehicle to a better self.
I strongly believe that you must thoroughly and systematically go through the physical side of Aikido for many many years to have the possibility of reaching the spiritual side.
If you rush, take short cuts, or pretend to understand when you do not, you will only fool yourself.
If O-Sensei wanted us to just become spiritual beings, he would have given us chants, prayers, or some other method to obtain that.
Work through the physical side of Aikido with passion and commitment. As you become more skilled (enlightened), so shall you gain a better insight and understanding of what O-Sensei had in mind for us all.
Aikido is so much more than just a martial art. Enjoy the journey.
I really appreciate your first and last sentences. I also share your vision of aikido as dedicated physical practice.
However, whatever enlightenment may be, I do not think it is synonymous with skill - if that was your point?
Whatever deeper meaning can be "gained" from our practice, I am convinced it can be "gained" and "lost" any moment, regardless of technical skill and experience. In that sense, I think there is a certain temptation for some people to delay their quest for a spiritual understanding of aikido (if that's what one is interested in) to some hypothetical point after one has mastered all those techniques - which is never. And, in the meantime, project the understanding that is to be had on O Sensei, or the teacher, or whoever. Of course, the temptation for others is to jump to premature conclusions, as you point out.
I am convinced if we are to find some deeper meaning in aikido, it is our very own, to which we may come on very different routes facing our very own obstacles - O Sensei's were his, mine are different.
And actually, he did gove some of his students chants and prayers. They are there for whoever is interested, in the Shingu lineage for example.
Thanks for a moment of reflection! I think I am not that far from your opinion, just looking at it from a slightly different angle maybe.