Puja is a Sanskrit word that refers to a place of ritual prayer and high offerings.
My Puja is in my home, not in an ashram, temple, monastery, church, or synagogue; but it could be. My principal place for my meditation practice is in my living room, surrounded by books, art, and artifacts from a lifetime of travels; but 3 nearby items are especially important for my daily practice: my old Tibetan Prayer Bowl (a holiday gift from my parents years ago); and a beautiful conch shell that holds printed copies of my out-loud prayers that I haven’t yet memorized, (I collected this exquisite shell in the wilds of Mexico); and then an antique bronze statue of a Buddhist god; Avalokiteshavara, with his eight arms and 5 heads, who is the handsome protector of the time and space between Buddhas. Glancing at this statue during my practice I am reminded of the full protection of the One God for his devotees. I purchased this beautiful statue years ago in St. Petersburg, Florida from Asian antiques dealers. While looking at it, For me, it’s an avatar, but not an object of worship. I am reminded of Carl Jung’s belief:
“Vocatus, atque Non Vocatus, Deus Aderit; Called or not Called, God will be there.”
For me, Avalokiteshavara is emblematic of Jung’s notion that God’s reach and His vision are multi-dimensional. I find comfort in the iconography of this Buddhist deity. I’m also reminded of St. Patrick’s prayer: “Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ in me, beneath me, on my right, and left, and Christ comfort and restore me.” Avalokiteshavara stands tall and erect beside me in my daily prayers. Don’t be mistaken, I don’t worship this statue of a Buddhist god but he’s stands next to me as a daily reminder that God far exceeds the limitations of my/our humanity.
Recently a Methodist Pastor visited me who commented that my home manifested a Lectio-Visio. In Western Christianity, Lectio Divina is a traditional monastic practice of reading, meditating, and praying on Scripture readings. In other words; My Puja manifests a sacred Fen Shui, an intentional harmony, bringing together my deep respect for the Natural World, and some of the World’s religions and cultures in my modest apartment with an inviting front-porch and a small backyard garden, a tangled bank, really, where increasing the native biodiversity back there is my overarching goal to help native pollinators.
I appreciate my home as a microcosm of a greater world and a kind of life diary with artifacts from my travels and my respect for others. Avalokiteshavara evokes obeisance and gratitude for my ancestors and the gods that stand with our humanity, despite our considerable faults and foibles.
One Summer during my field work in the Peruvian Amazon, our native guide led us deep into the dark tropical rainforest along an old hunting trail abuzz with a surrounding insect cadence. The canopy was high overhead and enclosed, so we couldn’t navigate by starlight or moonshine. The guide asked us to turn off our flashlights and headlamps. As if by magic there appeared at our feet a carpet of stars! The ground around us was lit by a three-dimensional phosphorescent fungus made from the same substance that makes fireflies shine: luciferin combined with oxygen. It was a truly awesome moment at the edge of an organic infinitude! Our guide told us that such spots in the forest are considered holy and they provide solace from malicious spirits.
Here in North America, we have the eerie poisonous phosphorescent Jack-O-Lantern Mushroom in forests and marshy ground. When it releases its spores at night around October, you can see a ghostly cloud floating nearby! I’ve seen it just once. Like a Will-o’-Wisp calling me into deep mystery as the Living World decays.
My Puja is not bound by ritual, building or Sacred Grove; It’s a moment with the Divine. I’m not a priest, preacher, swami, imam, shaman, minister, rabbi, or a Druid holy man, but a I am a one-time Franciscan trying to work out a way of life with Brother Sun, Sister Moon, and Mother Earth. I am an educator, forest ecologist, and an explorer who has had many opportunities to see the world from the treetops using balloons, ropes, cranes, ladders, and canopy walkways to gain a “sense of the vast and infinite.” So, my Puja is the World Around Us, independent of Time and Place. Deo Gratias.
During these tumultuous days of anger and riot; it’s clear that we all need a, Puja, like a personal and sacred recharging station!
H. Bruce Rinker, Ph.D. Is a scientist who lives in Virginia’s iconic Shenandoah Valley.