The Role of Ritual in Śrī Vidyā

devi puja ritual sadhana May 20, 2024
parvathi sri chakra puja

How do we know what we know?

If we really consider it, this is a very provocative question. What inner proprioception translates the information and stimuli of the world to us so that they are meaningful? There is so much incoming data, yet the mind chooses a fraction and assimilates it into a coherent image. The filtering parameters for the inundation of data lie in many factors, including circumstances, relevancy, and personal and communal context. Much of what we think we know and, therefore, unquestioningly accept as a ground for our reason and logic results from this filtering process. The answer to how we know what we know is more complex than we know by our education, information acquisition, or how the brain relays data. Many psychological components of filtering and biasing information are unknown, so we are inattentive to many facets that contribute to or block what we know.

Then, there is the fundamental bias of our waking state awareness, the state that we identify as our "normal" state of awareness.

Here, we are confined in space and time, we appear seemingly separate, and our actions are limited. Things seem stable and fixed in this reality, defining what we think we can know and the dimensionality of how we know. 

Some force or factor is taking the underlying Consciousness and changing it to appear as many. In the Vedas, we learn of Ṛta, a Sanskrit term that refers to the cosmic order or harmony. It is the force that powers all dynamics, calibrating the changing and the unchanging. It sacrifices the One into the many and creates a regulated harmony of the appearing and changing from the formless Consciousness. 

Ṛta’s movement allows us to communicate between the known and the unknown. Ṛta gives us the English word ritual and rhythm. Rhythm provides order to the alternating appearance of existence and nonexistence, the movement of forgetting and remembering.

All transformative processes require rhythm to unify and give the means to transcend multiplicity into a coherent whole. Rituals are the mesocosm between the microcosm and macrocosm.

Rituals communicate in a multi-sensorial and polytonal language that maintains tangible communication between the Absolute and relative within us. Rituals expand what we know and how we know, and even a simple practice of visualization and mantra recitation can have this profound effect. Ritual changes the unconscious filtering or sorting process, allowing us to know unknowable things, not in a clairvoyant or omniscient way, but to plumb more deeply into the possibilities available to our minds and hearts. As we are Consciousness, those possibilities are limitless. 

In our sophisticated, technology-driven world, most cultures dismiss and marginalize rituals. Even in the context of sādhana and mysticism, Indians and non-Indians are both prone to disregard rituals, relegating them to the uneducated, simple-minded, likely superstitious who can't grasp fundamental spiritual principles. Yet rituals convey this cosmic rhythm, allowing us access to this on-and-off appearing and disappearing in ourselves as Consciousness appears as One and many.

As a mesocosm, rituals bridge this space between the relative and the absolute, communicating with the cosmic sacrifice Ṛta that gives order on the cosmic to mundane level.

Puja in Śrī Vidyā

Let's look at rituals from the perspective of Śrī Vidyā sādhana by focusing on Pūjās. This ritual combines many elements, engages all the senses, and can be offered internally and externally. Enacted externally, rituals have the advantage of localizing cosmic energies and interacting with the outer mood and atmosphere. They give the possibility of changing the space and the inhabitants within it. Everyone can be positively affected by the transformative elements of Pūjā, just as we are affected by the sounds, sights, and energies of a celebration or a sports competition. We feel the difference between the silence of a graveyard and a library. We behave differently, corresponding to not only the context but also the atmosphere that is generated. Outer rituals allow for a collective embodiment. Internal rituals have the advantage of being embodied into the subtlest layers of our body, mind, and heart (and beyond), and in their deep penetration, tend to absorb, and its effects last longer.

The effects of a ritual, specifically Pūjā, transform how we feel, relate to our minds, and relate to the projections of our minds, which is basically the world that we see, know, and feel.

Pūjā, a Sanskrit word meaning 'to give birth to,' is a cornerstone of Śrī Vidyā sādhana. It is a spiritual technology, a ritual that works with the structures of different levels of Consciousness to integrate various levels of power wherever and in whoever performs it. Pūjās are complete and offer purification, transformation, empowerment, and regeneration, affecting every level of our being. They establish a hierarchy of energy and awareness within us, essential for integrating many levels of understanding and knowing simultaneously. 

