|Some of the TM puja offerings.
Photo by the author
The Transcendental Meditation organization has consistently misrepresented the meaning and nature of the puja, TM’s instruction ritual, for half a century. Recently, a new document has surfaced explaining, in detail, the puja‘s meaning in the context of the spiritual traditions of India. This ceremony is a religious transaction in which the prospective meditator is a co-participant, making offerings to the divine. These offerings are represented by the items set out on the puja table, for each of which, it’s alleged, the meditator will receive a blessing in the form of the advertised benefits of TM. These offerings include the fruit, flowers and handkerchief brought by the meditator.
The inclusion of this ritual, and the organization’s unwillingness to ever remove the ritual in certain settings where it has been problematic such as public schools, completely invalidate their claims that TM practice, including its teaching, is entirely secular and scientific in nature. The TM organization and its teachers have evidently always falsely insisted, to the point of absurdity, that the ritual is not religious because there is no explicit object or deity of worship. But that is not the only measure by which a practice may be considered religious.
The puja ritual, according to the interpretation taught in TM movement schools in India, involves an exchange of value with a divine entity as a required means of gaining benefit from the method the meditator is about to learn. There is nothing secular nor scientific about this performance, and that is true even if the participant has no knowledge or understanding of what is taking place. The specious claim that the prospective meditator need only witness the performance of the ritual, or that it is only to “honor” an alleged tradition and its history of teachers, is negated by both the requirement that the meditator bring certain items to be used in the ritual, and the meaning of the ritual to the organization and its insiders, as is clear in this new document: that it is performed for the new meditator’s eventual benefit.
Controversies about the religious aspects of Transcendental Meditation, and the litigation that has resulted from attempts to introduce TM into public schools in the United States, have always involved this puja, that has always been performed by TM teachers as part of meditation instruction. But after all these years, has it ever been made clear, why this ritual is performed? Why have prospective meditators always been instructed to bring fruit, flowers and a handkerchief with them when they’re to be taught TM? What is the complete story of the intended meaning or function of this ritual? Why do TM teachers insist that the meditator need only witness what the teacher is doing, when that is, evidently, a misrepresentation of how a puja is understood in Indian culture?
The TM organization regards the puja as an essential part of TM instruction and practice. Most recently, in the current lawsuit brought against the David Lynch Foundation (DLF), University of Chicago and Chicago Public Schools (CPS) in response to the so-called “Quiet Time” program to introduce TM into schools there, an October 2019 memo revealed that the DLF would not budge when they were asked to remove the puja from their TM teaching program. This memo, written by a CPS executive and distributed to Chicago public schools upon the discontinuance of the “Quiet Time” Transcendental Meditation program there, stated:
DLF confirmed that the TM programming does include a ceremonial/ritual element at the beginning and DLF was not amenable to removing the ceremony component from their programming.
A translation of the puja, similar to that given to TM teachers during their training, was part of the record in the first, 1977 Federal case involving the teaching of TM in public schools, Malnak v. Yogi, which resulted in an injunction against the teaching of TM in public schools in one region of the United States, later upheld on appeal. What doesn’t appear in that translation is the explanation of the meaning of every aspect of the puja. Of particular importance is the explanation of the significance of the items which are part of the offering sequence, three of which, the fruit, flowers and handkerchief, are brought by the prospective meditator. (I’ll refer to the prospective meditator as the “initiate” here, since the process used to be called in the early days of the TM movement, “initiation.”) Other offerings are part of the set provided by the TM teacher.
The puja essentially has three parts. The first, which likely is the source of the claim that the ritual is only performed to honor a tradition and past teachers, is the invocation of the “Holy Tradition,” in which devotion is expressed to a series of gurus who have, according to Maharishi and others of his sect, passed down the knowledge of how to meditate over the course of centuries. The third, final portion is the “Pushpanjalim,” or offering of flowers (brought by the initiate), which can be interpreted as an offering both to one’s own, or Maharishi’s, guru, and to “Brahma the creator,” “Lord Vishnu, the maintainer of creation,” “Lord Shiva-the destroyer of ignorance,” and the “ultimate eternal source of all.”
But of particular significance is the second, middle part, in which a series of offerings are made. Three of those offerings are the fruit, flowers and handkerchief brought by the initiate. The fact that these offerings are provided by the initiate is the first clue that the insistence by representatives of the TM movement that the puja is merely witnessed by the initiate is a misrepresentation of what occurs, or that they are being less than forthcoming about the intent of the ritual.
