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Thursday, November 19, 2009

Pooja vs Prayer and worship

A friend of mine Dr Anirudh having read my article on the meditation and Dhyana expressed that I should write about pooja or worship also giving the picture according to Indian philosophy.

Pooja is one of those words, which is very widely used in the Indian culture. This is so because in Indian culture, every house is having temple in the house and they offer daily pooja. This house of pooja will normally have the idols of or pictures of several gods of their own choice and many houses also keep the photographs of the saints sadhus or swamiji’s who either lived in the recent past or who are also living even now. Therefore, pooja is a very common word in the household in India. I do not think pooja to be translated as ‘prayer’. It is very different as pooja does not emerge from praying per say. in English we may say it as worship but we need to understand pooja clearly. I do not know the full meaning and philosophy behind the English word called ‘WORSHIP’ but let me here give some of the details of pooja its philosophy, which may help them not only to appreciate the depth of the ideas about pooja but also to follow it with this understanding in the day-to-day life.

The pooja place in a house is very intimately and emotionally associated with the owner of the house, I observed several times that the owner started building the house and the engineer would have put the marks on the ground about foundation for various walls. The moment the marking for the pooja room is there on the ground, the owner does not step there with his foot wear on because going into pooja room with footwear is disrespect to god! One could see such a thing in the earlier days where the owner would have built house himself and not like the culture of apartment houses these days.

According to Sage Narada, pooja, or what we translate as worship, has two components.

Poojadishu Anuraga iti prasharyah II

[The anuraga in pooja and other things is Bhakti according to Parashara’s son Vyasa.]

The component called Anuraga is the element of Bhakti in the case of doing Pooja. This brings about a question what is the other component, which is there in our culture along with the Anuraga? That component is the Physical details of the practice of worship.

He did not specifically make mention of it because this is some thing which one can see very clearly out side. The problem is that many people take this alone as the Bhakti. Let us try to understand it in detail.

Like many other things in the nature, pooja also has two components. One is the outer component and the other is the inner component, like the body and the soul. What we normally see is the outer component, the visible component and the other the invisible component or the hidden component. The outer part the body is having meaning and purpose only when there is the inner component. The freedom the growth, and the joy and satisfaction, which we see in the body, they all belong to the soul and not to the body. Body alone does not have any of these things.

Similarly, the practice of pooja also has two components. The practice details, the gods and their details, method and the ingredients involved, are the outer structure and what Narada calls as anuraga, is the inner component. This anuraga is again very difficult to translate in English. Roughly this can be understood as the feeling intimacy with, the feeling the presence of god in your heart and not in head. Anuraga is richer and nobler than attachment. You are doing out of pure joy in giving or doing for others! Feeling is some thing you can see from out side. It is one’s own experience happening inside. It is intimacy with the god or with the other so that the other will not be there as other any longer.

Pooja is the real one when the feeling of intimacy leads us into pooja or the worship. At that time in just doing pooja, you are satisfied and you are not looking for any further happenings. If there is any other demand or other expectations and the satisfaction depends upon any further happenings such as some grace or some benefit f winning a lottery or exams etc then the pooja becomes secondary. Therefore, anuraga is the seed for the pooja and your feeling is the seed, as the plant is the expression of the seed planted. Anuraga comes from deep respect, love, wonder, closeness and intimacy all blended into one thing!

The technique of pooja involves saying some mantras in Sanskrit and in between offering various things. If you look at these mantras they give a very simple meaning like this.

