Thursday, October 10, 2013

Atma Puja: The Divine in You

Sometimes people may wonder, why do you worship a form, a mūrti? To many people it's confusing to see the manifold forms of Gods and Goddesses, and they get lost in understanding the meaning behind it.

Actually, it's very simple. In Hinduism we say there is only one. One Lord, one all pervasive power, one shakti. This power represents the force in and through the universe, and includes the creation of nature, the law of karma, and the order in each part of our life. As it's very obvious, there are so many aspects in creation. There's creation itself, sustenance, destruction, there's motherhood, fatherhood, dance, music, knowledge, etc. All of these aspects, are depicted in a form, which we call a mūrti.
 These are the Gods and Goddesses that we see in Hinduism, representing different functions and glories. Depending on what we pray for, the God takes up a particular role, and in that role we invoke the blessings.

When it comes to the Goddess, there are two forms. One if the benign form, and the other is the ferocious. Mā Kālī (Durgā) represents the ferocious form, in which she destroys the demons in order to protect. Throughout our lives we may encounter demons in different forms, whether it's a negative thought, anger, greed, or even the evil eye, dṛiṣṭi. By praying to Mā Kālī we ask her to protect us from these internal and external demons.
The benign forms of the Goddess are Sarasvatī and Lakṣhmī- representing all knowledge and prosperity.

Now, there is something more to this. Just as these aspects of creation and the universe can be depicted in different idols, the same aspects are all there, within ourselves. It's called worship of the self, ātma pūja. This is an absolute beautiful concept, because it symbolizes the divine nature that is there in each one of us. It brings out the glorious aspects that are there in us, and directly reveals that we are all divine and significant beings.

There's a Sanskrit verse to illustrate this:

देहो देवालयः प्रोक्तः  जीवो देवस्सनातनः ।
त्यजेदज्ञाननिर्माल्यं  सोऽहं भावेन पूजयेत ।।

deho devālayaḥ proktaḥ  jīvo devassanātanaḥ 

tyajedajnānanirmālyam  so'ham bhāvena pūjayet 
The body is the temple. The jīva (soul) is the deity of this temple, since the beginningless time. May one get rid of the wilted flowers of ignorance, and worship the Lord with the understanding that he's non-separate from me.
In this way, everything that we do from the moment we wake up until we go to bed, can be seen as a prayerful and worshipful action. The actions undertaken during a pūja in the temple, are undertaken by us too each day: Waking up and taking a bath (snānam), putting on clothes (vastram) and ornaments (ābharaṇam), wearing flowers in the hair (puṣhpam), applying sandal-paste (chandanam) and kumkumam, and lastly offering food to ourselves.

If you see a traditional Hindu lady, you will notice her whole body in ornaments. Starting from her earrings, to the nose ring, necklace, bangles, anklets, and toe rings. Each limb is decorated with a piece of jewelry. On her forehead, you will see a tilaka, a red mark of worship. It's a sign of worshipping the Lord, who resides in the body. The tilaka is placed in the ājñā-chakra, the third eye, a powerful spiritual center and point of concentration.

By viewing our daily activities as part of the ātma pūja, we add a certain sanctity to ourselves, and to our life. We won't be going out the door with old, smelly clothes, without having taken a bath or brushed our teeth. In one way you can say it's simply common sense, but there's more to it than that. It's taking your body as something sacred, something that needs to be taken care of with full attention, just like a temple is maintained. Yet is it not a maintenance for the sake of impressing others or for our own vainness, it's an act of self-love in a sense of devotion. Over time, the devotee and the devoted difference will dissolve, and only one remains. With this attitude, alienation from Īśvara disappears, and we learn to recognize Īsvara in all shapes and forms. 

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