The Importance of Worshipping in the Home Shrine

Bodhinatha explains the importance of having a physically well thought out home shrine. Equally important is regular worship at the shrine. Bodhinatha also discusses the importance of the worship of Lord Ganesha and the reasons for his worship. Bodhinatha then lists the four Margas and how they illustrate the Hindu idea of oneness. He concludes by recounting stories of how Yogaswami taught oneness.

Unedited Transcript:

Getting ready to go to Canada--Toronto, on April 5th, I believe, working on a tribute to Yogaswami event for Saturday; all the Yogaswami devotees gathering. Then on Sunday we're visiting Ganesha temple Varasiddhi Vinayagar. They are a very supportive group. They have about five gurus up on their wall, and one of them is Gurudeva. So Gurudeva has a special place there. Yogaswami is there and Arumuga Navalar and I think two others.

So they always arrange very appropriate events for us to speak at. Last time they printed the talk in English and Tamil and handed it out to everyone afterwards. So they're organized. So this is about worship in the home. We'll time it here.

Last year a seventy one year old businessman from New Delhi and his wife came to the monastery on a serious pilgrimage filled with love for Siva and an unusually deep devotion. He described his childhood memories of his father to us who had passed away in Lahore when he was just thirteen and whom he spoke of as his first guru. The father's routine was to do a morning puja to Lord Siva for five hours. Can you imagine that? Every day--five hours. 7:00 am to noon. Only then would he have lunch and go to his place of business, working from 2:00 pm to 7:00 pm. It helps when you have your own business, right? Another five hours. Imagine if all of us devoted as much time to performing atmarta puja in the home shrine as we give to our job. This would certainly significantly accelerate our spiritual progress.

I have a question for you. Hinduism is in no way more dynamically strengthened in the lives of children and the family than by-- than by what? What's the answer? Well the answer we are seeking is than by establishing a shrine in the home. Why is this? A number of Hindus have told us that what kept them a staunch practicing Hindu despite exposure in their youth to other religious traditions in school and elsewhere was the fact that the entire family practiced Hinduism together in the home. Establishing a shrine in the home definitely makes it much easier for the family to practice Hinduism together in the home.

In fact, we know of families who recently purchased new homes and made their first consideration having enough bedrooms to be able to exclusively utilize one of them as the family shrine room. Let me insert a story here about training children in Hinduism that one of our devotees in Singapore shared with us. He was responsible for the Sunday morning classes at the Hindu Center of Singapore for a few years and found that a common practice was that parents would drop the children off, go shopping for two hours, return and pick them up and expect the teachers at the Hindu Center to have made their children better Hindus.

This approach works for learning the fine arts such as dancing or learning a musical instrument, but it does not work for Hinduism. The difference is this: For the children to learn dance and music, the parents do not need to know how to dance or play the instrument. However for Hinduism to be learned, it is necessary for the whole family to practice it together. This is because Hinduism needs to be an integral part of the entire family's daily and weekly routine.

Back to our home shrine description: The home shrine works best when it is an entire room. That way it can be strictly reserved for worship and meditation unsullied by worldly talk or other activities. That is the ideal. However when that is not possible, it should at least be a quiet corner of a room and more than a simple shelf or closet. Make the shrine a refuge for all family members where they can find peace and solace, where they can connect with the Gods and offer their praise, prayers and practical needs.

Naturally as important as having a shrine is worshipping there daily; worship and heartfelt devotion, clearing the inner channels to God and the Gods so their grace flows toward you and loved ones. Here are some suggestions as to when we can visit the home shrine: As the first activity of our day. Ideally all members of the family gather together in the shrine room for a morning prayer. Modern life tends to keep us busy, so if time in the shrine room is short, because of the demanding schedules--that is fine.

When leaving the home and upon returning. Visiting the shrine before leaving the home helps remind us that work is worship. In other words it helps us maintain a religious perspective during our time out of the home. Visiting the shrine upon returning to the home is helpful in dropping off any worldliness we have taken on during our time away from the home.

Before important events: You can train your children to worship in the shrine before an important event in life, such as a major exam at school.

When emotionally disturbed, or reflecting on a personal problem: A good response to becoming upset is to visit the shrine and with blessings of God and the Gods spiritually center oneself and thus overcome the upset condition.

Following these simple traditional practices in the sacred space within the home will do much to make Hinduism relevant to your family on a day to day basis. How elaborate should the home puja be? It can vary from short and simple to long and complex. The late and renown Sri, Sri, Sri Chandra Shekarenda Saraswati Mahaswamiji of Kachipuram Kamakoti Peedham, commented on the home puja as follows: Every family must perform puja to Ishvara. Those who find it convenient to do so may conduct elaborate types of pujas after receiving proper initiation into them. Others need perform only a brief puja not lasting more than ten minutes or so. Office goers must offer at least this brief worship. The sacred bell must ring in every home.

