Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God.’
Bhuta shuddhi or Divinization of the worshipper
Now follows an important ritual called Bhuta shuddhi (Purification of the five elements) . This is a highly developed Yogic process whereby the worshipper purifies his inner personality in order to be fit to worship the Deity and meditate on Him in his heart. In order to understand this highly elevating process we must have a little background knowledge.
Vedanta teaches us that the world is composed of five elements— Space, Air, Fire, Water and Earth. These are the elements of which the human organism (body and mind) is also composed. These five Elements each have one centre of operation in the five Chakras of the spinal column. The kundalini (It is believed that there are seven Yogic Chakras or centres of consciousness in every human body) is supposed to pass from the Muladhara to the Sahasrara Chakra, absorbing the Elements one after another at each of these centres.
Let us, here, recollect the experience of Sri Ramakrishna with Kundalini.
‘Just before my attaining this state of mind, it had been revealed to me how the kundalini is aroused, how the lotuses of the different centres blossom forth, and how all this culminates in samadhi. This is a very secret experience. I saw a boy twenty-two or twenty-three years old, exactly resembling me, enter the Sushumna nerve and commune with the lotuses touching them with his tongue. He began with the centre at the anus and passed through the centres at the sexual organ, naval, and so on. The different lotuses of those centres- four-petalled, six-petalled, ten-petalled, and so forth-had been drooping, but, at his touch they stood erect. When he reached the heart – I distinctly remember it – and communed with the lotus there, touching with his tongue, the twelve-petalled lotus, which was hanging head down, stood erect and open its petals. Then he came to the sixteen-petalled lotus in the throat and two petalled lotus in the forehead. And last of all, the thousand-petalled lotus in the head blossomed. Since then I have been in this state.’
After absorbing all the five elements the Kundalini reaches the Ajna or the mind centre where the Akasha (Space) is absorbed into the mind and the latter into subtle Prakriti. This Prakriti, in the form of Kundalini Shakti, thereafter unites with Shiva (The Supreme Consciousness) in the Sahasrara Chakra. The worshipper meditates on the kundalini power as rising from (Muladhara) the base of the spine, to the head (Sahasrara), where it gets united with the light of the Supreme Spirit. The worshipper, during this process, imagines that his impure gross and subtle bodies become dried and burnt up by the mystic fire. This drying up process is accomplished by uttering the Mystic Syllables yam, and ram.
Thereafter he imagines that he is putting on a new divine body, free from all taints of sin, created out of his luminous Self. After this the worshipper invokes the divine Presence in the heart of the new luminous body. (The Deity thus invoked inside is thereafter worshipped mentally called Manasika Puja.) In Yogic practice this process actually takes place (See Sri Ramakrishna’s experiences given below) but in the process of worship this is only imagined to take place in the heart of the worshipper.
Thus, in imagination, the whole universe is dissolved in Brahman. Then the black man of sin (Papa Purusha) in the body is burnt and the body is purified. The Papa-Purusha is the evil-principle in man. With the destruction of this evil principle and the creation of the new divine body the process of Bhuta shuddhi is complete.Repeating ‘Soham’ the worshiper infuses his body with the life of the deity.
Let us take a look at some of the experiences Sri Ramakrishna had when he performed worship at Dakshineswar. Although these experiences came to him at different periods of his life, we mention them here all together:
‘The Master used to say that at the time of performing various rituals he actually saw the letters of the mantras in bright colours set in the body.
Again, when according to the prescribed method of worship he uttered the mantra ram, sprinkled water all round himself and imagined a wall of fire existing around the place of worship, he actually saw an impassable wall of fire with a hundred tongues spread out, protecting the place of worship and the worshipper from all obstacles.’
