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Bhakti Yoga Through The Art Of Puja (Part 1)

by Jana Thevar

Part 1: Understanding the Art of Puja

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Note: This article may be a little long for today’s readers. However, if you wish to understand and explore the deeper spiritual meaning behind the practice of puja, I request that you read this article to the very end. One of my biggest challenges in writing about Sanatana Dharma (Hindusim) is trying to summarize vast amounts of information from Vedic scriptures and make content easy to understand for readers. Thank you for your time and patience. I hope you’ll be inspired to include puja as a part of your daily life and your personal journey on the path of Self-Realization.

An Introduction to Puja

Puja is a ritual of prayer or worship generally practiced by followers of Sanatana Dharma (better known in modern times as Hinduism). It is a form of Bhakti Yoga (the yogic path of devotional service and love). Puja may be done to honor and worship demigods, deities or any chosen manifestation of the sacred universal energy. It may also be performed to commemorate auspicious days or events.

In the Bhagavad Gita, Lord Sri Krishna says this about Bhakti Yoga:

patram puspam phalam toyam
yo me bhaktya prayacchati
tad aham bhakti upahrtam
asnami prayatatmanah

Translation: If one offers Me, with love and devotion, a leaf, flower, fruit or water, I will accept it (Chapter 9, Verse 26).

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What’s the meaning of this verse? Simple: it’s easy to serve God or the universal energy through puja, as all one requires is a leaf, flower, fruit or water offered with sincerity, love and devotion.

Puja is complex on every level, even when performed in a simple manner. It is especially resplendent with spiritual meaning. Every gesture, utensil, item and offering involved in puja has a purpose. The rituals, depending on the type of puja, may be lengthy and complex, and may include various types of offerings such as flowers, incense, fruits, food, clothing, frankincense, sacred powders and dried herbs. A daily home puja may involve nothing more than a small altar, a picture of a chosen deity (ishta deva) and some modest offerings.

What is Bhakti Yoga?

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There are four paths of yoga, namely Raja Yoga (the yoga of mental and physical control), Jnana Yoga (the yoga of knowledge), Karma Yoga (the yoga of selfless action) and Bhakti Yoga (the yoga of devotional service). Each path represents a different approach to attain union with Brahman, a higher state of awareness or ultimate Self-Realization. Bhakti Yoga is the easiest of the four paths.

Is Puja Really Necessary?

Those who don’t understand the full spiritual significance of puja may question the practice or dismiss it altogether as unnecessary. It’s not uncommon to hear remarks along the lines of “If God is everywhere, why do we need to waste time with this ritual?” or “If God is the Almighty, why does He need these mortal offerings?”

These questions are valid. It’s always better to question something one does not understand – this is better than blind acceptance. One can only receive the right knowledge through questioning first, then subsequently seeking the answers.

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Why Do We Perform Puja?

Puja is done for many reasons, including these:

• It’s a way of sharing your love, joy and gratitude with the universe. Puja, in other words, is communion with the sacred universal energy. When you radiate these energies and corresponding thoughts, you attract equally positive vibrations back to you.
• It’s a method to communicate with higher powers and elevated beings, such as your chosen deities (ishta devas).
• You’re re-energising yourself and the surrounding spaces each time you perform puja. Think of it as a ‘spiritual reset’, to get rid of the negative energies you have accumulated through daily material life.
• The act of performing the ritual trains the mind to focus on communion with the universal energy.

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• The ritual develops mental discipline if you perform it regularly – it’s a manner of training the mind into a habit, so it becomes ready automatically when you merely think of performing puja.
• Puja helps ease the burden of the mind in times of stress, depression and sadness. Performing the ritual can be comforting to those facing mental distress.
• Puja helps you develop gratitude and appreciation. For instance, you may realize that you’re lucky to have food to offer during puja, and to be able to consume it later as prasada (blessed remnants). When you make offerings of flower garlands and leaves, you may realize how blessed you are to live in a place where plants are healthy and grow abundantly.

