Puja: An Act of Offering
If you take a look at VI’s event calendar, you will notice that each month we schedule a few pujas, offering ceremonies directed towards a particular Buddha figure. There are guru pujas (offering to the spiritual masters), Tara puja (to Tara, the popular female Buddha), and Medicine Buddha puja (to the eight Medicine Buddhas, who bring healing and success).
The Sanskrit word puja has the meaning of reverence, honour, adoration, or worship. It is explained as offering when translated into Tibetan. Pujas have been a way of life for many Buddhists in Asia, where participation in the chanting and offering is one way to reaffirm their refuge in the Buddha, his teachings and the spiritual community that keeps alive those teachings. It is also a way of accumulating the merits that issue forth both mundane and spiritual benefits, with probably more emphasis on the worldly gains than the transcendental ones.With Buddhism coming to the West, we find that the acceptance of pujas as a part of Buddhist practice lags behind that of meditation and Buddhist studies in most Western countries. I like to, jokingly, attribute this to the fact that puja dates follow the moon (i.e., the lunar calendar) while we conduct our lives following the sun. Of course, there are other reasons why we are luke-warm in our reception for pujas, such as we may find the chanting incomprehensible (as it is usually done in a foreign language).
One reason I want to touch on is the difficulty of making that connection between performing a puja and transforming our mind for the better. I must admit that it is not always obvious or crystal clear to me as to why my chanting, visualizing, and acts of making offering during a puja could have a positive impact and help to change my mind. This is unlike meditation, where I feel that I can witness how the development of mindfulness directly contributes to a greater sense of well-being. In other words, puja may seem to rely on mysterious connections and powers to justify its efficacy. However, there is another way of understanding the power of pujas.
On certain occasions when I can fully enter into the spirit of the puja, when I am mindful of the significance of the act of offering, its object (be it Buddha, Tara and so forth), and its purpose (be it wishing to show appreciation, praying for someone in trouble, remembering the goal of enlightenment, etc.), I find a puja can become a meditation in motion. The chanting of the words, the melody, the visualizations, and the participation along with others–all these can serve to move and direct my heart and mind in a positive direction, towards faith, devotion, compassion, generosity and wisdom. It is actually enjoyable and beneficial, right at that very moment without even considering its long-term benefits. And it is during such moments that I can understand why puja is really about offering: offering our resistances and willingness, the best and the worst of ourselves, so that we can emerge from it with more clarity, generosity, and warm-heartedness.
Published on October 10, 2011.
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