One of the difficulties in discussing the puja, beyond the translation that is a part of the court record, is that an authoritative version of “The Holy Tradition,” their title for the full written explanation of the puja, and the name by which they refer to the tradition they believe is the source of TM, has until now been difficult to find. If anything, in the West every aspect of TM instruction, including the puja, has been closely held if not considered a secret, as the students in Chicago have said. TM initiates are told not to divulge to others what occurs during TM instruction, and in recent years a nondisclosure agreement has been part of the process.
Some TM teachers were given “The Holy Tradition” document in the form of a booklet or typewritten sheets. For many years a partial scan and transcription of a 1970’s version of that booklet has been available online, and I have in my personal collection an early, typewritten and duplicated, version. In recent years, on a website that appears to have been provided by anonymous TM devotees in India, a more complete version has surfaced of uncertain origin. In India, of course, there is no secrecy or obfuscation of pujas and other such rituals, they’re simply part of the spiritual/religious landscape there, as is true of other religious rituals such as Christian altar calls or Catholic masses are commonly known and publicly discussed elsewhere in the world.
|Amlan Dey in February 2020
We now have access to an authoritative copy of “The Holy Tradition,” thanks to a teacher at one of the Maharishi organization’s schools in India. Amlan Dey, who since 2008 has been a teacher at the TM movement’s Hindu or Vedic parochial schools, Maharishi Vidya Mandir in Aligarh and Guwahati, wrote and submitted a thesis in support of a PhD in Education in 2017 which included a complete copy, as it has been distributed there, of “The Holy Tradition.” This thesis is available online and can be freely downloaded, and there’s no question that this text has been written by an employee of the TM organization in India who is in a position to provide an authoritative version, which he refers to, in the context of the school in which he works, as the “School Prayer.” Indeed, there are videos online in which students in these schools recite or perform this puja together at school events.
Since this version is native to India, where such rituals are part of the cultural landscape, it obviously hasn’t been edited to avoid offending Western secular or Christian sensibilities, or to remove any suggestion that it’s intended to be something more than some vaguely honorific symbolic “Vedic performance of gratitude,” or in the words of one TM marketer, a “secular-type puja.” How a traditional religious ceremony can be made to be “secular” is never quite addressed by TM teachers, nor is an explanation given as to why that might be necessary. This raises an interesting question: what were TM teachers in the West told about these aspects of the puja during their training? Having been essentially sworn to secrecy, and having to rely on decades-old and possibly unreliable memories for most, who had slightly different experiences in different teacher training courses, it’s difficult for outsiders to get a clear, detailed picture of exactly what TM teachers are, or have been, taught.
As a means of comparison, I’ve obtained a copy of the handouts that TM teachers, in the world outside of India, were given on a training course in the early 1970’s. One page of those handouts describes in very vague terms the meaning of each of the offerings used during the puja, while the document from India elaborates in some detail what the significance of each item is believed by them to be. That significance of each item is particularly relevant, as each item represents a “silent demand,” a nonverbal petition, for the blessings of specific benefits of meditation, using the terminology that is commonly used inside the TM movement to describe each particular beneficial aspect.
The most notable difference between the Indian and Western interpretations, other than the obvious “silent demands,” is the passiveness of the language in the version that was given to TM teachers. The Western explanations primarily define what the offering symbolically represents, but not why that symbol is present, or what function it serves in the ritual. In contrast, this aspect of the explanation from India is very specific: the offering that is a symbol of some quality, being made by or on behalf of the initiate, is used to make a request to divine or godly figures, for a specific benefit of value, or blessing.
Given the insistence that the puja cannot be divorced from TM instruction, I believe we may conclude that this series of offerings, at the point of initiation of the new meditator, is integral to TM, and, since it is part of how an individual is instructed, it should never be considered something separate from an individual’s meditation practice. I also think that, though this detail may never have been explicitly explained to most TM teachers, the offerings in this ritual may be likened to making a purchase of TM’s effectiveness from the “source of total knowledge” that is the impersonal, God-like cosmic intelligence at the center of most TM doctrine. For those who are in a position to know, this series of exchanges made on behalf of every new meditator, along with the traditional associations with godly figures attributed to the TM mantras, is likely to be one of the reasons why they believe TM to be more effective than any other meditation technique or method of “self-realization.” It follows that they would believe that any other technique offered without the puja would be inferior, because, whether they were knowingly made or not, these “silent demands” for benefits were never made by, or on behalf of, the prospective meditator.