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• According to Vedic scriptures, fire (agni) is purifying in all ways. By lighting the lamp for puja, you are purifying the puja space, your home and yourself.
• The bronze bell that is used for puja eliminates negative energies through sound vibrations when it is rung. Good quality incense and frankincense act as air purifiers, can eliminate bacteria and act as natural insect repellent.

Related Posts:

Bhakti Yoga Through the Art of Puja (Part 2: How to Conduct Simple Puja)

Everything You Need to Know about Rudraksha

The Rudraksha Jabala Upanishad

How to Know if Your Rudraksha Beads are Genuine

Part 1: Everything You Need To Know About Rudraksha

by Jana Thevar

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Most people of Indian ethnicity are familiar with Rudraksha beads (or seeds), especially those with a strong inclination towards spirituality. However, there is much confusion about how or when to use Rudraksha, what type to buy and so forth. What color Rudraksha beads are best? Where does one obtain genuine Rudraksha beads? What are the benefits of wearing Rudraksha? Are there negative consequences if Rudraksha beads are used wrongly? Is information about Rudraksha mentioned in any particular Upanishad?

My Personal Experience

Edited
Gardening at Madurai Meenakshi Ashram, India (January 2017). These are Rudraksha beads I purchased at the Chinmaya Mission, Rishikesh.

I’d always wanted to use Rudraksha, but like most others I didn’t have enough information on the benefits or how to use them. I didn’t know if I could wear them ‘wrongly’ and incur the wrath of Shiva or some other deity. I didn’t know if women could wear them through menstrual cycles. I didn’t know if they could be worn to funerals, auspicious ceremonies or during sex. In short, I didn’t know anything about Rudraksha.

So me being me, what did I do? I embarked on a very serious, self-inflicted spiritual search to learn everything I could about Rudraksha. To make a long story short, I dug into Vedic scriptures, spoke to my gurus and went in search of a real-life Rudraksha tree.

Courtesy of my sister, we found a fully-grown Rudraksha tree, right here in Malaysia (I’ve been since told that there are more, though hidden in rural areas). I’ll never forget the sight; it was majestic and exuded a wonderful, calming energy, not dissimilar to that of a stone Shivalinga. I was ecstatic and moved at the same time, as I considered it a special blessing from Shiva for me to have had such a profound experience smack in the midst of Kali Yuga. I harvested my own Rudraksha beads from the bright blue fruits, peeled and scrubbed away the pulp, then dried them. Among the last few steps were soaking the seeds in milk and oiling them for preservation. I gave five to Agastya, my best yoga student, and kept the remaining ones for myself.

Here, I’ll share what I’ve learned about the spiritual vibrations and uses of Rudraksha, based on the Rudraksha Jabala Upanishad. May you gain the full spiritual benefits of wearing these sacred beads, and the blessing of Lord Kalagni Rudra himself. Har har Mahadev!

Note: For the second part of this article, please see Part 2: The Rudraksha Jabala Upanishad.

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The Rudraksha Jabala Upanishad

There are varying pieces of information about the so-called ‘right’ way to choose and wear Rudraksha, and a string of supposed disasters than can happen by wearing the beads ‘wrongly’. The way I look at it, why get misled by the claims of mere mortals when the words of Shiva Himself are available for all to study? The Rudraksha Jabala Upanishad is there for all to read and make their own decisions, based on Shiva’s clear and direct instructions.

This Upanishad was originally written in Sanskrit and is part of the Sama Veda. It makes up one of the 108 Upanishadic scriptures and is in the form of a profound conversation between Lord Shiva (referred to as Lord Kalagni Rudra in this scripture) and the revered sage Sanatkumara (sage Bhusunda).

The Upanishad begins with an invocation to Brahman, the Supreme Reality for the well-being of the physical body, the prana (life force), and speech. It concludes beautifully with a prayer of peace. The sage Sanatkumara (Bhusunda) asks Lord Kalagni Rudra various questions about Rudraksha beads, including their origins, spiritual properties, how to wear them and the benefits of wearing them.