Daily worship in the home shrine is traditionally done before breakfast and includes a simple arati or a longer puja singing devotional songs, reading scripture, repeating a mantra and meditating. Your children can be trained to always bring an offering of flowers or fruits. As the children get older they can take on greater responsibilities during the morning worship, such as: leading some of the chants or songs, picking flowers in the garden, cleaning the altar before the puja, cooking the prashadam, and even learn how to do the full puja themselves.

An excellent starting point for children's worship in the home is to have them pray each day to Lord Ganesha. They can pray to Ganesha before sleep each night, before going to school in the morning and before any important events, such as a major school test or activity such as sports events or a school pageant. Gurudeva stressed the naturalness of first worshipping Lord Ganesha when he said: Among all the wonderful Hindu deities, Lord Ganesha is the closest to the material plane of consciousness, most easily contacted, and most able to assist us in our day to day life and concerns.

Worship of Lord Ganesha leads the devotee most naturally to the other great Gods. Gurudeva also often stressed that Lord Ganesha is a real being, not just a symbol. He said, "There are a great many liberal Hindus and/or Western influenced Hindus who don't think of Ganesha as a real being. To them he is a symbol, a superstition, a way of explaining philosophy to children and the uneducated. I have seen him but this has not been my experience of our loving Lord. I have seen him with mine own eye. He has come to me in visions several times and convinced my lower mind of his reality.

Children take naturally to the worship of Lord Ganesha. They can start by repeating a simple mantra, such as, "Om Sri Ganeshaya Namaha." I know some children who take delight in having their own murthi of Ganapathi in their room. Here is an interesting story in this regard. A four year old girl has a Ganesha in her room who she refers to as her friend, Lord Ganesha. When her younger sister was recently born, she told her parents that her new sister also needed a Ganesha murthi in her room to protect her. I also know a young man about age twenty who will no longer go to the temple with his parents, but instead chooses to worship Lord Ganesha in the privacy of his own room..

As I mentioned, the worship of Lord Ganesha is helpful in overcoming all emotional problems, including anger. As he is seated on the muladhara chakra, turning into his shakti helps raise us up into the muladhara chakra and therefore out of anger and fear into a calm, stable state of mind. In fact, you can slowly seal off these lower states of mind and keep awareness permanently lifted above fear and anger through the regular worship of Lord Ganesha. Here is a practice I suggest to children and youth when they tell me they have a problem controlling their anger. Of course this practice also works for adults.

When you are at home and find yourself starting to get upset and angry, go to the Ganesha shrine in your room. Number one: Repeat some chants or songs to Lord Ganesha for five minutes--Number two: While you are chanting or singing, feel the peaceful shakti that radiates out from Lord Ganesha and visualize it permeating you and making you feel more calm and peaceful. When you are finished, thank Lord Ganesha for his help in lessening your upset and anger. Number three: Next close your eyes in meditation and regulate your breath--breathing in nine counts, holding one, breathing out nine counts, and holding one. Number four: Once you have established this rhythmic breathing pattern, for five minutes visualize the color light blue flooding out from the center of your spine and filling your aura and surrounding your body. The light blue will further neutralize the fiery reds of anger that are in your aura and before you know it, the anger and resentment will be gone. Number five: End your meditation and leave the room. Then perform three kindly acts for the persons you got upset with. This completes the practice.

As Ganesha is naturally the first deity to worship, learning to do puja to Ganesha in the home shrine is a natural first step in performing home puja. To encourage this we published in the April 2006 issue of Hinduism Today a simple Ganesha home puja. It's going to be on the literature table there. So free copies of it are available as part of our literature display. There is also a professional recording of the entire puja on our website that can be used to learn the correct pronunciation. The recording is by Dr. Tyagarajan, head of the Sanskrit department at Presidency College in Chennai. He is well known for the 120 CDs of Vedic chanting he has released to date, and this recording is of the same professional caliber. In fact we did an article on him and his love of mantras in the July, 2004 issue of our magazine, Hinduism Today. It's very well done by the way. If you haven't listened to it, you might enjoy listening to it. The URL is in the magazine. It shows where it is.

It is important to mention that daily worship in the home shrine does not eliminate the need to worship at a temple. Weekly worship at a temple allows us to experience the blessings of God and the gods in a stronger way than the home shrine. This is because of the special way the temple is constructed consecrated and the continuous daily worship that occurs thereafter. The temple is built according to certain rules laid down in scripture. This governs what shrines are included in the temple; the shrine's location and the overall dimensions of the temple. Consecration occurs through the powerful ceremony of kumbhabhishekem, which involves a large number of priests performing elaborate ceremonies for days on end.

Then begins the schedule of daily pujas that are held thereafter conducted by professional priests. An additional factor that distinguishes the temple from the family shrine is that no family lives in the temple. The activities there are only of a religious nature. All of these factors combined are what make the temple more powerful that the home shrine. On one of my trips recently, I think it was about a six or seven year old boy, I explained the home shrine and how the home is like a temple and all, and then he asked me the question: "Well why do you need to go to the temple if the home is like a temple?" So this is the answer for him in case there are any children there who say, "Well we don't have to go to the temple any more. Home is like a temple."