In the following, for each element of the offering, I’ve first listed the Sanskrit text and its previously disclosed English translation in italic text, and numbering the seventeen offerings (some are repeated). That’s followed by the interpretation of the offering that was given to Western TM teachers during their training in the early 1970’s in plaintext, and the current interpretation as taught in the TM movement’s schools in India in bold text.
Also highlighted in red text are some of the many euphemisms used in the TM culture, as secular-sounding terms that all mean the same thing: supreme divinity, the source of everything, including thought. (More details on those many synonyms may be found in my earlier article, Maharishi’s many euphemisms for God.) Finally, a video of Maharishi’s nephew, Girish Varma, is linked from the description of each offering, at the point in the video where that offering occurs.
Avahanam- samarpayami Shri Gutru charana kamalebhyo namah
[1: Offering the invocation to the lotus feet of Shri Guru Dev, I bow down]
This offering of the invocation to the great Masters of the Holy Tradition brings a lively awareness of eternal wisdom.
It means that offering an invocation to the lotus feet of Shri Guru Dev, one bows down
Each offering ends with the Sanskrit word “namah” – to bow down. “Lotus feet” is a metaphor, meant to honor the ‘guru’ as a source of spiritual knowledge. “Guru Dev,” the name for the recipient of these offerings, is popularly understood to be the nickname of Brahmananda Saraswati, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi’s guru. But it is not only that, as is indicated at other points in the puja, and elsewhere. Since such gurus are also understood, by devotees, to be incarnations of God, “Guru Dev” is also a simultaneous reference to the Hindu/Vedic concept of supreme divinity: the Trimūrti, the triad of deities of Brahma the creator, Vishnu the maintainer, and Shiva the destroyer. This interpretation has been described by Maharishi himself, in an address delivered in 2007; here I have emphasized in bold the relevant parts:
We are fortunate to perform Puja to Guru Dev because in Guru Dev we have the reality of Krishna—reality of Total Knowledge is embodiment of Total Knowledge. “Gurur Brahma, Gurur Vishnur, Guru Devo Maheshvarah, Guruh Sakshat Param Brahma, Tasmai Sri Gurave Namah.” Guru Brahma—Guru is the creator. Guru Vishnu—Guru is the maintainer. Guru Devo Maheshvarah—Guru is eternal Shiva, absolute silence. And Guru Sakshat Param Brahma, and Guru is the summation of the three, diversity, and unity. Tasmai Sri Guruve Namah. That is why we bow down to Guru Dev. Bowing down to Guru Dev is in essence, in reality, subjecting ourself to that eternal unified state which is the be-all and end-all of existence.
As an aside, this is also a good example of the novel word-substitution common in the TM organization, which attempts to use secular or scientific language to reframe, or sanitize for Western audiences, Hindu or Vedic concepts. What is traditionally referred to as the Trimūrti is here renamed “that eternal unified state” which is reminiscent of the attempts by Maharishi and others to add credibility and a scientific-sounding veneer to TM and its underlying doctrines by connecting it with some thus far speculative amalgam of unified field theory, quantum physics, and Vedic descriptions of human consciousness.
The portion of the puja which follows this series of offerings, the Pushpanjalim or offering of flowers, begins with the line which Maharshi quotes: “Gurur Brahma, Gurur Vishnur, Guru Devo Maheshvarah.” Maheshvarah is another of the many names for Shiva.
Asanam- samarpayami Shri Gutru charana kamalebhyo namah
[2: Offering a seat to the lotus feet of Shri Guru Dev, I bow down]
This offering symbolises the immoveable seat of life in Being. In offering this seat we feel stabilised in the immovability of Being. Offerings on this firm basis are actions to fulfil cosmic purpose.
Offering a seat to Guru. A proper delicate etiquette and in humbleness a seat is offered to the Guru. The expression of the devotion starts with the offering of the seat, because it provides a basis to the action of devotion. The silent demand of this offering of the seat is for permanent establishment of life on that immortal and immovable basis of eternal Being.