Pūjā gives birth to our higher awareness in our limited world of actions.

There is an innate human need and capacity to respond to the spiritual, to something greater than our human ideas and limitations that aren't fantasy or wishful thinking. There is something deep within us that desires to embody the sacred. Like a memory we can't shake off, this part of us wishes to recapitulate our limitations into something we sense is more significant than the limited self in the waking state. We sense something bigger, Divine. At first it is ungraspable, and therefore, we tend to project it outwardly, outside and separate from us (also typical of our waking state bias). Anthropologically, this urge is often dismissed as an archaic and lower development of humankind that we have evolved past in our scientific and technological world. 

Over time, the Pūjā offered with consistency and ardor initiates a literal remembering of our totality, that we not only belong to it, we are That.

Pūjā's use all the senses to harness and engage their powers to transform their externalization into grasping objects, instead internalizing their power and ultimately seeing them as reflections of Consciousness.

External Pūjās are a panorama of sensory delight and beauty. Beauty renders the mind into stillness.

No one feels the need to defend themselves from beauty. Instead, we are eager to merge with it.

Pūjā and Lineage

All rituals are hierarchical, especially Pūjās, with many elements and levels of meaning. Vital for us as practitioners, their structure and flow transmit the lineage's knowledge, energy, and history.

Without living rituals, a lineage risks being broken and its teachings distorted and misunderstood.

The Pūjā  architecture is never random. Like all sound architecture, it is constructed using both practicality and aesthetics. The beauty inherent in Pūjā has a profound and practical function of transporting us to the non-temporal and non-spatial, thereby overcoming those limits in our knowledge and thinking. Over time, this gives a refined sensitivity to recognize and return to this more expanded state of Consciousness that underlies the known world of space-time.

Essential for any lineage to remain alive and flourishing is to keep practicing and transmitting the ritual, as they are the dynamic laboratory of the philosophy.

From the direct experience and realization of the Rishis came an embodied knowing of the Cosmos. They investigated and revealed their inner essence with inner technologies and saw the complexity of the outer world through them. One example, in Yoga Vasishta, we read stories that point to parallel universes.

First, the direct embodiment of Consciousness arose, and then practices to recapitulate and recognize it arose. Then came the theories and philosophies to comprehend it from the perspective of the linear mind. The philosophy also frames the context, giving glimpses into the riches revealed only through direct experience, not in theory, and shows the necessity of the practice. Here, we see a "top-down" model that starts from the summit of Consciousness rather than from the parts or fragments below.

This direct knowledge is inherent in the structure of the rituals and imparts wisdom directly into our senses and mind in an alive and timely way. The steps and actions of the ritual command this energy and calibrate it into our perspective, thoughts, and actions.

The ritual is the living intelligence that conveys and communicates to the inner and outer reality.

We can test and feel for ourselves if the outer expression and structure of the ritual are coherent and resonant with the inner principles of the lineage, the teachings, and the direct embodiment of Consciousness.  

Living Laboratories

The rituals are the living laboratories where we run the experiment of the Ṛṣis—are we the Absolute Consciousness that has become many? What is real, and how do we go from the unreal to the real? We require a lab to experiment, test, and confirm.

We must prove this for ourselves within ourselves.

Then, we have something alive and replicable to pass on to other generations. Stop the rituals; we lose our testing ground, and things remain theoretical.  

Pūjās include visualizations, energy purification, generation, and transformation. They also include mantra repetitions (sonic vibrations) and silent meditation. Over time, the illumination as Oneness reveals the unknown levels and states of our being (Prakasha). These unknown biases are cleansed and released.

With less sediment obstructing what we know, we can see how we know and that we are the source of all that we see and know.

How do we know what we know?

Because we are the Knower, the knowing, and the known.



~ Mā Umā-Pārvatī, May 2024