Written by Madhusudanadas.

Archana-bhakti is the devotion that awakens from the external worship of the Divine in ceremonies and rituals like a puja. We first establish a relationship with the unlimited Divine, present in the form of a deity on the outside or externally, which then leads us to a relationship with the same form of the Divine within us. Irrespective of whether our mind can perceive it, the deep connection between the deity outside of us and that within us is very much present and known by our heart.

In Atma Kriya Yoga, we awaken archana-bhakti with the pranayamas, making use of the external prana present in the air, as the Divine enters us to purify and uplift the internal prana. The pranayamas are not just mere techniques can also be the worship of God outside and inside of us. Practising Atma Kriya Yoga and puja one after the other is an experience that I like very much. The order of the two could vary and personally, I like to do Atma Kriya Yoga followed by puja but certainly, there are others who might say otherwise. It’s up to you to find the practice that works best for you.

Although ways of worship may vary slightly from one tradition to another, their significance cannot be disregarded in any way.

Ceremonies and rituals are very, very important for the welfare and evolution of this world, as they create vibrations that maintain and sustain the energy of nature.

 

Paramahamsa Vishwananda

When I first started doing puja a few years ago, I often used to think that the longer and more elaborate a ritual was, the greater it was. I would think that a longer abhishekam or yajna would be able to get me closer to guru and God than a simpler puja would be able. I would do the abhishekam only occasionally and when I did get around to doing it, I would do it in an unaffectionate way, wanting to rush through the steps as quickly as possible and under a self-imposed pressure to finish within a certain time so that I could move on to the next thing to do in my day. Cleaning and washing up after was something I found discouraging as I saw it as additional work. One day, my eyes opened when I heard in a satsang that the vessels are also vibrating with divine energies and washing or cleaning up after is actually an extension of the puja.

A Short Intimate Date or a Long Solemn One

After a few months of frustration, I took a step back and reflected on what I was doing and how. It was then that I decided to do a shorter version of the abhishekam, consistently, on a daily basis. This was when I discovered the beauty of puja.

The shorter version of the abhishekam helped me relate to my ishtadeva more intimately. The focus was not so much on reading from the manual or looking at the next step but on interacting and connecting with my ishtadeva. It became a choice between going on a long date with constant distractions and a serious, perhaps bored face versus a more interactive and intimate but shorter date. Not all days are the same when I do puja, I find it a great blessing to experience this change over a longer stretch than ever before.

Here are some ways that may allow you to build a deeper connection and relationship with God during your puja.

Building a Deeper Connection

Have a clear intention or mental resolve of doing the puja as a pure expression of love and servitude and not to gain any favour or to do business with God.

Visualize your ishtadeva duplicating themselves and walking out of your heart and taking Their place within the physical deity to receive the worship while simultaneously remaining in your heart. See the external deity as a physical reflection of the internal deity residing in your heart.

Use all your senses to interact with Them; see them and look into Their eyes, smell Their perfume, touch Their feet, ask permission to do the puja and listen with your ears as They respond and allow you.

When you offer water to wash Their hands or to drink, with your eyes open, be present and serve the deity in front of you.

During the puja, appreciate Their presence, occasionally smile at Them to show how happy you are to be in Their presence, and see Them smile back.

Use a strong perfume whose scent lingers onto your fingers as you apply, so that you can smell this perfume for the rest of the day. Find out and use the scents They like.

Apply the chandan paste and kumkum powder softly on their feet, feel their skin as you apply. Offer a bright green Tulsi leaf full of devotion from your heart to Their feet. Offer a beautiful flower, representing your inner beauty.

If the mind wanders at any time during the puja, gently bring it back to Their feet and form.

Offer the most delicious prasad and ask Them if they want more as you feed Them. Offer your ignorance and attachments and ask for the mind to be transformed. Make some effort to find out what type of food They like and make that food.

Feed Them imagining how Shabari fed berries to Lord Rama, how Sulabha, wife of Vidura, fed banana peels (yes peels) to Krishna, or how Krishna relished Sudama’s parched rice. As you partake in the prasad at the very end, after the arati, remember that Their Love is fully present in the prasad. Even pray that you can serve with the purity of the saints one day.

Offer arati, see them through the centre of the circular wave of light, the centre of your heart and of your life where they rightfully belong. Visualize the Divine shining from your heart in the silence at end of the puja. Use the silence to talk to Them. Be grateful to receive the chance to express your love and to be in Their presence. Know that They love you more than you can imagine, even more than you love yourself. Ask Them to make Their presence known in your heart and in your day.

In reality, what the Lord accepts is the love that is in the heart of the devotee. It is not through knowledge that one conquers the Lord but through simplicity, through the simplest things done with devotion. If one offers a leaf, a flower and a few drops of water with gratitude, with a mind focused on the Divine, on the Lord Himself, He accepts that offering of Love.

 

Paramahamsa Vishwananda commentary, verse 9.26 of the Bhagavad Gita

 

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