The Modern Practice of Puja
SUMMARY FROM LAST WEEK: Puja is an ancient cultural tradition that has unknown roots. Some scholars believe that the practice began during Vedic times (1500 – 600 BCE) where the word puja has been found in the Sutras (which were composed to describe domestic rites, prayers, rituals). In these years, it appears that puja mostly referred to the time when a priest was visiting a home to offer a ritual to the family. A deity was being honored and was considered an invited guest.The puja ritual helped the family embrace the god/goddess’ spiritual essence so that it permeated the home and the people in it.
In the 1980s, a man named Charles Muir, is said to have been one of the first teachers to bring tantra to the modern world in the west. Honestly, I doubt this is true. His book, “The Art of Conscious Loving” is fabulous (co-written with his wife at the time, Caroline Muir). He and Caroline developed a sexual healing technique known today as “sacred spot massage” and as we know, anything with a focus on sex gets popularized quickly! I’m not judging their work; I have found it very healing myself and recommend it to those drawn.
And then there is Osho – the mystic, and the revolutionary the sex guru. Born in 1931 in Kuchwada, Madya Pradesh, India, Osho supposedly became enlightened at the age of 21. He followed a career as a philosophy professor, later traveled all over India and was worshipped by thousands of people. Around 1970 he started initiating devotees and in 1974 he started an Ashram in Poona. In 1981, he relocated to the US, offering his version of tantra to the folks who joined him at his ashram in California.
The question of WHO created the version of Tantric puja that embraces intimacy instead of meditation to a deity is unknown. However, the question still remains whether we are honoring of the puja practice in its origin or diluting an ancient practice and doing a disservice.
Let’s review the components I enumerated last week:
1. The deity is invited to the ceremony.
2. The deity is offered a seat and his/her feet are ceremonially washed.
3. Water is offered for cleansing.
4. A cloth may be wrapped around the deity.
5. The deity is then adorned with incense, ornaments, jewels and more.
6. A burning lamp, or candle, is waved in front of the honored one.
7. Foods such as cooked rice, fruit, and sweets are offered.
8. The attendees bow to take homage in the energy the deity is providing.
9. The attendees walk around the deity.
10. The attendees leave.
And now let’s compare them to the Intimate Puja Circle as I choose to lead it:
1. Women and men are invited to the ceremony.
2. The women are offered a seat.
3. Cleansing is done before we arrive at the puja ceremony via movement, sometimes water, sometimes fire, often breathing and releasing.
4. Cloth is provided on the altar to create sacred space for our divine experience.
5. The women most often adorn themselves (and we adorn the altar with ornaments, jewels, incense, etc.)
6. We have a representation of a candle on the altar.
7. Foods such as fruit and sweets are offered.
8. The participants honor each other via non-sexual touch, eye gazing, energetic connection to begin to see/feel the divinity is in each of us.
9. The outside circle moves around the goddess in the center.
10. The participants leave at the end.
So as you can see, the steps taken during a puja ceremony are similar here and there which fares well for staying in integrity. But the real, the underlying question is whether or not the Intimate Puja Circle is a journey towards awakening. And my answer to that question is YES.
It can seem like it’s about getting touch needs met, learning to say “yes” when you mean “yes” and “no” when you mean “no” — and it can seem that it’s about having a good massage, or raising sexual energy which feels good. It can seem that it’s about getting together twice/month and being in community. For some, it can be about making money, or living in a nice home or meeting their life partner.
And there’s the thing — all those things are great! They truly are….it’s so important that our words express our highest truth, that we are most often expressing our authenticity, that we feel good, get good touch regularly, make enough money so that we feel comfortable, and meet a life partner if that’s what we want. I would never and will never underestimate the importance of these aspects of our lives.
And yet, it’s all for nothing if it’s not about AWAKENING. This ancient practice (along with other ones of course) have demonstrated over the years to be a tool on the path to awakening. It has the capacity to transcend who we think we are, and help us find out who we really are. The sacred ritual has the capacity to open our hearts to the Truth — the the Oneness of the Universe, to deep honest connection with God/Spirit and to realize that we are forever held in love. And that we are love and nothing else is true. Imagine that!
So in the end, I believe it has much to do with intention. How I hold the space when I facilitate is paramount to what gets created, expressed and manifested in that space. And just as important is how everyone in the room holds the space. I realize there are different degrees of understanding and also we are all on different stones on the same path….but the overall intention is sacred and loving.
I’d love to hear your thoughts!