Here the Western and Indian interpretations begin to diverge, with the version from India containing an explicit petition for the experience that they propose to be at the root of Transcendental Meditation. The “immortal and immovable basis of eternal Being” is another term for what I previously described as the Hindu/Vedic concept of supreme divinity. The prospect of having a direct experience of that supreme divinity by way of meditation is first on the list of “silent demands” as, according to TM doctrine, all other benefits of TM derive from that alleged direct experience, essentially, of God.
These quotes from Maharishi’s 1963 book, “Science of Being and Art of Living,” offer his definition of “eternal being” and they may be viewed on the current tm.org website:
“Being is the ultimate reality of all that exists; It is absolute in nature. Everything in the universe is of a relative order, but eternal Being, the ultimate life principle of unmanifest nature, expresses itself in different forms and maintains the status quo of all that exists. The absolute and relative existence are the two aspects of eternal Being; It is both absolute and relative.”
“…The Science of Being not only postulates a theory of one absolute element at the basis of the entire creation but also provides a systematic way whereby any man may have direct experience of the essential nature of transcendental, absolute Being.”
“…The process of bringing the attention to the level of transcendental Being is known as the system of Transcendental Meditation.”
This “demand” implied through this offering transcends the individual, as the “establishment of life” may also refer to the TM movement’s goal of planetary transformation through the universal practice of Transcendental Meditation, that is, that all “life” would exist “on that… basis of eternal Being.”
Snanam- samarpayami Shri Gutru charana kamalebhyo namah
[3: Offering an ablution to the lotus feet of Shri Guru Dev, I bow down]
This offering·of an ablution symbolises the refreshing omnipresence of pure consciousness.
We offer water for bathing or washing the feet of the Guru. The silent demand of this offering is for a cosmic bath in eternal Being.
Since the prospect of experiencing “eternal Being” is at the core of TM doctrine, it’s unsurprising that it’s mentioned directly three times in the course of these offerings, and indirectly referred to several more times. Here it is in the form of a “cosmic bath.” This could be understood as a metaphor that implies a desire to attain their proposed state of “Cosmic Consciousness,” in which “the field of pure consciousness, the “Self,” becomes a permanent and unshakeable experience.” This also implies that this experience is one of purification, explicitly mentioned later among these offerings.
Vastram- samarpayami Shri Gutru charana kamalebhyo namah
[4: Offering cloth to the lotus feet of Shri Guru Dev, I bow down]
This offering of cloth symbolises the garment of all-pervading Being.
After washing the feet we offer a cloth for drying. The silent demand of this offering is for the garment of immortal Being, which will serve as a permanent armour for protection of life.
The offering of a “cloth” is that of the handkerchief brought by the initiate. The third direct reference to “Being” metaphorically associates it with a garment, or armour of protection. As with earlier offerings, there is an ambiguity here between the personal and the global meaning of “life.” The goal of Maharishi’s movement has always been planetary transformation, beyond any personal or individual benefit. The implied desire is for an “invincible armour of defence,” both for the individual, and, through the so-called “Maharishi Effect” allegedly produced by way of substantial numbers of people practicing TM, “invincibility for every nation.” Thus the handkerchief brought by the initiate is symbolic of the intent to wear, as a garment, the “armor of God,” which is, ironically, also referred to in a popular Bible verse (Ephesians 6:11).
Chandanam- samarpayami Shri Gutru charana kamalebhyo namah
[5: Offering sandalpaste to the lotus feet of Shri Guru Dev, I bow down]
This offering of sandal paste spreads some pleasant cooling influence in the atmosphere.
Having provided a bath and having cooled the atmosphere, an offering of sandal paste to maintain the coolness. The silent demand of this offering is for the permanent infusion of that ever freshening influence of tranquility from the Transcendent.
This is a petition for both the subjective experience of meditation and one of its purported benefits. Tranquility, by various synonyms, is both the sensation that many report during meditation and a benefit said to be the result of Transcendental Meditation practice. It is often referred to as “stillness” or a “field of silence.” One research paper, co-authored by Maharishi International University faculty, described it this way:
As is true of many of these terms used in TM culture, there’s a free association between the subjective experience of “quietness” and “silence” and the assumption that that experience is that of the “field of pure consciousness” or “eternal being.”
Akshatam- samarpayami Shri Gutru charana kamalebhyo namah
[6: Offering full rice to the lotus feet of Shri Guru Dev, I bow down]
This offering of fuil rice symbolises the fulness of’ eternal life.
