The power of Tibetan Buddhist ritual never ceases to amaze and console. A ceremonial expression of honor, worship and devotional attention is taking place somewhere in the world, any hour of the day or night, in monasteries, in gompas, in temporarily decorated town halls, in homes. The decorating of altars, the sweet perfume of flowers and incense filling the air, the creak of knees as devotees fall forward in prostrations, the whisper of hands raised in supplication and heads lowered in gestures of homage and humility – these are the manifestations of a human desire to connect with our enlightened potential.
As Khenrinpoche Lama Lhundrup Rigsel describes in his article, “Why We Need Ritual1,” the performance of ritual is essential for creating the positive energy (merit) needed to achieve realization. He writes:
“Some people think these practices aren’t important. They think meditation alone should be enough. However, just meditating is not enough. The idea that there is no need to create merit through the body and speech is mistaken thinking. When we are embarking on the path which results in buddhahood, we need to accumulate a large amount of merit. This accumulation of merit can be achieved through the body, speech, and mind. Therefore, we need to practice with the body, speech, and mind.”
He is suggesting that we do not waste any of our tools when we engage in virtuous activity. He stresses that as ordinary beings, the amount of merit that is needed to engage successfully in advanced meditative practice is immense, and best achieved through ritual practice.
Pujas in particular are such a powerful way to clear obstacles and bring success in our lives and spiritual practice, that Lama Zopa Rinpoche sponsors them regularly at all the major Gelug monasteries in India and Nepal. In the three main Gelug monasteries alone – Sera, Ganden and Drepung – there are more than 15,000 monks, and Rinpoche’s sponsorship of pujas performed by them helps them financially.
Lama Zopa believes that pujas are vital for harmony, and attributes much of FPMT’s collective success to the pujas he sponsors. Indeed, he has been personally funding pujas for the last thirteen years, and the annual cost has increased to more than $64,000. Donations to this fund each year amount to less than $5,000.
Rinpoche determines which pujas should be done, as well as the most beneficial monastery or nunnery to perform them, which makes these pujas performed exceptionally powerful. These pujas always include Lama Zopa Rinpoche’s own dedication prayers for world peace, the long and stable life of His Holiness the Dalai Lama and the fulfillment of all his wishes, and towards removing all obstacles to benefactors and students and all the FPMT Dharma activities, including its many projects.
While the monasteries and nunneries which perform the pujas benefit financially, we benefit too – because ordained people are living in higher vows, their prayers have a lot of power.
Rinpoche himself responds to incredible sufferings, such as the recent events in China and Burma, by immediately doing Medicine Buddha Puja and reciting King of Prayers
So many times students have contacted Rinpoche when they are about to have an operation or are suffering from a major sickness, and Rinpoche will recommend a certain puja for them.
These pujas have the potential to change the person’s karma and there have been many recorded cases of recovery to full health (see A Blessing for Marine Life for a picture of a healthy, grateful student with Rinpoche).
Remember, FPMT is united by the prayers and practices that we share.