‘At the time of performing Sandhya and worship [said the Master] I used to think, according to scriptural prescription, that the Papa Purusha (sinful self) within had been burnt up. Who knew then that there was actually such a man of sin within the body and that it could be actually burnt and destroyed? A burning sensation came on the body from the beginning of the Sadhana.I thought, ‘What is this disease?’ It increased by degrees and became unbearable. Various kinds of oils prescribed by physicians were used; but it could by no means be alleviated. One day, while I was sitting under the Panchavati, I saw that a jet-black person with red eyes and a hideous appearance came reeling, as if drunk, out of this (showing his own body), and walked before me. I saw again another person of placid mien, in ochre-coloured dress, with a trident in his hand come out similarly from the body, vehemently attack the other and kill him. The burning sensation in the body decreased for a short time after I had that vision. I suffered from that burning sensation continually for six months before the Papa Purusha was burnt up.
Bhuta shuddhi is a highly effective process. Done sincerely the practitioner gradually comes to feel his divinity and feels blessed. After all this is the real purpose of Puja.
Vedanta Magazine May - June 2017
WORSHIP OF GOD AS THE DIVINE MOTHER - 11
In our last editorial we discussed the process known as Bhuta Shuddhi or a process whereby the worshipper purifies his inner personality in order to be fit to worship the Deity and meditate on Him in his heart. If done correctly the aspirant feels he acquired a new pure spiritual body.
Pranayama is breath control having many benefits. Practised correctly Pranayama helps calm the mind, improves concentration, and aids deep thinking. It also purifies blood, regulates metabolism,
reduces stress, strengthens will-power, and improves the autonomic and other functions of the body. The most important benefit, of course, is mind-control. Revered
Yatiswaranandaji used to advise devotees to practise simple pranayama for a few minutes before meditation.
The next ritual is Nyasa. This is the technique of consecrating the body to the chosen deity. This ritual helps us purify and offer our body-mind to the divine. In this ritual, the worshipper
touches various parts of his body with appropriate mantras and identifies all these parts now with the body of his chosen deity.
Thus the aspirant feels intensely that his body belongs to God. He thus cultivates the consciousness that all his actions belong only to God.
The worshipper gradually feels: “I am verily the God whom I worship.”
Guru-puja or worship of one’s spiritual teacher
In Hinduism Guru is considered as the human representative of God on earth. He is equated with God or God only comes to guide us in the form of the Guru. Hence he is to be meditated upon as
follows (as dictated by the Mahanirvana Tantra):
“I meditate on my spiritual Teacher seated on the thousand-petalled white lotus in the Sahasrara chakra, clad in white robes, with a serene look on his benign face, ready to bestow the light of knowledge”.
The Guru-power, in the form of a seed (Bija Mantra) permeates the mind of the disciple and saves him. Surrender to the Guru signifies true dedication of body and mind to follow his instructions and realize God. So it is said Guru, Mantra and Ishta are one and the same.
Guru Pranam or salutations to Guru.
In order to facilitate spiritual progress, the worshipper needs to remember his spiritual lineage and salute his Guru, his Guru’s Guru, and his Guru etc. This salutation ultimately leads us to God; for it is God who is the first and only Guru, who through the descending lineage of discipleship comes to us as our own Guru; this also reminds devotees of their spiritual lineage.
Then follows the adoration of the goddess Gayatri through the japa of Gayatri mantra. It is an invocation of the sun-god. This is the Mantra.
Om bhur-bhuvah-suvah tat-savitur varenyam bhargo devasya dhimahi dhiyo yo nah prachodayat
“Om, we meditate on the Spiritual Effulgence of that Adorable Supreme Divine Reality, the Source of the three worlds. May that Supreme Divine Being stimulate our intelligence so that we may realize the Supreme Truth.”
Dhyana or Meditation on one’s chosen deity
The form of the chosen deity is now imagined inside the lotus of one’s heart. The mind is trained to concentrate on the form of God and made to flow continuously without a break. This ritual gives exercise to all the faculties of the mind, intellect, emotion, will, and imagination etc.
All the four Yogas are involved in this exercise. The intellect gets exercise in seeing God as the inner core of oneself indicating Jnana Yoga. Concentrating the mind and meditating on Soul or Atman is Raja Yoga. Imagining God for the purpose of cultivating love and devotion towards Him is Bhakti Yoga. Worship and service of Him is an exercise in the service of God in man and hence represents the essence of Karma Yoga. This meditation is helped by certain mantras called meditational mantras.These give a description of the Deity to be worshipped, especially that special form which is dear to the devotee.