It means offering a full unbroken rice to the lotus feet of the Guru. When such an offering of unbroken of full rice is made to the Guru, it is an offering of fullness of life, heart and mind both at the same time. The silent demand is for the unbroken state in the fullness of life.
“Fullness of life” is a particularly common piece of jargon in TM culture, and as with other terms it has a dual meaning, both as yet another term for “creative intelligence” and as a benefit or experience most obviously equated with success in life. Thus this is another petition for a specific result from meditation practice. From the TM movement’s retrospective volume, Thirty Years Around the World, page 193:
Contrary to common understanding, no withdrawal from the responsibility of life is needed to gain enlightenment, to integrate the inner fullness with the outer fullness. Every person is born to enjoy 200 per cent of life: material and divine. Direct contact with Being, the inner fullness, is the basis of all success and glory of outer life.
Pushpam- samarpayami Shri Gutru charana kamalebhyo namah
[7: Offering a flower to the lotus feet of Shri Guru Dev, I bow down]
This offering of a flower symbolises the full bloom of life.
Next flowers are offered at the feet of the Guru. Flowers are the expression of the fullness in nature. There are two aspects to a flower- the outer(beauty) and the inner(essence or nectar). Offering the flower has the significance of the solicitation for outer pleasures of life and also the nectar within, i.e., the Transcendental Bliss. The silent demand is for gaining 200% of life.
The flowers are the second of the three offerings provided by the initiate. “200% of life” is another common bit of TM jargon. Maharishi, as far back as 1964, equated that term with “cosmic consciousness,” one of the “seven states of consciousness” central to TM doctrine which follows from a regular experience of “transcendental consciousness” during meditation. Again, this expresses a wish to attain a specific “state of consciousness” from which all other positive results attributed to Transcendental Meditation are said to spring. From Thirty Years, page 582, Maharishi speaking in 1964:
Two hundred per cent of life is cosmic consciousness. Realization of God means realizing that which presides over 200% of life. He who presides over 200% of life means He who presides over absolute, eternal Being and He who presides over all the infinitely expanded cosmos, from its subtlest strata to its grossest strata. And the supreme state of God-realization is that state where one can realize the expression of the inexpressible Absolute on the level of the senses. The supreme state of God consciousness is that in which the inexpressible Absolute is experienced on the level of the unmanifest sensory expression.
Dhupam- samarpayami Shri Gutru charana kamalebhyo namah
[8: Offering incense to the lotus feet of Shri Guru Dev, I bow down]
This offering of incense symbolises the sweet fragrance of purity.
Here we offer incense to the feet of the Guru. The fragrance of the incense purifies the atmosphere and creates some pleasantness within. The offering of incense spreads in the air a silent demand for inner and outer purity of life.
“Purity of life” also has a dual meaning, here suggested by “inner and outer.” “Purity” and “purification” are frequent themes in TM doctrine. “Creative intelligence,” their term for supreme divinity, is always viewed as a sanitary, purifying influence:
Creative intelligence is clean and purifying.
Purity of life results from these qualities of creative intelligence.
Science of Creative Intelligence for Secondary Education, Three Year Curriculum, page 83
“Purity of life” may also be directly synonymous with “creative intelligence,” as Maharishi has stated.
It is a state of consciousness. That means if our consciousness is pure and is in tune with that purity of life which is pure intelligence, then we are able to enjoy more, we are able to create more, we are able to understand more.
Meditations of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, page 34
“Pure” in the TM cultural context is understood as having a nervous system free of stress, and thus the individual experiences the benefits of regular meditation, approaching the direct experience of supreme divinity, or “Cosmic Consciousness.” “Purification” refers to the elimination of stress through the ongoing practice of TM.
Self-purification is also an integral part of Transcendental Meditation, as it is expressed by the principle of purification of the path. As the mind proceeds towards the experience of pure creative intelligence, stress is spontaneously eliminated, the nervous system is purified, and thus, the evolution of consciousness is facilitated.
MIU catalogue 1974-75, page 175
All of these aspects are assumed benefits of Transcendental Meditation. As with all the rest of the offerings, the use of incense is a silent gesture, a petition to divine intelligence for another of the benefits or blessings associated with regular practice of TM.
Deepam- samarpayami Shri Gutru charana kamalebhyo namah
[9: Offering light to the lotus feet of Shri Guru Dev, I bow down]
This offering of light brings the light of wisdom to dispel all ignorance.