To start with, you offer your prayers and welcome the god. Offer him water so that he can wash his feet and his hands before entering so that he is purified of all the dust from out side. The corresponding mantras are ‘Padau prakshalayami and Hastau prakshaayami’. Stapayami poojayami, make his to sit down Asanam sweekrutya requesting god to accept the seat. The moment god comes light comes in to the house.. Symbolically the moment he comes in the lights are lighted and you offer him fragrance by lighting the dhoop sticks. The mantra for that is dhoopa deepam agrapayami. Depending up on the god we are worshipping we select the items for pooja. When we do the pooja of lord Ganesha because he is with elephant head he loves to eat the grass and fresh leaves his appetite is vast so. We prepare several varieties of sweets and offer him grass and variety of leaves and sugar cane etc. While offering with each mantra, which is the praise of god, we offer one thing. Since he is a child he likes to be with children so that day all the children go round several houses to see Ganesha and in his presence which ever may be the house children do some simple yoga exercise, scientists found in USA recently that this exercise is good for improving memory and attention. When we offer food to the god especially whenever any item is felt to be having spicy taste then naturally, he requires water in between to feel cool inside. There is a mantra for that saying, madhyemadhye paneeyam samarpayami. In between water is offered. In the evening, we offer music and dance programs and in the night, there are special rituals suggesting god Ganesha is being put to bed and there are bed tie stories. There are lullabies for all gods in Indian philosophy and culture. In the morning, there are wakeup songs for the lord. These activities are so sweet that they do not pace god far above beyond clouds. Thus, pooja is a practice for a very intimate specialized guest for you and the family. All these steps create the necessary psychological posture and inner preparedness. There are also substitutes in case you miss some thing you do not have to feel guilty about it. Rice with yellow colour and some times even some camphor or other essence is added, can substitute any of the missing items. Like the mantra says offer nice dress to god and if not available offer handful of this rice known as akshata in place of the cloth or dress. Vasteram samarpayami. Offer cloths and if not available offer akshata. tadabhave ashatam samarpayami. The best available material such as curd, coconut water, honey, thick milk, and dry fruits etc are all material for offering because god likes them! Having used the substitute items at the end out of humility there are also mantras praying to the god, ‘oh, lord, please for give me if I had done any thing wrong knowingly or unknowingly since it is not out of intention of doing things wrong way but my own other limitations.

Since the pooja is the expression of the deep love and oneness with god, you are experiencing the day of pooja you are not to get angry or irritated towards anybody and to keep cheerful mood and freely exchange cheers with all. Thus, these pooja will make our mind positive and helps arise above the level of complaints. This has to be done with pure inner experience of divinity. Now the question comes how to develop this feeling of presence of divinity!

Our life gives us many experiences or opportunities to develop this deep respect and love. On many occasions things will happen to you unexpectedly which brings about great happiness to you! If only you think deeply you will realize that things would not have happened if you planned and worked for it. It is not by your effort that things happened that way. Many times even in spite of you things would have happened in a favourable way to you and this can only be possible due to some grace from some unknown quarters. If you think like that, you will be filled with unusual joy and at the same time filled with such great reverence that you feel the help you received is from god beyond! We can let this situation slip away by saying egoistically that we have achieved it and it is purely our effort!

Only when one gives up this claim on the doer-ship and deeply feels touched by god then pooja the feeling of prardhana comes up whose expression is pooja! This feeling inside is the mother of all the rituals and all the forms of god and all the mantras and chantings which are the manifest form outside.

Not only in Indian philosophy but also in all the spiritual paths have emerged with the practices that are, expressions of great saints who gave the expression to their inner experience. Those who must have been around such great personalities would have seen their masters and would have been seen the shades of god on the faces of their masters and thus they adapted the rituals very diligently! However, later persons would have only followed the practices and further they become mechanical rituals and the soul the anuraga is not adapted.

