The Amazing Power of Manasa Puja
Internalization of Vedic rituals was a significant step in the history of Hinduism. It freed people from the constraints of time, place, and resources and contributed to the growth of devotional theism and spiritual practices. By internalizing the same processes that were hidden in the ritual model and mentally visualizing them in all details, the seers found a better way to communicate with gods and make their prayers heard.
One of the significant outcomes of it was the practice of mental worship or manasa puja. It elevated Vedic religion as the religion of both the body and the mind, and shifted its emphasis from outward, ritual practices (karmakanda) to internal, spiritual practices (jnanakanda). In turn, it led to the flowering of the Upanishadic philosophy and the emergence of transformative ascetic practices such as tapas, austerities, yoga, and meditation.
It also led to the realization that ritual knowledge constituted inferior knowledge (avidya), while the knowledge of Self gained through mental and spiritual practices was superior (vidya). Vedic people did not completely discard ritual knowledge, since they found it useful to perform their obligatory duties and pursue the triple goals of dharma, artha and kama to discharge their worldly obligations to gods, ancestors, seers, etc. For that they chose karma yoga and karma sanyasa yoga as the best means. At the same time, they also focused upon their most important goal, Moksha, or liberation and prepared themselves for it. Upon reaching old age, they retired from active life and practiced jnanayoga, sanyasayoga and jnana-karma-sanyasa yoga to liberate themselves from the cycle of births and deaths.
Significance of mental worship
The world offers numerous distractions, and the human mind is easily drawn to them. Desire-ridden actions do not pacify it. Neither the wealth obtained through the grace of the gods nor the appeasement of sensory pleasures leads to peace of mind, since your mind has a great appetite for desires, and is not easily satisfied. Rituals and sacrificial ceremonies by themselves may keep it distracted from the reality of life, but they cannot permanently cure the afflictions and modifications to which you are susceptible.
Hence, if you want to tame your mind and its numerous drives and desires, you need a better and more powerful approach. It is possible when your mind is directly engaged in divine worship with concentration and devotion. For that, the best technique has so far been the mental worship or manasa puja, also known as spiritual worship or mystic worship, which consists of worshipping God or gods with your mind (manas) and intellect (buddhi).
The Upanishads declare that internal worship (manasa puja) is far superior to external worship. Your prayers are more effective when they are uttered silently in your mind rather than chanted loudly. In imagination and visualization your mind has the power of God to manifest things and enjoy them. It is a creating and manifesting entity, without form and without spatial limits. You can create anything and accomplish any task in your imagination. The Vedas recognize this inherent power of humans, and therefore prescribe mental worship as the best means to develop a close affinity with your personal deity. The Vedic seers approved this practice. Modern masters such as Sri Ramakrishna Paramahansa, Yogananda, and Swami Vivekananda found it very useful to grow the divine presence in them.
You are the lord of your inner universe, just as Brahman is of the external. You can set the stage and create necessary conditions within your mind to perform any mental task. You can control that world and all the objects in it with your resolve. Hence, if you set your mind upon it, you would easily manifest your personal God in your inner world and awaken your own spirituality. As you continue the practice, your mind will manifest the same reality in the external world also, and show you the same God hidden in all manifestation. It is why manasa puja is considered a very effective method of internal worship.
Manasapuja is more than dhyana (contemplation) or mindfulness. It is an enhanced and enriched form of dhyana and mindfulness practice, in which you combine ritual worship with concentration, meditation, and devotion to form a personal bond with the deity of your choice. Its continued practice leads to mental purity, stability, concentration, tranquility, and self-absorption. Most importantly, it awakens the deity hidden in you and brings him into the center of your life. He also becomes the silent witness and partner of your thoughts and actions, and will keep you safe from the hazards of karma.
How to practice mental worship
Once you understand the basic approach, manasapuja is easy to practice. During the worship you visualize all the steps and processes that are involved in traditional methods of divine worship and replicate them in your mind faithfully. For example, in its practice your body becomes the temple, the sacrificial pit, or the place of worship. Your heart becomes the sanctum or the altar where the deity resides, your mind acts as the provider or the host of the sacrifice (yajamana) and you (aham) become the priest, who makes the offerings. While there is no fixed method to perform it, the following are a few important steps which you may find useful.
1. Sit in a comfortable, clean place, and take a few deep breaths to relax your mind and body.
2. Close your eyes and enter a meditative state. The calmer you are, the easier it will be for you to practice visualization.
3. Mentally recite a few cleansing mantras or prayers, or continuously chant Aum, until your mind is stabilized.
4. Visualize the deity of your choice in whatever form you may like and offer him a seat of gold either in front of you, or inside your heart.
