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The ancient Rishis of India gave elaborated methods of offering devotion to God. One of them is call Puja. The word is derived from the Sanskrit 'Puj' - to worship, to adore. Puja is the act of worshipping God.
Puja itself can be of two types: Pratyaksha Puja - with material offerings such as fruits, flowers, incense, ornaments, rich garments, etc. and Maansi Puja without any material objects. In both forms, it is the bhava - deep veneration of the devotee that is of significance. The Lord accepts the bhava of the devotee and gives the fruits of devotion according to the bhava. Shri Krishna echoes this in the Gita (9-26).

Patram pushpam falam toyam
Yome bhaktya prayachhati.
Tadaham bhaktyupahrutam ushnami

"I accept a leaf, a flower, a fruit or even water offered to me with a sincere heart and devotion."

In Mansi, one imagines that he is offering puja with material objects. This form of mental puja is much harder than the pratyaksha form, so it is less practised. The fruits of both forms, nevertheless, remain the same. Therefore, allowance has been made for the devotee who may not possess rich offerings and would yet like to express his devotion with the same intensity and feelings as the one offering pratyaksha puja. In much the same words Lord Swaminarayan has said this in Vachanamrutam Sarangpur Section No.3. In fact, Shriji Maharaj attaches great importance to maansi puja and in Vach. Gadhada section III, No.23, he has commanded the devotees thus, "One who is a devotee of God should daily offer maansi puja."
Now, 200 years later we realise that Shriji Maharaj was far ahead of his time and what he had advocated then was not just hearsay or plain ritualism. Only in the past few years, has medical science started to unveil the great benefits derived from mental imaging.

Shriji Maharaj has minutely detailed the methods of performing maansi puja in different seasons in Vachanamritam Gadhada Section III No.23.

"During the hot weather of the summer months, one should imagine, bathing the Lord with cold water scented with fragrance in the morning. One should then adorn the Lord with clothing made of fine light material, just as we would wear during hot weather. Then one should smear chandan (sandalwood paste) on the forehead of the Lord and then on other parts of the body such as the arms, the chest, the stomach, the legs and the feet. One should then closely and lovingly admire the Lord. Next, one should adorn the Lord with garlands made from fragrant flowers like the rose, jasmine, etc. A crown of flowers should be placed on the head and flower chains should also be tied round the upper arms, the wrists and the ankles. One can then drape a shawl over his shoulders." After adorning such a royal attire who wouldn't like to hug the Lord? So, Shriji Maharaj complies to lovingly hugging the Lord as many times as one desires and savoring those moments in one's mind. He continues, "Finally, let the lotus feet worshipped with chandan and kumkum of the Lord be laced on one's head, as a form of blessing and imagine the sanctified chandan and kumkum being imprinted on one's head. Appreciate these moments as being specially graced by the Lord."

For the four winter months, Shri Maharaj gives a superbly vivid account of maansi puja. He says, "Firstly, one should bathe the Lord with warm water and then offer a white garment. One then offers a seat of velvet cushioning, draped over with a white blanket. The Lord is then bedecked with warm clothing on the body, a head dress lined with golden threads, golden ornaments studded with diamonds and pearls on different parts of the body and a pearl rosary round the neck. After decorating the Lord in such a manner, one should then behold Him and then apply kumkum chandlo on the forehead."

For the four monsoon months Shriji Maharaj says, "One imagines that the Lord has just arrived from another town or has returned with the sadhus after bathing in a river and that he has been drenched by the rain. So first one should remove the wet clothes, and adorn Him with warm clothing. Then one should offer Him a beautiful seat to sit on, and place before Him all sorts of exotic foods - that are one's personal favourites. Incense, lighted lamps (deeps), arti and other materials of puja can also be offered. In such a manner one implements maansi puja according to the different seasons. A devotee who so performs puja becomes more attached to the Lord and his soul becomes enlightened. In such a manner one should offer the Lord maansi puja everyday."

