Luke Jordan

Practise As Puja

“He who offers to Me with devotion
and a pure heart
A leaf, a flower, a fruit, or water,
That offering of devotion
I accept from him.”
-Bhagavad Gita 9.26 (trans. Winthrop Sargeant)

Maybe you have seen it. It is one of the archetypal images of India. At dawn a person stands in a river, most likely the Ganges, and, facing the rising sun, they cup their palms in an open prayer and offer up some of the water within which they stand. This symbolic sacrifice, this heart offering, is known as Surya Namaskara. Of course, as you already know, the physical practise of Ashtanga Yoga is based around a core called by the same name.

It seems as if this physical yoga can be practised for a myriad of motives, intentions. Some are superficial, narcissistic, yoking the ego more strongly to body, will, and mind. What a great thing it is to see this trait arise and arise again! How cleverly it maneuvers!

Of course the commerical, modern marketing machine sells yoga to us by appealing exactly to these motivations. If you do this… you can attain this… Carrots dangle waiting to be bitten. Be it siddhis, or simply being supple, yoga is used as the means towards the achievement of a future goal.

The person in the water has nothing to gain. As it is let go of, the water falls down again, transformed as prasad. How would it be to practise our physical yoga too as if there was nothing in it to be had? Just this moment… The hands are raised, moving with the breath. An offering of what is already given. A bow.

As Krishna reminds us, it is not so much what is offered that is important as to how it is offered, “With a pure heart”. It matters not whether we have the physical ability to perform perfect or advanced postures. Better to have a humble offering than one laced with pride. At the time the Bhagavad Gita was written, elaborate, expensive ritual procedures would often be carried out (as they still are). A symbol of status. Not necessary Krishna says. Simply offer what you have. It is not the what but the how that matters.

While our physical capacities do often develop in our daily ritual, how easy it is to claim these as “my attainments” and forget that these fruits fall also with grace from the tree of yoga. As we are also told in the Bhagavad Gita, better to relinquish attachment to the fruits of our labours than claim them as our own. As quickly as they come, they will also go!

It is, I think, no coincidence that the basis of our yoga is named after this devotional practise of Surya Namaskara. It is a pointer, a reminder of the deeper intent behind what we do. As one student of Krishnamacarya is known to have said, “The body is my temple, and asanas are my prayers”.

At the centre of the mandalaic Indian temple, resides the murti, not just the deity’s image, but, according to belief, the actual deity itself to whom the religious offer daily their worship. If we follow this metaphor, then we might say that at the centre of the mandala of our body’s temple, at the centre of our experience, resides nothing other than the one to whom we make our offerings. Krishna too tells us that he is the Self in all beings, one with Brahman, the ultimate reality. We are told that the very one who makes an offering is Brahman; that the act of offering is Brahman, into the sacred fire which is also Brahman. The ultimate reality is offering the ultimate reality to the ultimate reality!

Now this may not be always what we are experiencing as we as we move through our asana sequences! Perhaps, though, if we listen care-fully enough we can become aware of the mind’s grasping and attachment to attainment and instead breathe and move in the present moment as if it were an offering, perhaps to the very one that witnesses from our centre. Then our practise may become, in Mark Whitwell’s terms, a conscious participation in the already given. A practise as puja.