Next is offering of light at the feet of the Guru. Ghee flame is the mildest type of flame. The offering of light is a petition for the light of wisdom to dispel the darkness of ignorance, the light of Absolute Consciousness. It is a silent demand for pure consciousness to enable us to have that light of eternity kindled in our life.
It’s important to note here that “knowledge” and “wisdom” have skewed meanings in TM culture and are quite a bit different from their common meanings. They aren’t associated with learning or the gathering of information over time; they’re instead implying that regular contact with the divine “source of thought” through meditation, silently with one’s eyes closed, imparts infinite knowledge and wisdom to the meditator. The state of “ignorance” is a life lived without meditating, without some direct contact with that divine “source of thought,” or without having experienced that alleged “state of consciousness” that, they say, is the product of Transcendental Meditation.
Achmaniyam-samarpayami Shri Guru charan kamalebhyo namah
[10: Offering water to the lotus feet of Shri Guru Dev, I bow down]
This offering of water softens the atmosphere.
Naivedyam-samarpayami Shri Guru charan kamalebhyo namah
[11: Offering fruit to the lotus feet of Shri Guru Dev, I bow down]
This offering of fruit symbolizes the state of fulfilment.
Achmaniyam-samarpayami Shri Guru charan kamalebhyo namah
[12: Offering water to the lotus feet of Shri Guru Dev, I bow down]
This offering of water brings the flow of life in fulfilment.
Tambulam-samarpayami Shri Guru charan kamalebhyo namah
[13: Offering a betel leaf to the lotus feet of Shri Guru Dev, I bow down]
This offering of a betel leaf brings freshness, purifying the abode of speech.
Shriphala- samarpayami Shri Guru charan kamalebhyo namah
[14: Offering a coconut to the lotus feet of Shri Guru Dev, I bow down]
This offering of the complete fruit presents the fulness of life, unmanifest and manifest. The entire field of manifest life, gross, subtle and subtlest is represented by the husk or outer covering, the kernel or meat of the fruit, and the milk or inner essence. The Transcendental value of life is symbolised by the self-contained, unmanifest space within.
It is about offering water and fruits at the feet of the Guru. The offering is a petition for fulfillment of nutrition of positive thoughts towards achievement of Absolute Consciousness. It is a silent demand for pure consciousness to enable us to have a conscience which is virtuous towards the realities of life.
The fruit presented here in this sequence of offerings is the last of the three items provided by the initiate. This description is an allusion, through the metaphor of nutrition, to one of the alleged benefits of TM known to those familiar with more esoteric aspects of TM culture: the claim that TM practice will result in virtuous behavior through what they call “spontaneous right action.” Here is how that is explained on a TM organization website:
One gains the spontaneous ability to think, speak, and act correctly, in a way that brings the best response from one’s surroundings. Maharishi refers to this ability as ‘spontaneous right action’. Maharishi is fond of quoting a verse from the ancient Vedic Literature, Rk Veda, which describes spontaneous support of Nature in one’s undertakings: ‘For those established in self-referral consciousness, the infinite organizing power of the Creator becomes the charioteer of all action.’
We have just seen that the most effective means for gaining success is through knowing one’s Self through practising Maharishi’s Transcendental Meditation Technique. Then all thought, speech, and action spontaneously attracts positivity and support from one’s surroundings.
[15: Offering camphor light]
This offering spreads the light of life.
The offering of light presents a silent demand for Supreme Knowledge which only results from destruction of ignorance. While offering the light the presiding deity of knowledge, the destroyer of ignorance, Lord Shiva, is upheld in mind and heart.
In the camphor flame, camphor burns without smoke and without leaving any residue. It burns free from any stain of darkness. This signifies the celestial light of pure Satwa, which forms the basis and the material for the world of angels. It is the finest field of creation, yet in the relative sphere. The silent demand is to give us the celestial field of life to live in God Consciousness. When our consciousness is infused by celestial experience, then life is lived in the light of God.
The lighting of the camphor, a bright burning light, has been known to be rather memorable and startling to TM initiates. There’s a fascinating dichotomy, between the brevity of the seven word description of this moment taught to Western TM teachers, and the more extensive explanation from the Indian document. It represents not just a “light of life,” but Satwa (or Sattwa), which in TM movement context means “inherent purity,” “coherence” or is yet another synonym for supreme divinity, “Being.” All of which would justify interpreting “camphor light” as symbolic of the “light of God.”
