Rituals and Festivals (7) The Pooja

This brings us to the last aspect of these rituals known as pooja or worship. The principle of worship is that it is one kind of relationship or bond that we form with the Deity. Worship is a way of forming a bond. It connects us to the one who is being worshipped. This link then forges a bond through which the Deity passes on the desired or coveted goods to the devotee. The state of worship rather than the act is important and if the state can be cultivated by turning life into a constant prayer then one can easily dispense with all these cumbersome rituals which besides hardly amuse these beings of the higher worlds.

While it is relatively easier and simpler to draw closer to forces and beings of a vital and it is far more difficult to call the greater gods and goddesses. They cannot be tied to our mechanical formulas or ritualistic worship. They see the aspiration in the heart, the genuineness of the intent, the sincerity of the seeking, the earnestness of the call and respond to that under the command of the Supreme whom alone they obey. Sri Aurobindo describes these absolute potencies of God who are moved neither by barter or bribe and have no share in our virtue and vice. The way that Gods see life and humanity is very different than the way we see and understand it. We have built certain fixed mental constructions of good and bad and force-fit everything into slots. By doing so the mind feels comfortable since it is unable to handle infinity that is constantly shifting itself in countless ways. Yet that is the truth of things. That is why if we are to truly know the truth of things in their unfolding (and not just in essence) we have to be sincere in our seeking and then it will be revealed to us at each moment independent of all our mental and moral constructions of life. What may seem good to the human eye may be a surface construction followed mechanically and blindly by a mind that is afraid of change and vastness. Such a mind lives in some small and narrow fixed dogmas and formulas which may look great in human eyes but are not to in the eye of the Spirit. Take for example Gandhian formula of Nonviolence. This is what Sri Aurobindo and the Mother had to say about it.  In fact, the world often suffers more because we persist in a good that was rather than in a good that is and will be. But the good that was once good becomes an evil when it is dated and stale or pursued mechanically as a soulless ritual. True worship is when we put our heart and soul into it, when it is done for the joy of remembering the Deity, as an act of love and not a transactional business. One cannot barter with the great Gods or bribe and impress them with our show of pomp and passion-play. Much more we light our inner lamps and fight the devils within than fill the earth with noise and alarm. It is the Titans who indulge in noise and thunder. The Gods often work quietly veiled by the Light and when our being is in peace and silence. Not that they are afraid of the trumpet and the war cry, for they too are a power, and when they lift their hands to smite as Durga and Rudra then it is an irresistible force. Yet even when they strike their heart is ever in a state of benevolent compassion and not hatred and wrath. The purpose of their stroke is not to till fear but to free us from all fear and anger. They slay the body if needed but save the soul alive. The titan instead tries to slay the soul, which it cannot, while separately holding on to one’s lusts and anger and fears.  To worship the Gods is, therefore, best done by cultivating within us qualities that they are labouring to instil and awaken in man. That is their true worship. If we can do that then nothing else is necessary or else the physical ritual becomes the last act where the body too participates in the inner adoration and surrender.

True pooja or worship is not a rule-bound ritual but a state of devotion and prayer and offering of ourselves at the Feet of the Divine, through whatever means, through the heart’s love, through the body’s work done as a service. The Mother reveals this truth to us in countless ways. For example, while speaking of religious ceremonies She observes:

“Besides, in the invisible world hardly any beings love to be worshipped, except those of the vital. These, as I said, are quite pleased by it. And then, it gives them importance. They are puffed up with pride and feel very happy, and when they can get a herd of people to worship them they are quite satisfied.

But if you take real divine beings, this is not at all something they value. They do not like to be worshipped. No, it does not give them any special pleasure at all! Don’t think they are happy, for they have no pride. It is because of pride that a man likes to be worshipped; if a man has no pride he doesn’t like to be worshipped; and if, for instance, they see a good intention or a fine feeling or a movement of unselfishness or enthusiasm, a joy, a spiritual joy, these things have for them an infinitely greater value than prayers and acts of worship and pujas…

I assure you what I am telling you is very serious: if you seat a real god in a chair and oblige him to remain there all the while you are doing puja, he may perhaps have a little fun watching you do it, but it certainly gives him no satisfaction. None at all! He does not feel either flattered or happy or glorified by your puja. You must get rid of that idea. There is an entire domain between the spiritual and the material worlds which belongs to vital beings, and it is this domain that is full of all these things, because these beings live upon that, are happy with it, and it immediately gives them importance; and the one who has the greatest number of believers, devotees and worshippers is the happiest and the most puffed up. But how can anyone imagine that the gods could value… The gods—I am speaking of the true gods, even those of the Overmind, though they are still a bit… well, so-so… they seem to have taken on many human defects, but still, despite all that, they really have a higher consciousness—it does not please them at all. An act of true goodness, intelligence, unselfishness or a subtle understanding or a very sincere aspiration are for them infinitely higher than a small religious ceremony. Infinitely! There is no comparison. Religious ceremony! For example, there are so many of these entities called Kali—who are given, besides, quite terrible appearances—so many are even placed in houses as the family goddess; they are full of a terrible vital force. I knew people who were so frightened of the Kali they had at home that indeed they trembled to make the least mistake, for when catastrophes came they thought it was Kali who sent them! It is a frightful thing, thought. I know them, those entities. I know them very well, but they are vital beings, vital forms which, so to say, are given a form by human thought, and what forms! And to think that men worship such terrible and monstrous things; and what’s more that these poor gods are given, are paid the compliment of believing that it is…

From this point of view, it is good that for sometime men get out of this religious atmosphere, so full of fear, and this sort of blind, superstitious submission of which the hostile forces have taken a dreadful advantage. The period of denial, positivism, is from this viewpoint quite indispensable in order to free men from superstition. It is only when one comes out of that and the abject submission to monstrous vital forces that one can rise to truly spiritual heights and there become the collaborator and true instrument of the forces of Truth, the real Consciousness, the true Power. One must leave all this far behind before one can climb higher.”

[CWM 6: 195-197]

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