If we observe the details of pooja one can notice that pooja consists of treating god as human being and welcoming him in the best possible way and offering him the water to wash his or her feel and fanning him after making him sit comfortably before you start any thing further. In case of Lord Ganesh since he is a child we need to get the permission from his mother so that we can take him to our house and for that you worship her before and please her so that she will not deny your request when you ask her permission to take lord Ganesh with you. In addition, all the days the god is with you provide time-to-time food entertainment and all that so that he will stay with you very happily and finally send him back to his abode with all care and love. Thus in all the pooja methods god is personified. For some people it may look silly but nature is such that all our emotions we need personification to find expression. Simple example is the dreams! Dream are he expression of our motions like fear anxiety or anger deep in our minds. They find their vent in our dreams where we see some persons or some animals and we have expression of our emotions. When we wake up we realise what we have seen is not real but in the process we find expression for our emotions. Bhakti is conscious tool to manifest our good emotions of love, reverence etc. However, unless until we bring god to the human level and treat god, like another human being very intimately related to you, we will not give expression to these emotions. Then the whole practice becomes mechanical and there is no devotion behind our doing pooja.

Once I was giving a series of lectures on Upanishads in a temple in Los Angeles. The organisers wanted to introduce me to the pujari who is employed to do pooja in the temple. When my fried took me to him he was talking to some one holding the phone in his right hand to his ear discussing about the share market and with the other hand he was offering the flowers to the god image and with the same hand he took the holy water ‘teerthem’ and offered to me! My friend felt that he has not heard him earlier introducing me so he attempted to tell him that I am the speaker on Upanishads in the temple, for which he replied ‘yes I know sir’, and continued to talk on the phone. Where is the spirit of pooja in this? pooja is not just a worship where you follow some rituals or say some mantras - holy chants, ringing some bells and finally feel relieved at the end of all that exercise relieved in the sense that now you can establish your claim for his grace and put in front of him your demands list. It is a method, which can flow the fullest expression to your heartfelt emotions and you are fully absorbed in his consciousness so that you become one with the divinity. The earlier sages who have given expression to their experience in the form of pooja methodology will feel satisfied.

That is the reason Nerada expresses in the subsequent sutra that you become one with god, ‘tanmayah’ out of love. When you go to god out of fear or favour god is not important, you are important. God is some one who is attending to your demands. If he has to keep his position then he has to attend other wise in your eyes he looses his position as god! When you go to god out of love, which is enriched in the form of devotion and deep respect and intimacy, then god is important and you are unimportant! Your worth is only in dissolving in god!

In the beginning, you become self-conscious about others observing you when you are doing pooja. Therefore, all cultures provided methods, which people can follow in the group so that you can do the rituals. Soon it is important that you do the pooja in aloneness and not in the presence of others where you can freely express your feeling from your heart, you can cry you can dance or you can use any other form of expressing your heart. That is the reason, sage Narada said in another sutra ‘Bhaktinah Ekantino Mukhyah’. Bhakti practitioner needs to practice in aloneness with god so that he can find his true expression. Therefore, people go to the temples and we have group ritual practices in the society but at the same time, every house we have temples where people do their pooja alone! Many times people do not find that kind of devotion in the, so-called big temples, what they get in their simple home temple. True pooja is to surrender to god and no to claim the achievements and it should make you humble. The people how does pooja and becomes arrogant and looks down upon others who do not do pooja are not sincere in their pooja.

A little child is playing with her doll for hours and mother was happy that the child has not done mischief. The child is engaged in offering child in doll food and tea and all such things. The child also changes the diaper of the doll child raises the tone like mother does and gives instructions to the child.

Mother has seen the child is playing for hours. I the evening the mother now instructs the child @ now you played enough with the doll now keep it a side and wash your hands and legs and come for dinner. Child replies to the mother “please, mom, don’t shout I am coming in few minutes child will be sleeping any moment and you don’t raise your voice that will disturb the sleep of the child”. Mother in reply says, “There is nothing like child and after all it is a doll. Don’t worry”. Pained in her heart the child says to the child doll motherly words, “you please you don’t take it to your heart, mom shouts and that is her nature, you go to sleep now. I will come back soon and be by your side”. Child feels the presence of consciousness in the doll, which mother does not see. Same way the person who does pooja must see the consciousness being present and not the stone idol; then only pooja is real pooja or worship is real worship and not otherwise!

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