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What is Puja?
Puja is not simply some form of meditation but the most sacred yoga or means of union (yug) with the divine. This is called ‘deity yoga’. In the Hindu tradition it takes the form of Murti Darshan. Murti Darshan means sitting in the presence of a deity in the manifest form of an image or Murti of that deity - thereby coming to see and feel, and to be seen and touched by it, to exchange looks with it (the meaning of Darshan). Murti Darshan involves two principal elements: Murti and Mantra. The Mantra are provided by listening to the accompanying ‘hymns’ or Strotra, each of which both is an extended Mantra and also contains specific words that are Mantra in themselves - each with its own very specific message of recognition:
1. Shiva Manas – recognising Shiva as pure, formless awareness all around us in space.
2. Bhavanyastakam – recognising and revering the great mother goddess or Mahadevi as the power of manifesting all things that pervades and vibrates throughout space.
3. Shivoham – recognising Shiva or pure awareness as our innermost ‘I’ (Aham).
4. Atmastakam – recognising our oneness with that self (Atman) and thus with Shiva.
5. Lingashtakam – recognising all the colours, shapes, bodies, people and things around us - indeed everything in the entire world - as a mere mark (Lingam) of the pure formless awareness that is their source – Shiva – just like an ink mark on a page.
6. Om Namah Shivayah – the Mahramantram or Mantram of Shiva himself. OM - Shiva meditating the deep inward source of all things in the primordial vibration (OM) that is the Mother. NAMA - Shiva knowing his own name and form - and the entire world of names and forms as a manifestation of the Mother. SHIVAYA - Shiva knowing himself as that awareness which transcends all names and forms, pervading all of space and time and pervading also every body within it.
Glossary of Sanskrit terms:
Puja – sacred worship or awareness of the Divine.
Shiva – that great god (Mahadeva)
which is nothing but pure awareness or ‘universal consciousness’
- infinite and absolute, together with it pure power of manifestation – the great goddess or Mahadevi.
Yoga – a means to or state of union (yug) with the divine
Aham – ‘I”
Atman – essential self
Murti – a statue or image of a divinity
Rupa / Arupa - form/ formelessness
Nama Rupa – the world of names and forms
Mantra – sacred syllables and words which form both names and things
Murti Darshan – seeing and feeling a deity through the presence of its Murti.
Stotram – meditative hymn to a deity accompanying Puja
Shivoham – a Mantra meaning ‘Shiva is my Self’
Shiva Lingam – a ‘mark’ or ‘symbol’ of Shiva
Lingam – ‘mark’ or ‘symbol’.
MEDITATION 1 - LISTENING TO THE LINGASTHAKAM
‘Puja’ is the Hindu word for meditative ritual worship. In the Tantric tradition, however, to worship a god is to become or identify with that god in its essence. Listening to the song of the Shiva Lingam - the Lingasthakam - can be a wonderfully effective means for experiencing the bliss of identification with the pure awareness personified by Lord Shiva.
In the Hindu Shiva-ist or ‘Shaivist’ tradition the ‘Shiva Lingam’ is worshipped as the chief symbol of Shiva. It usually takes the form of an abstractly phallic or egg-shaped stone. In its dense and dark materiality the stone itself symbolises the reality that all the most seemingly tangible and material of things are just as much signs or symbols as words are – mere ‘marks’ of that pure, immaterial awareness personified by Shiva.
The basic meaning of the word ‘Lingam’ is simply ‘mark’ or ‘sign’. Words are an example of linga - being marks or signs on the otherwise blank, two-dimensional space of a page. Yet behind them lies a wholly invisible and immaterial world of meaning, one whose realty we can only confirm through learning to read and through the experience of reading. Similarly, behind all things lies a realm of pure, immaterial awareness whose reality can only be confirmed and experienced through learning to meditate them as linga – as sacred marks in three-dimensional space.
Clicking on the link below will allow you to hear the Lingasthakam - the sacred song of the Shiva Lingam in its award-winning rendition by the Singers of the Art of Living. Before you listen to the song, seat yourself comfortably, with your back straight and your eyes open, using your whole body to sense the clear space around you and around everything in your field of vision.
As the song plays, listen out for and attend to each utterance of the simple word ‘lingam’ as a mantra in itself, a thought (man) that guards awareness (tra). With each perfectly and delicately enunciated utterance of the word, turn your awareness to any objects in your field of perception. At the same time hold to the thought signified by the mantra - namely that every such ‘thing’ is a mere sensory ‘mark’ or lingam of the realm of pure awareness personified by Shiva. Sensing the clear space surrounding you and the things around you, feel this space as identical with pure awareness itself and experience its bliss.
Click here to
listen to the Lingasthakam
Singers of the Art of Living
Buy the disk from http://www.sternsmusic.com/popup_player.php?CAT_NAME=&track=&SONG_ID=36091
MEDITATION 2 – Wagner’s ‘Ode to Shiva’
Few are aware of the profoundly tantric significance of what is perhaps Richard Wagner’s greatest aria – the ‘Liebestod’ or ‘Love-Death’ song called Mild und Leise (Mild and Softly) that concludes his opera Tristan and Isolde. For the words of this song can clearly be read and felt as an Ode to Shiva sung by Isolde, as well as being a beautiful expression of Maithuna - the sensual bliss of tantric soul-body union with Shiva, as personified by Tristan. The fact that the words of the aria begin by speaking of the sweet opening, not of Tristan’s eyes, but of the eye (Shiva’s ‘third eye’) and that they refer also to the wafting fragrance (Rasa) and resonating sound (Om) of the ‘World-Breath’ (German Welt-Atem) is no less significant. For the German word Atem (breath) from Atmen (to breathe) is cognate with the Sanksrit Atman. The Atman is both the divine self of every being, and its unity with that universal soul or ‘world soul’ which, surrounding and pervading all things like air, lovingly breathes us and all living beings into being – and that, like love, survives our death in the same way that our soul-body or ‘bliss body’ does.
The song is sung as Isolde gazes – not so much outwardly as inwardly – at the face and figure of Tristan. Together with its orchestral accompaniment, it is a most powerful musical expression of the experience of Shiva Puja as Murti Darshan. This means sitting with, meditating and marvelling at a perfectly sculpted human ‘idol’ or personification of Lord Shiva, and in this way coming to feel the divine presence, qualities and gaze of Shiva himself emanating through it. Thus it is that by listening to the words and music of the Liebestod aria - no less than by listening to any Sanskrit or Hindi song to Shiva – we can experience the bliss-essence of Shiva-Puja. For Wagner’s aria, though written in German and translated in English below, constitutes perhaps one of greatest Stotra or hymns to Shiva ever composed - influenced no doubt by Wagner’s own awareness, gained from the German philosopher Schopenhauer, of the profound significance of Indian thought.
You yourself can perform Shiva Puja by simply following and feeling Wagner’s ‘Ode to Shiva’ - with the help of the text below and a video recording of the aria. It may be helpful to read the text first, and then watch the video several times, referring to the text when necessary. Then you will come to the point of being able to watch and hear the aria sung with an awareness of the meaning of its words. This will allow you to give your awareness up to the communicative voice face of eyes of the singer herself - as she expresses, embodies and emanates that meaning.
Click below to see and hear ‘Mild und Leise’ sung by Nina Stemme
Click below to see and hear ‘Mild und Leise’ sung by Jessy Norman with Herbert von Karajan conducting
Click below to see and hear ‘Mild und Leise’ sung by Jessy Norman
Mild und Leise
Isolde's final aria from ‘Tristan und Isolde’