The shastras say, “Bhaktipriyo Mãdhava…’ God cherishes devotion. However, amid life’s busy schedule, how is daily devotion possible?
That is why, Bhagwan Swaminarayan has outlined a daily routine (ahnik) for satsangis that enable them to incorporate devotion amid their other duties. The most important devotional ritual is personal puja (nitya puja). Nitya puja is a personal daily meeting with God and the Gunatit gurus. The following is an overview of the various components of nitya puja and their significance...
In the Shikshapatri, Bhagwan Swaminarayan outlined a daily devotional routine for his devotees. He has instructed that all should rise before sunrise, bathe and then perform nitya puja. So, performing daily personal puja is a necessary quality of a true devotee.
Countless devotees throughout the world begin their day with nitya puja as per the tradition of the Swaminarayan Sampradaya. It is regarded by the devotees as a divine meeting with God.
Many years ago in Bhavnagar, during an evening assembly in the presence of Pramukh Swami Maharaj, a debate on the question of whether outward devotional rituals were necessary if one’s inner thoughts were pure. Concluding the debate, Swamishri said, “Yogiji Maharaj was God-realized. Hence, he had no need to perform puja and other worship rituals. Yet, he still performed daily puja, applied tilak-chandlo and many other worship rituals. He had constant communion with God and still he did all this. Whereas, we don’t have such constant association, so how is it possible for us to progress without performing puja and other devotional rituals.”
Thus, even though Yogiji Maharaj was spiritually enlightened, he engaged in daily worship rituals – demonstrating their necessity for spiritual progress.
It is important to understand the necessity of nitya puja in one’s life. Performing nitya puja without understanding its mahima deprives one of its real joy, robs one of enthusiasm and prevents one from focusing the mind on God during puja. Without mahima, doubts arise questioning its necessity. Then, gradually, one stops performing puja.
When performing puja, do so with the following thoughts: Doing puja will strengthen my association with God. God will be pleased with me. I will experience God’s divine and eternal bliss. I will experience the bliss that Yogiji Maharaj and Pramukh Swami Maharaj enjoyed and which Mahant Swami Maharaj enjoys.
Understanding the mahima of puja in this way will help to focus one’s mind. However, this is not achieved in a day; it requires daily persistent and patient practice.
Now let us consider the main components of nitya puja.
Today, many youths are embarrassed to apply the tilak-chandlo on their forehead. But applying the tilak-chandlo gives one inner courage, empowers one to overcome one’s reservations and gives one strength to tolerate taunts.
When Dr Swami was studying in Nair Medical College in Mumbai, he received a letter from Yogiji Maharaj instructing him to apply the tilak-chandlo daily. Dr Swami replied, “If you wish I’ll do two extra fasts, but do not insist on me doing the tilak-chandlo.” However, Yogiji Maharaj insisted, “I do not want you to observe more fasts, but to daily apply the tilak-chandlo.” So, Dr Swami obeyed his command and was the only student in the college who applied a tilak-chandlo. He tolerated all the taunts. Reflecting, Dr Swami says that if he had not obeyed Yogiji Maharaj’s wish, he would have missed a great opportunity.
The tilak-chandlo teaches us to hold our head high and be fearless. It prevents us from doing wrong. If we do something improper, someone will question us.
Apart from these outward benefits, the tilak-chandlo has a positive effect on our mind.
Mansi Puja is a tonic for the mind. It involves mentally offering puja to God and the Gunatit gurus as if one is personally serving them. One awakens them, bathes them, adorns them with garments and ornaments, preform their arti, offers thal and so on. Bhagwan Swaminarayan has described in detail how to perform mansi puja in Vachanamurt Gadhada III 23.
Mansi puja attaches the mind to God and so helps to calm the mind. A stable mind enables one to concentrate on one’s duties, such as, studies, work, business, etc.
Scientific experiments show that remembering pleasurable experiences pacifies and focuses the mind. That is what mansi puja is – joyful thoughts of God and guru.
Shivlal Sheth of Botad became so engrossed when he daily performed mansi puja that God came in person to accept his puja. And those nearby would also have darshan of this.
Parvatbhai of Agatrai would perform mansi puja at lunchtime. Once, when one of his labourers saw him doing mansi puja while tilling the land, he shook him to awaken him. Parvatbhai’s meditation was so genuine that from his apparently empty hands, rotlo and yogurt fell out.
Mansi puja provides an opportunity to offer devotion in many different ways. It transcends one beyond the limitations of time, place, ability and wealth.