5. Let the deity radiate as much light as you can visualize and let his presence have a calming and soothing effect upon you.
5. Profusely thank the deity for paying the visit and willing to be your guest for the duration of the worship.
6. After that, you can add as many details to your method as possible to make it look real and reverential. You can visualize various offerings that you make in traditional worship (puja), starting with water, washing of feet, applying of sandal paste and perfume, gifting of robes of gold, and activities such as lighting the lamp, burning the incense, uttering prayers of praise, salutations, prostrations, and offerings of food. Since the offerings are made out of your mind, there is no end to what you can offer in the richness and abundance of your imagination.
7. At the end of it, you may visualize spending quality time with the deity, and engage him in a mental conversation in which you may seek his advice, guidance, help, or protection.
8. Before you bid him farewell, make sure that you express your gratitude for his visit, and seek his forgiveness for any mistakes or lapses you might have committed during the worship.
Thus, imagination and visualization play an important role in manasa puja. They also help you to concentrate and stabilize your mind upon the object of your veneration. If you regularly and sincerely practice it, it will have a beneficial effect upon you, your life, and circumstances. You will also develop a clear and sharp mind, intuition, devotion, and divine qualities such as sameness, tolerance, compassion, resolve, humility, nonviolence, patience, and so on.
The symbolism involved in manasa puja
In his book "Meditation and its Practices," 1 Swami Adiswarananda, quoted the advice given by Sri Ramakrishna Paramahansa to his disciples, in which he explained how one should conduct the mental worship, which he called the mystic worship. The following are a few important points from his discourse that are worth mentioning.
1. The deity should be offered the heart as his seat.
2. Feelings and emotions of the mind should be used to wash his feet.
3. The mind should be used to create the offerings, such as ritual water, sandal paste, perfume, incense, fragrant air, flowers, leaves, etc.
4. The element space (akasa) should be offered as the clothing for the deity.
5. The heart (devotion) should be offered as the flower.
6. The breath (prana) should be offered as light, fire, and food offerings.
7. All the positive and negative qualities such as deceit, anger, egoism, knowledge, compassion, etc., should also be placed before the deity as the offerings of flowers.
The practice of mental worship leads to another important spiritual practice. It will align you to the divinecentric way of life, which is popularly known as the Hindu way of life, and make your life an expression of devotion. It will also lead to the purification of your mind and body, and contribute to peace and inner stability. It consists of substituting the mental form of the deity that you worship with your own body. You make your body a temple as well as the object of worship because it houses the Self (atman), who is the inner lord (Isvara) and an aspect of Brahman.
Using the same analogy, you can take your worship a step still higher and deeper into yourself and cultivate a reverential attitude towards your body, extending to it the same honors that you give to the form or image of the deity in a temple or a place of worship. Whatever that your body enjoys, you can make it into an offering to God, and make your very living an act of worship. Whenever you eat, drink, breath, think, enjoy, sleep, wear clothes, take a bath, or perform any action, you can make each of them an offering to your inner Self, and thereby exonerate yourself from all the karmic consequences arising from them. This is indeed what we call the Hindu way of life, which the scriptures consider the highest form of divine worship and spiritual practice.
Suggestions for Further Reading
- Hindusim and Prayers
- The Role of Archakas, Temple Priests, in Hinduism
- Letting your God live in You - The True Essence of the Hindu Way of Life
- Yajna - Vedic Sacrifices in Hinduism
- The Hindu Way Of Life, Living According To Hindu Dharma For Self Realization
- The Hindu Way Of Life, Living Religiously In Every Way
- Reasons For Idol Worship in Hinduism
- Symbolism of Puja, the Ritual Worship of God in Hinduism
- The Origin and History of Puja
- Samskaras, The Rites and Rituals in Hinduism
- Significance of Rituals in Hinduism
- The True Meaning of Sanyasa or Renunciation in Hinduism
- Karma Yoga According to the Bhagavadgita
- Mantra, Tantra and Yantra in Hinduism
- The Qualities of a True Devotee in Hinduism
- What is Dhyana? Definition and Significance
- Samskaras - The Sacraments of Hinduism
- Vidya and Avidya, Knowledge and Ignorance in Vedanta
Meditation and Its Practices, by Swami Adiswarananda, who was Minister and Spiritual Leader of Ramakrishna-Vivekananda Center of New York and author of many books. I strongly recommend this book to anyone who wants to know the meditation and spiritual practices of Hinduism. It is one of the finest books on the subject and provides a lot of information on each concept and technique.