Dhyana or meditation
In this ritual the worshipper takes a flower and meditates on the form of his chosen deity. There are special mantras called Dhyana mantras or verses describing the forms and qualities of various
deities. The worshipper must choose the mantras appropriate to his chosen deity. “One gradually becomes what one meditates upon” is the philosophy of meditation.
Here is a small example of meditational verse on Sri Ramakrishna:
‘Shining in the lotus of the heart,
Beyond all changes real and unreal;
One and compact, untouched by prakriti or her evolutes; the eternal image of Bliss,
The spotless Swan Supreme, Ramakrishna we adore.’
After the meditation is over the worshipper places the flower on the head, thinking that the effulgent form of the chosen Deity is sitting on the lotus of his heart and accepting his devoted worship.
Manasika puja or mental worship
Here comes the most important part of the entire worship called manasika puja or mental worship. The scriptures say outward worship is inferior and is only the stepping stone to mental worship.
Mental worship is important because any one can mentally worship God at any place, time and under all circumstances; well or ill, while travelling, at any time or place, while sitting, standing, waiting — no external constraints apply. Formal worship is costly, requires time, energy, ingredients, a clean place, etc. But in mental worship there are no conditions. Hence anyone can do this worship to his/her heart’s content!
In mental worship all the offerings are made mentally. For the beginners the offerings consist of all the usual offerings of external Puja which are imagined and offered mentally to the image in the heart. But to an advanced devotee the offerings consist of moral and spiritual virtues to be cultivated.
Placing a beautiful flower on his head the worshipper offers water, seat, flowers, cloth, and food etc., all the items normally offered in the external worship. In mental worship one can offer the very best to his beloved Lord, one’s imagination alone is the limit! There are beautiful and symbolic Sanskrit verses guiding us how one could adore one’s beloved.
The lotus of the heart should be offered as the seat of the Deity. The nectar that flows from the thousand-petalled lotus should be offered for washing the feet. The mind is a noble offering. The principle of ether should be offered as clothing and that of smell as sandal paste.
The heart should be offered as flower, the life breath as incense, the principle of fire as light, the ocean of nectar as food offerings, and the principle of sound as the bell and that of the air as the fan, the actions of the sense organs as also the vagaries of the mind as delightful dance.(Notice how the flowers are compared to spiritual virtues (Yama & Niyama) one needs to cultivate if one wishes to progress in spiritual life!)
Flowers of various species, fragrant and beautiful should be offered to please one’s beloved. The absence of deceit, egotism, desire, haughtiness, delusion, vanity, hate, excitement, jealousy and avarice— these are the ten flowers loved by the Lord.
Non-violence is the best flower; control of the senses is another. Then there are the flowers of compassion, forgiveness and knowledge. One should worship one’s beloved with these fifteen flowers consisting of the highest spiritual qualities.
After the mental worship is over begins the external worship. We will deal with this in our next editorial.
(To be continued)
Vedanta Magazine July - August 2017
Worship of the Divine Mother -12
In our last editorial we dwelt with mental worship. This is the third and most important part of worship. The speciality of mental worship is that it can be done by anyone, at any place, under any condition (For example in old age, sickness, while travelling etc.).
Let us remember that in mental worship one feels a sense of belonging entirely to God. The flowers one offers mentally should remind us that these are the spiritual qualities one needs to develop in order to realise God.
External worship (Bahya Puja)
Mental worship is followed by external worship where God is offered many items (called upacharas) such as water for washing one’s feet, bathing, a welcome offering, food etc. Does God need all these items? Why offer peculiar items like water for washing feet, hands, and bathing etc.? The explanation is that in times of old, especially in tropical climates, men had to walk long distances. Naturally when they arrive they are dusty, tired, thirsty and hungry. And also apprehensive if they would be welcome or not. (Let us not forget that in earlier times hotels and motels were not there.) Hence injunctions are laid by the scriptures to treat a guest (atithi) as God in visible form. It is incumbent on all house-holders to receive all guests (even if they are not liked, it is a useful social custom) with joy and treat them with respect.