From Maharishi’s initial text, The Science of Being and Art of Living, comes this knot of TM jargon tying all these terms together which appear in this explanation of the puja, tying all of life to a divine supreme being or impersonal force metaphorically connected with “light:”
Life is the Light of God, the expression of Divinity. It is divine. It is the stream of eternal Being, a flow of existence, intelligence, creativity, purity and bliss.
Life is unity on the basis of the absolute and eternal unity of life. On the surface of eternity we are mortal beings in an ever-changing phenomenal existence.
Life is unity in God-consciousness. It is multiplicity in the Light of God. Life is absolute in bliss-consciousness and relative in the variety of phenomenal joy.
Science of Being and Art of Living (1976 edition), page 69
“God Consciousness” referred to here is one of the so-called “seven states of consciousness,” four of which they say, are related to practice of TM – transcendental, cosmic, God, and unity consciousness. Again, in TM culture, this is an expected benefit, and source of benefits, of regular practice of TM practice.
Karpura-gauram karuna-vataram samsara-saram bhuja-gendra haram
[Sung: White as camphor, the incarnation of kindness, the essence of creation garlanded by the Serpent-King.]
Sada vasantam hridayara-vinde bhawam bhawani sahitam namami
[Sung: Ever dwelling in the lotus of my heart, Lord Shiva with Mother Divine to Him I bow down]
BHAJAGA is the serpent, the devourer which puts an end to the expression of individual life, and INDRA is a ruler among the gods. When combined into BHUJAGENDRA HARAM, the phrase refers to.BRAHMAN, the Absolute, depicted as wearing the garland of destruction. The BRAHMA SUTRAS refer to this in the words: ATTA – devourer, CHARACHAR – the animate and inanimate, and GRAHNAT – on account of the power of accepting, possessing or taking in. The devourer of the whole animate and inanimate creation through the power of accepting, possessing and assimilating – BRAHMAN.
As I circulate the camphor I feel the light of life spreading. The light of life is: white as camphor, kindness incarnate, the essence of creation. In the words “I bow down” I feel myself diving into the depths of the cosmic creative intelligence which enlivens cosmic life.
White as camphor, the incarnation of kindness, the essence of creation, garlanded by the Serpent King ever dwelling in the lotus of one’s heart, the Lord Shiva with Mother Divine-to him, one bows down.
This verse adores Gurudev in the glory of Lord Shiva. The role of Guru Dev for the individuals is the same as the role of Lord Shiva for the entire creation.
Lord Shiva has the forces of destruction at his command in order to destroy evil so that the creation may be maintained in all its purity and the forces of evolution may work without resistance and the desire of the great Lord may be fulfilled.
Guru Dev has the light of wisdom to destroy the darkness of ignorance and lay open the field of life to purity for highest evolution in the Supreme Knowledge of Unity.
The Serpent-King (Bhuja-gendra), who stands as personification of death for everyone, is found as a garland around Lord Shiva’s neck-death not only adores Him, but also serves as a means of adornment to Him. As Master of all the forces of destruction, even all devouring death symbolized by the serpent king adorns His person. He is the destroyer of all that is damaging to life.
Hence one bows down to Lord Shiva with Mother Divine, always dwelling in the lotus of one’s heart because the essence of manifested life is duality. Duality can only signify the field of relative life, so when one petition’s for gaining the unity of life, one does so the Almighty Lord and his inseparable power which is responsible for duality.
These are two slightly different interpretations of this verse. In the somewhat obfuscated version taught to Western TM teachers, the fact that what is being described is an act of adoration or worship is not directly explained, substituting “Brahman” for “Shiva” which are considered identical in certain Hindu traditions. The Indian version is much clearer about the ultimate meaning of the ritual, solely referring to Shiva, and clarifying the references to “Guru Dev” as a personification of divinity and a focus of adoration:
This verse adores Gurudev in the glory of Lord Shiva. The role of Guru Dev for the individuals is the same as the role of Lord Shiva for the entire creation.
The camphor light is symbolic of the “essence of creation,” Lord Shiva. This final petition is to gain the “unity of life,” and that petition is being made to the “Almighty Lord,” Shiva, through the symbolic use of a flame and the motions made with that flame in the hand of the teacher.
