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What to expect at a puja

Anyone is welcome to attend any puja. Here's what to expect when you come:

  • At Kadampa Center, most pujas are done in English, with the exception of Guru Puja, which has some verses chanted in Tibetan. Our prayer books display both the English and Tibetan, so it’s easy to follow the meaning.
  • You can always just read along to get a feel for what it’s about, no need to participate in other parts of the ritual. 
  • Seating for the puja is set up differently than for a teaching, with rows of seats facing each other.  Anyone is welcome to sit in these seats, either on cushions or in chairs.

Advice for newcomers from Ven. Nangsel of Mahamudra Centre in New Zealand:

…The ritual side of practice can be very off-putting to beginners if they don’t understand what we’re trying to do with our minds, the visualizations, and the mind-states we’re trying to cultivate in the pujas. The meanings of pujas aren’t always directly apparent from the words. I try to bring it into everyday experience they can relate to. I try to draw parallels between what we’re doing in the puja and rituals in their own culture they’re already familiar with.

For example, we’re all very familiar with traditional ways of welcoming someone we value highly into our homes. We’d clean and make our home very beautiful. We’d prepare delicious food and drinks and attend to everything we could think of to offer them and bring them pleasure.

It’s the same in a puja. We’re saying welcome, we’re so happy you’ve come. Please would you like something to eat and drink – we’ve prepared this for you. Then we’d settle in for a chat. We tell our guests we’ve been struggling with a few things (our afflictive emotions) and that sometimes we haven’t been so skillful – we’ve harmed ourselves or others and we wish we’d done things differently. Then we happily tell our guests about the times we were able to be kind and loving, and we say we’d like to be able to do it more often. Then we tell them we’re still struggling so it would help us if the buddhas could stay and show us how to develop love, compassion and all the qualities we need to be of real use to other beings.

Mandala magazine has a great article about the purpose and meaning of pujas. Click here to read it — the full version of the article is in PDF format at the bottom of this link.
Link: http://fpmt.org/mandala/archives/mandala-issues-for-2008/august/pujas-by-the-people/