Worship of God in images
The worship of the images is a substitute for worship of God in Holy persons, which is the best form of worship. “Realised persons are indeed gods”.
There is a deep connection between the worship of the images and worship of guests; it is God, symbolised by these, that is worshipped and honoured. It is also another way of seeing God in everyone.
Items to be offered to the deity (upacharas)
After all these preliminaries are over the worshipper begins the actual offering of items known as upacharas. One can worship God with five, ten, sixteen, or thirty-two items, though worship
with ten items is the norm (called Dasopachara puja). The items that are usually offered in the ten-item worship are:
Water for washing hands and feet, a special welcome in the form of a (cool) drink, and water for bathing. Then the guest is offered sandal paste, flowers, incense, light and food.
(Worship with sixteen items are usually offered on festival days. On these special occasions extra items such as beautiful garlands, dress, special dishes of food etc. are given to the Lord.)
If a person cannot afford to worship with all the innumerable items one can offer as many as one can afford. If that also is not possible one may perform worship with flowers alone as substitute for all the other items.
The ritual with ten items is followed by offering of handfuls of flowers called pushpanjali, symbolising surrendering the fruits of one’s actions to the Chosen Deity. Worship, then, is concluded with Aratrikam.
Philosophy of Aratrikam
Aratrikam is the vesper service though it is performed in the day also, usually, at the end of special worship. It is marked with 5 items in sequence: light, water, cloth, flower and fanning with chamar. These five items represent the five elements fire, water, space, earth and air, out of which the whole universe is made. If the worship is done with sincerity and devotion it dawns on the worshipper that the whole universe, including himself belongs to God and that he has really nothing which he can call his own. What, then, can he give to the Lord? This ritual is symbolic of the complete surrender of the worshipper.
Distribution of Prasada (consecrated food)
When food is offered to God with devotion He accepts it with joy. It then, becomes sacred and spiritual. Holy Mother Sri Sarada Devi used to say that when she offered food to the Lord, she used to see a ray of light coming from the eyes of the Deity and touching the offered materials.The food thus consecrated to God is called prasada. Puja is incomplete without sharing the offered food, to the devotees.Worship without the distribution of prasada to devotees is ineffective. Devotees believe that prasada purifies the body and mind. Sri Ramakrishna used to regard prasada, especially the prasada of Lord Jagannath, as highly sacred and purifying. Prasada also means God’s Grace, and so partaking of prasada is an act of accepting divine blessings.
The Symbolism of Puja
Among the various articles required for Puja water represents faith (Shraddha), flowers devotion; light represents knowledge, food represents body, conch stands for the sacred syllable OM, bell for the anahata, the eternal sound heard by Yogis; incense for sensual pleasures, Pranam or salutation for humility and self-surrender, fruits for the results of one’s actions, and circumambulation for seeing God everywhere.
According to another reading (Advaitic view) the human body represents the temple and the Soul within is God Himself. Realization consists in perceiving the identity or non-difference between the soul and God.
Puja is to be done with the feeling of identity of oneself with the object of worship. Meditation consists of freeing the mind of all sense-objects. Bathing consists in cleaning the mind of all dross and impurities. Purity consists in controlling of the senses.
Meditation consists of making the mind free from all worldly ideas and thoughts; the act of welcome consists in driving away all selfish activities.
Ascertainment of Truth constitutes the seat of God; offering of bath water to the deity consists in being bathed in the immortal splendour of the Soul; to see the Atman in everything is sandal paste. Going around (Pradakshina) consists in becoming immortal and salutation in becoming conscious of oneness with God.
Rituals are not the only way of worshipping God. Vocal and work are also ways of worshipping Him. These will be discussed in our next editorial.
(To be continued)
Vedanta Magazine September - October 2017