Acknowledgement of Shiva’s power as “the destroyer of all that is damaging to life” is emphasized by mentioning that even the personification of death, the “Serpent-King,” Bhuja-gendra, also referred to as Vasuki, worships him while serving as a garland around his neck.
Arartikyam samarpayami Shri Guru charan kamalebhyo namah
[16: Offering light to the lotus feet of Shri Guru Dev, I bow down]
Achmaniyam samarpayami Shri Guru charan kamalebhyo namah
[17: Offering water to the lotus feet of Shri Guru Dev, I bow down]
In this flow of feeling we offer light and then water
After this light is offered and then water to cool the atmosphere again, at the feet of Guru Dev.
Offerings of candle light and water form a transition to the next segment of the puja, the offering of flowers.
To summarize what transpires during this portion of the puja, here is the sequence of the ten offerings and quotes of the thirteen “silent demands” or petitions for the benefits of Transcendental Meditation associated with each of them.
A seat: The silent demand of this offering of the seat is for permanent establishment of life on that immortal and immovable basis of eternal Being.
Water: The silent demand of this offering is for a cosmic bath in eternal Being.
Cloth: The silent demand of this offering is for the garment of immortal Being, which will serve as a permanent armour for protection of life.
Sandal paste: The silent demand of this offering is for the permanent infusion of that ever freshening influence of tranquility from the Transcendent.
Rice: The silent demand is for the unbroken state in the fullness of life.
Flower: The silent demand is for gaining 200% of life.
Incense: … a silent demand for inner and outer purity of life.
Light: … a silent demand for pure consciousness to enable us to have that light of eternity kindled in our life.
Water, fruit, betel leaf, coconut:
… a petition for fulfillment of nutrition of positive thoughts towards achievement of Absolute Consciousness.
… a silent demand for pure consciousness to enable us to have a conscience which is virtuous towards the realities of life.
… a silent demand for Supreme Knowledge which only results from destruction of ignorance.
The silent demand is to give us the celestial field of life to live in God Consciousness.
… when one petition’s for gaining the unity of life, one does so [to] the Almighty Lord and his inseparable power
Finally, here is a concise description of the kind of puja that is common in India, and the purpose that it serves in Hindu/Vedic spiritual culture there. This excerpt is from a religious studies textbook. Clearly many aspects mentioned here are present in the TM puja, beginning with the presentation of gifts before an image of a deity, or in this case, a deceased individual widely believed to have been a personification of a deity. In India, these gifts are offered to supreme divinity with the conscious, informed expectation that those who do so will gain some benefit from this devotional ritual. But in the TM instruction context, any ethical imperative to obtain informed consent from individuals who are about to participate in a ritual with a clearly religious purpose is disregarded by the TM organization with the assumption that the meditator need not be concerned with that detail at all.
As noted earlier, in puja a worshiper presents gifts before the image of a deity. These gifts can include flowers, fruit, money, or the body of an animal sacrificed for the deity. Such worship can occur at a home shrine on a regular basis, usually in the mornings, or at a temple attended by priests. In larger temples, that portion of the gift remaining with the deity and his priestly attendant becomes a part of the temple’s holdings, and it is used to prepare food or offerings distributed to pilgrims. In the home the entirety of the offering is usually consumed by the family with some sense of reverence for the gift the deity has returned. Performing puja in public temples on a regular basis is one of the most common forms of active devotion many Hindus will enact.
These simple, straightforward, small-scale acts of puja exchange are for many Hindus a constant reminder and sign of the rhythm and comfort that can become the source of a life of reassuring devotion. Part of the power in these acts is that they place the worshiper squarely in a position to “make deals” with particular deities: to address deities directly, to offer them gifts they are understood to “need,” and to derive benefits from this interaction. These are not inconsiderable benefits for the person seeking some sense of relationship with a purer and more powerful source of beneficence.
William Harman, “Hindu Devotion,” in Contemporary Hinduism: Ritual, Culture, and Practice, page 114
In the final part of this series, I’ll present some examples of how the TM movement has, for half a century, deliberately misled the public about both the nature of the puja ritual and the reason that they insist that it’s an essential part of instruction in Transcendental Meditation practice.
Upcoming, Part 3: Misleading everyone for decades about this ritual’s true nature and purpose
Demystifying the Puja, part 2: A religious transaction with the divine” target=”_blank”>”Demystifying the Puja, part 2: A religious transaction with the divine”