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Puja: Opening Your Heart

From Maria Sichel's article Puja: Part One

Sometimes the learning process deepens with a recognition of not knowing: that is certainly my experience around puja. Like many of us, I love Svaroopa® yoga, have learned many powerful practices, continue to study and know that I have barely dipped my toes in a vast and deep ocean.

What is puja? Puja (pronounced pooja) comes from the Sanskrit meaning reverence, honor, adoration and worship. It is used to describe an act of worship involving a ritual or ceremony. Puja can be relatively simple and offered daily at home or more involved, at a temple, where the ceremony is usually performed by a priest. Puja can be offered for a specific deity or commemorate the beginning of a new venture or special event.

Swami Nirmalananda describes the daily puja at the Ashram this way, “The Ashram is full of pictures of my Guru and murtis, statues of the divine. The murtis have shelves in front of them. Every morning we offer a grain of rice to each one. We say mantra aloud and offer a grain of the rice to each one. Every day we do this until there is a great pile of rice. Then when they are done, we take their leftovers, collect the rice - about a cup - wash it and throw it in the pot. It is soooo delicious. You can tell the difference.”

Swami continues, “We started offering rice in the winter because flowers or even candles can be expensive. Now that it is summer, the garden around the ashram has a profusion of flowers and we offer a single bloom instead of the rice.”

“In the evening we offer a flame circle to every picture and murti. It doesn’t take long at all maybe 4 - 6 minutes. Anybody can add this to their life, doing puja every day - morning and evening.”

Like popcorn popping in a pot, my mind is full of questions: God is already full and complete so why the need for worship? And Kashmiri Shaivism is non-dualistic so, “Why do we do it?” Wouldn’t worship imply an inherent separation where none exists?

An experienced and gifted teacher, Swami Nirmalananda anticipates the question and offers an answer. “At some point, you have to ask the question: 'Why is puja part of Kashmiri Shaivism? It is not Bhakti yoga.....and it implies an inherent separation.’ ”

“We practice puja to melt resistances... it gets into your heart stuff. How much can you open your heart to divinity? The practice of puja removes the blocks. It is the yoga of opening your heart to God.”

“We are not just working on the your body and mind, we are working on the your heart. The candles, bells, flowers, chants, ceremonies, fragrances evoke a mood, create a heart opening.” She continues, “It is not a religion but we use some of the same tools in the same way… way...because you must have access to the experience.”