What is Pūjā?
Pūjā is the procedure of developing a deep and sweet intimacy with a deity or object of adoration.
The Sanskrit word “pūjā” is made up of pū, which means to purify or cleanse, and jā, which means birth. Essentially then, pūjā is a ritual of adoration of a deity with the goal of purifying or sanctifying our lives. Importantly, the deity becomes the ideal through which our lives are beheld and in the way we conduct ourselves from moment to moment. This is not to say that we need to understand every aspect of the procedure right off the bat, since the purpose of pūjā is to guide us to a deeper understanding of the ritual.
Pūjā and Sādhanā
Pūjā is an essential part of life and sādhanā, or practice, in many paths and traditions – the goal and purpose of ritual will therefore differ according to the path. When we start off with pūjā, the deity appears distinct and separate from us, perhaps seated or standing. The relationship at the outset is dualistic, with the deity “there” receiving prayers and offerings from us “here.” With continued practice and inward focus during pūjā, a fascinating shift begins to happen. The boundary between us and the deity becomes increasingly more transparent and eventually dissolves. At this point, the deity is no longer outside of us. Instead of being restricted to the murti or image, the deity becomes a diffuse living and breathing presence. The deity is “in” the picture of idol, but also in the offerings. The deity is in our breath, the sound of the mantras we chant, the mudras our hands make and in the spectrum of feelings and thoughts that come up when we are doing the pūjā. Somewhere along the way, we come to see that the deity is within us as the power of illumination. We now begin to direct our offerings to this illuminating power within.
Pūjā as Devotion
Pūjā is the art of cultivating this kind of catalytic devotion that leads to such refinement of our body, mind, and intellect that the relationship we have with the deity collapses into a shimmering, lived experience of oneness – not just with the deity but with everything!