The Practice of Guru-Puja

The Practice of Guru Puja

An Exposition by Swami Shantananda

Disciples pursuing the spiritual path honor the all-pervasive Shakti in the form of the Guru. The formless takes on a form so that the disciple may better understand and experience the power of the Self. When we engage our senses and the mind on worshiping the Guru’s form, we invoke and welcome the guru-shakti into our lives. We express gratitude to the Guru who awakens us to the splendor of our own Self and guides us on the path by which we attain oneness with the Self. We honor the Guru, who gives us the means by which we uplift the world around us.

One beautiful and inspiring way we can honor the Guru is by participating in the practice of puja.

arati lamp motif

The Sanskrit word puja is derived from the root puj, which means “to worship.” Puj also means “to honor, revere, respect, consecrate.” In the Indian tradition, puja is akin to the reception of a distinguished and adored guest.

Puja is offered both outwardly and inwardly. We perform puja through outer rituals such as the waving of lights; the offering of fruits, flowers, and songs; and the recitation of mantras and invocations. Inwardly, we perform manasa-puja, or mental worship, in which we visualize our outward acts of worship as an expression of our devotion, respect, and reverence.

The essential element of all puja, outer and inner, is our bhava, the feeling and the awareness with which we perform worship. This is what transforms a ritual gesture into an act of worship. A great Shaivite scripture known as the Vijnana Bhairava defines the bhava for puja as the setting of one’s own heart on the Absolute and, with perfect ardor, dissolving one’s individual self in the Self of all.1 This is how puja is approached on the Siddha Yoga path, with the awareness of oneness—the understanding that our focus of worship is, most essentially, the power of Shakti, our own inner Self.

puja bell motif

You can perform guru-puja right in your home. The elements of worship can be simple and elegant. Let them be of a quality that inspires devotion and love in you.

  • You may prepare by bathing beforehand and wearing neat and clean clothes. Cleanliness represents purity, and it expresses our intent to offer the best of ourselves for worship.
  • Be sure the space for puja is also clean and neat.
  • Create an altar with an image of the Guru and, if you have a pair of the Guru’s padukas, or sandals, place them in front of the image.
  • Offer fruits by placing them on the altar.
    • The fruits represent the attainments we achieve, with the Guru’s grace, as we perform spiritual practices. We offer the fruits as a gesture of detachment and gratitude.
  • Begin the puja by invoking the Guru’s grace. You can say: “Sadgurunath Maharaj ki Jay”.
  • Behold the Guru’s image and the Guru’s padukas with the understanding that you are receiving darshan.
  • Offer fragrance by waving an incense stick three times in front of the image of the Guru. Begin by holding the incense stick in front of you. Wave the incense stick to your left, then make a half circle to the right, followed by a full circle in a clockwise direction. Repeat this sequence two more times.
  • Then, wave an arati tray that holds a small candle or ghee lamp in front of the Guru’s image and the padukas three times. Wave the tray in the same way you waved the incense stick.
    • The flame represents the light of the Heart.
    • On the tray, you can place small amounts of turmeric, kumkum, rice, and flowers. Position the flowers such that they face the Guru’s image.
      • The yellow turmeric represents vigor, radiance, and knowledge.
      • The red kumkum represents Shakti and auspiciousness.
      • The white rice represents nourishment, purity, and prosperity.
      • The flowers represent our innate goodness: we offer the excellent qualities that have blossomed in us.
  • After waving the arati tray, place it on the puja table. If you are using a ghee lamp, the flame can stay lit until it goes out naturally. If you are using a candle, you can extinguish the flame after the puja is over. (Do this by covering the flame, rather than by blowing it out.)
  • Now offer your prayers. There are many ways to do this. You can formulate your own prayer, practice mantra japa, or recite one of the invocations in the book The Nectar of Chanting, such as Shri Guru Paduka Panchakam or Jyota se Jyota Jagao.
  • After praying, pranam to the Guru in front of the altar and sit quietly for a while. Just be there, open to receiving the benefits of your worship. You may experience inner peace, bliss, or an awareness of your own sacredness. You may also find insights arising from your own Self.
  • Offering puja is a wonderful prelude to meditation. After worship, you may want to meditate.

Perform guru-puja with all of your heart. Let your bhava—your devotion, gratitude, and sense of oneness—guide you.

rose motif

 1 Vijnana Bhairava, verse 147