If you have genuine interest in the spiritual benefits of wearing Rudraksha, I highly recommend that you study this Upanishad. I’m a firm believer that spiritual guidance or knowledge should always come from legitimate sources, which equates to:

  • (a) the guidance of a bona fide spiritual master, and;
  • (b) teachings contained within the vast array of Vedic scriptures, plus
  • (c) some basic common sense to assimilate the knowledge received (in other words, you are your own teacher).

I have included the full English translation of the Upanishad here. This is a version I have edited only for language clarity. For the original version in the Sanskrit Devanagari script, please refer to this Upanishad within the Sama Veda.

Summary: Benefits of Rudraksha Beads and How to Wear Them

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Once again, I strongly recommend that you read the Rudraksha Jabala Upanishad for your own spiritual benefit. It’s surprisingly concise as far as Vedic scriptures go and you should be able to complete it within 10 to 15 minutes.

However, if you’re pressed for time, here’s a summary on the important parts:

  • The five-faced Rudraksha (panchmukhi) may be worn by everyone for overall spiritual well-being. In the Upanishad, Lord Kalagni Rudra describes the benefits of the one-faced to the fourteen-faced type of beads in great detail. However, the five-faced beads have general positive vibrations which will suit all users. Lord Kalagni Rudra says, “The five-faced Rudraksha represents Panchabrahman, the five-faced form of Shiva (Sadyojata to Isana). The wearer of this bead attains the grace of Panchabrahman and relieves himself of the sin of homicide.”shiva
  • You can choose the type of benefits you want according to the number of faces on the beads. For instance, the wearer of a three-faced Rudraksha obtains the blessings of Agni for the three types of sacred fires.
  • Seeing, handling and uttering the word ‘Rudraksha’ results in amazing spiritual benefits and blessings. Read the Upanishad for full details.
  • The recommended colors for Rudraksha beads are white, yellow, red and black. I find that the red and black are the most common. Do note that fresh Rudraksha seeds will darken considerably after drying, and this is normal. For instance, red seeds will darken to a deep brown. Also, be wary of ‘painted’ or dyed seeds. The best beads are those that are not treated with chemicals, heat or paints.
  • Always choose beads that are well-shaped and undamaged. Broken, cracked, misshapen seeds or those damaged by worms cannot be used.
  • The best type (quality) of Rudraksha beads have a natural hole. According to the Upanishad, a bead which has a man-made hole is secondary in quality, so wear the best type you can realistically obtain.
  • Rudraksha beads are best strung on white silk or cotton thread. Some gurus have also said that gold and silver wire are okay to use, and generally these metals are good conductors of spiritual vibrations. However, I believe that with this particular piece of advice, Lord Kalagni Rudra is teaching us that simplicity and humility is all you need to gain even the highest spiritual benefits.thread-848501_640
  • There is no ‘incorrect’ way to use Rudraksha. There are no ill-effects of wearing any type of Rudraksha. Nowhere in the Upanishad does Lord Kalagni Rudra mention any negative consequences of wearing Rudraksha. Rather, the Upanishad focuses on the various types of positive effects exuded by the beads; it provides enough information for one to personally decide on the type he or she needs most.
  • No restrictions are mentioned for the use of Rudraksha during menstruation. A woman’s bodily energy field changes during the menstruation cycle. The effects vary from person to person, so women are recommended to make their own decisions based on their individual bodily energy during menstruation. I personally find that Rudraksha has a calming, grounding effect on me during my periods.
  • Wearers of Rudraksha are recommended to be vegetarian. There is no mention of any ill-effects of wearing Rudraksha as a non-vegetarian. However, bearing in mind the cyclical flow of Rudraksha’s energy in the form of a mala (rosary), it is best to refrain from non-vegetarian food as much as possible. Rudraksha amplifies one’s own bodily energy and vibrations, and as the consumption of meat is highly tamasic, it would be wise to reduce the consumption of non-vegetarian food and eventually cease it altogether.

Part 2: The Rudraksha Jabala Upanishad (Full Text)

Part 3: How To Know If Your Rudraksha Beads Are Genuine