During the day, five maansi pujas can be offered. Just as one wakes up and after bathing and personal puja, one has breakfast, one should offer the same to the Lord. The second maansi is at lunch time, the third at tea time, the fourth at dinner in the evening and the final at night when one goes to bed. The offerings of food should be visualized in detail, using the senses of sight, smell, touch and taste. Again the food items should be those that are one's favourite and in maansi there is no limit as to the quantity of each item offered. For instance if one relishes the sweet item jalebi, instead of putting a few in a dish, why not imagine them in a large silver plate, one layer over another of different colours, upto a foot high, just like one in a sweet mart! One could even offer a whole annakut in every maansi if one could visualise it! There is no end to the bhava of one's devotion. In the final maansi of the day, at bedtime one imagines that the Lord has adorned light and comfortable clothing, different from that worn during the day. Obviously this depends on where one lives. If one lives on a higher altitude or in temperate zones, where it tends to get chilly at night, then one obviously imagines the Lord adorned with warm woollen clothing. If we ourselves usually drink milk, water, etc. before going to bed, then one proffers the same to the Lord. One can then also imagine the bed frame to be made of sandalwood, so that all night the sweet fragrance pervades the mattress, quilt and pillows. The mattress can also be of air or water or just plain cotton. If the geographical region has mosquitoes then one can also imagine a large spacious mosquito net enclosing the whole bed. One then steps back and has darshan of the sleeping Lord.

Finally one offers prostrations and prayers to the Lord, to forgive any mistakes incurred in the acts of devotion during the day and to bless and inspire one to offer more betterment in love and devotion towards the Lord.

Lord Swaminarayan adds an extra dimension to maansi puja by teaching that the perfect master (the ideal devotee of God) is to be worshipped on par with God - Vachanamrutam. Vadtal No.5.

It is interesting to note that maansi puja is really the same as the scientific phrase called mental imagery. In recent years, mental imagery has been successfully used by medical scientists in improving human health.

First, let us see a simple example of mental imagery to put us in perspective. Imagine holding a ripe juicy mango in your hand. Hold that image until you can smell the fresh scent of the mango. Then imagine taking a big bite and feel the juice stimulating biting the taste buds on your tongue and tickling the insides of your cheeks. Now try to forget the whole image. What remains! One's mouth is actually filled with saliva. This simple demonstration illustrates the power of imagination.

In a study conducted by Robert Kunzendorf, a psychologist in the U.S.A., he attached electrodes to the eyes of 20 volunteers, five of whom were capable of producing vivid mental imagery, and had them look at coloured lights that were flashed in front of them. He discovered that each colour affected the retina differently. Green produced one electrical pattern, yellow another and so on. Kunzendorf flashed a coloured light at these people and asked them to imagine that it was another colour, they regularly reported seeing the other colour, and 25% per cent of the time their eye responded as though they were perceiving the imagined, and not the actual flashing colour.

Other scientists have shown that just imagining an object moving across the sky produces more eye movements than visualising a stationary object.

In the late sixties a dental surgeon in Europe who loved sports combined yoga and mental visualization to improve the performance of athletes. Dr.Raymond Abrezol taught them how to eliminate upsetting mental conditions that hampered their performance, nervousness before or during an event, lack of confidence, lack of concentration, fear of defeat, etc. He asked them to imagine running through their entire performance sequence in vivid detail. Physically, mind training improved precision of movement, economized energy usage and controlled posture. Psychologically, mind training improved concentration and attention and enhanced perception.

A little example of this is of Jack Nicklaus, the famous American golf champion who believes that his success is entirely owed to practising concentration and visualization. He asserts that his golf game is only 10 per cent involved with the actual swing. Hitting specific shots is 50 per cent mental picture and 40 per cent actual set up. First, he tunes out the world and concentrates. He visualizes a mental film of the entire shot in his head, sharp and in focus. He sees; the ball being hit, flying in the air, its path trajectory and shape, even its behavior on landing. Only then does he physically prepare himself making the kind of swing that will turn the previous images into reality.

This is a good example illustrating what Shriji Maharaj has said in the Vachnamrutam that the sense behave under the influence and command of the mind. Body builder, Arnold Schwarzeneggar maintains that in weightlifting it's all, "Mind over matter. As long as the mind can envision the fact that you can do something, you can…. I visualized myself being there already - having achieved the goal already."

In Russia, Olympic level athletes receive 3-way training, involving the athlete, the coach and the mind trainer. The mind trainer helps develop the imaginative power of the athletes. They are trained to mentally run through vivid movies, like Nicklaus, and experience shows that such mental practice can be as effective as physical practice. In the East, such a combined mind-body approach has always played an integral part of oriental acrobatics and martial arts like Aikido and Kung Fu.

As we have seen, mental visualization thus greatly affects our physical abilities. In the next and concluding article, we'll be looking at the effects on creativity and one's health.

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