And as I always like to mention, when attending the temple it is important to always bring a flower or fresh fruit for each shrine at which you are going to worship. The act of giving opens you to the blessings of the deity. Never visit the temple empty handed. The blessings received at the temple remove impurities we have accumulated by our negative and worldly thoughts or association with others who are having such thoughts. It also lifts our energies up into the higher chakras and thus strengthens our resolve to live a dharmic life and be regular in our sadhanas.

Attending the temple also strengthens the home shrine particularly if we light an oil lamp in the shrine when we return from the temple. This sacred act brings devas who are at the temple right into the home shrine, where from the inner world they can bless all family members and strengthen the religious force field of the home. Of course the ultimate purpose of worship in the home shrine and at temples is to come ever closer to God through deepening our devotion.

The concept of the four margas of Saivism is an excellent illustration of what this means. The first stage is called the Dasa Marga, meaning "path of servitude," for here the soul relates to God as servant to master. The second stage is called the Satputra Marga in which our relationship with God is as a child to his parents. The third stage is called the Sakha Marga as God is now like a friend to us, and the fourth and final stage is called the San Marga, the true path, in which God is our dearest beloved and the distinction between worshipper and worshipped disappears. In other words, as our devotion deepens we feel closer and closer to God and finally reach the point where we feel a oneness with God.

Let me conclude with a story about our guru's guru, Yogaswami of Jaffna, Sri Lanka which provides an interesting illustration of this principle of oneness. Once a devotee of Yogawami had a bath wore clean clothes and was getting ready to see swami. However he was saddened by the thought that his heart was not as clean as his body and clothes. He couldn't control his mind and was descending further into sinful ways. His thoughts were so despicable that he could not even discuss it with his friends. He felt that even his parents would despise him if they knew. He was ashamed to go before swami which stuck with such thoughts. But being an ardent devotee, he couldn't keep away either. So he decided he would prostrate himself before swami and cry his heart out.

On the way he hoped that swami would not be in meditation because if he was, then he would perceive his evil thoughts. As he entered the ashram he found swami happily conversing with his disciples. I have escaped thought the devotee as he worshipped him. Then swami looked at him with a smile and said, "I know everything from your head to your toes. I know all your thoughts. Not only yours, but everybody's. I am in everybody. You did not know this because you think of your self as being separate from others. Learn to consider yourself as the same as others and not separate." Then taking the camphor tray that was burning before him, he gave it to his devotee and said, "Take this light and considering everyone here to be Siva, worship them."

That's where it stands at the moment. It's an interesting practice that Yogaswami has. . . Find it here. He would say, "I am in you," or "I am in everybody." When we were editing the line of gurus stories and there is one about this famous yogi who was coming back from India. He studied many years in India. He's originally from Jaffna. Rajayogi, is that his name? Rajayogi. Very famous. So he was coming and there was a big reception for him planned at the Columbo train station and as is the tradition there, you're never sure that something is going to happen. So they sent devotees from Jaffna all the way to Columbo to come on the train with the person, to make sure that the person would arrive.

So, but then Rajayogi felt Yogaswami on the train. He said, "There is a great sage, a great light on this train. Then he felt the great light, the great sage get off the train at the station before Jaffna and wanted to jump off the train and go talk to him and miss the reception. So the people with him convinced him to stay on the train. Even then he wanted to skip the reception at the station. Then they finally talked him into just staying for a few minutes at the reception and then going off to see Yogaswami. So when he went off to see Yogaswami, he prostrated to Yogaswami which shocked everyone, because they thought he was the famous person and he was prostrating to Yogaswami who they weren't considering famous at that point. One of the things that Yogaswami said was, "I am in you." Which is what I remembered when I read that.

Of course when Gurudeva met Yogaswami, Yogaswami said that, "I am in you," and Gurudeva said back, "I am in you." Remember that? So I don't know if anybody ever said back to Yogaswami. That's the point I was leading up to. Usually you say, "I am in you," and everyone says, "Oh, he says he is in me. This is great." [Bodhinatha laughs] Yogaswami is inside of me! But Gurudeva said back, "I am in you." So there's a wonderful idea there and of course that's the idea we talked about, it's in the next publisher's desk which I have read, "The Nature of the Soul." You know when you look at someone and look at the life force in them, the life in them, you're seeing the soul. But if you go deeply enough into that then the souls of everyone are like a one being, which is another way of saying, "I am in you." You're identified with the essence of the soul which makes it feel like everything is one. So then there's no separation, which is of course Yogaswami's constant state of mind. You never see separation between himself and anyone else because he's always identified with the oneness which permeates everyone. Therefore he's in everything because he's identifying with the oneness that's inside of all of us. So, it's a very interesting approach, which makes the idea of experiencing God seem very near instead of far away.

It's a wonderful statement in Gurudeva's teachings, you know that, "God Siva is nearer than your hands and feet; closer than your breathing." When you start to think about it like that it puts it in a different perspective and makes it more immediate, which is what it should be. We don't want to put God Siva at distance from us. We want God Siva to be closer than our breathing, closer than our hands or feet. That's the idea.

So, have a wonderful week

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