An overview of Ganapuja and its practice in the Dzogchen perspective
To begin this discussion a few points need to be made concerning cosmology. In the western world, particularly in the United States where technology literally exploded into the public domain, the physical mechanisms of everything from can-openers to weather systems have become the main preoccupation. Although the ancients were not at all unaware of the physical aspects of their world, they nevertheless mostly maintained a spiritual viewpoint. The ancients recognized that there were many levels of beings, having various levels of power and authority. Accordingly, there was the development of concepts such as: the god of wind, the god of rain, the god of thunder, etc. Among ancient forest dwellers, for example, concrete relationships developed between humans and the powerful aboriginal tree spirits and river spirits. This perspective was the norm everywhere and in all ancient cultures for millennia.
The actual demise of the spiritual perspective is a direct result of monotheism. If one, omnipotent God rules and controls everything, then it becomes illogical to petition such a God for personal matters. It would be like petitioning the U.S. Supreme Court to arbitrate a case such as the ones seen on the Judge Judy show. And yet we clearly see this happening, for example, every time Loyola plays Fordham. Both teams can be seen praying for victory. They are both Catholic schools so we must assume that they both are praying to what they consider to be their same almighty God.
In such a case, either God favors one team over another or He ignores both schools’ prayers. Now, Loyola is obviously superior to Fordham. So, if God actually favors Fordham over Loyola, then we have to doubt His omniscience and the world is therefore in very big trouble. If God ignores trivial matters (which makes a lot more sense), then there’s no point in praying because pretty much everything we pray for is, in the big picture, a trivial matter. Whether the world’s monotheistic populace have all thought this through or not, the truth of it has already saturated the collective theistic psyche. This has left monotheists with either the mere fossil of faith, or convinced them to abdicate their personal will in total deference to God’s will, in everything that happens. The only prayer that would make sense for the total acceptance of God’s will would be a prayer for the total deactivation of personal will. The problem with that is as follows. Our personal (ego-mediated) will, although unquestionably misguided and basically stupid, is fundamentally a distorted reflection of our true essence. We could not possess our ignorant ego-will were it not for the fact that we also consist of an Essential Will, of which our common will is but an extremely dumbed-down parody. Therefore, although it may seem reasonable to abdicate personal will to the notion of a God’s will (which may in fact be discovered to be none other than our own essential will), the very effort to disconnect from one’s own will causes many problems. The Dzogchen way of working with this is to observe ourselves objectively, without trying to change anything. Careful observation will eventually reveal the connection between the shadow-puppet theater that is our ordinary mind, and the light-source itself that is our essence.
Buddha taught that we, as un-realized beings, live in a subjective dimension of insidious futility. What’s good or pleasing for some is bad or repulsive for others. Everything is in a state of flux and ultimately impermanent, most pertinently, we ourselves are impermanent. So, Buddha taught that the best course of action is to do whatever’s necessary to become fully realized beings. Ultimately, the process of self-realization is an exquisitely personal matter. However, we do co-exist with countless other beings. The most helpful other beings for someone working on self-realization are realized beings with whom we are karmically connected. Their guidance is indispensable. But it still remains meaningful to have and keep good relations with family and friends. In between our connections with realized beings and our connections with family and friends there are countless other beings, visible and invisible, with whom we interact. Our interactions with invisible beings are typically something of which we are completely unaware, in the same way that we are unaware of airborne bacteria. There are many invisible beings (beyond the karmic visual bandwidth of typical human experience) that are very powerful, intelligent and influential. For tens of thousands of years certain humans have learned how to communicate directly with some of these beings. Since the sixteenth century, those who can communicate with invisible beings have been called Shamans, and although this was originally a reference to the Siberian tradition, evidence of a shamanic element exists in every culture of our world.
In the Tibetan spiritual tradition there is a prominent shamanic element and the Tantric Buddhist ritual of Ganapuja, as a Tibetan adaptation of a much more ancient Indian Ganapuja, also includes this shamanic feature. There are two reasons for this. First, the main point of Ganapuja is to maximize one’s contact with realized beings, and countless numbers of them are invisible, abiding in other dimensions. The second reason is that we have incurred many inadvertent karmic debts among common invisible beings due to our insensitivity to their existence. For instance, we may purchase a piece of land, cut down the trees and build a big house for ourselves. Without realizing that there are already invisible beings living there who consider it to be their home, we literally trespass against them. Inasmuch as karmic debt is one of the strong obstacles on the path to self-realization, resolving such karma is an important aspect of the practice of Ganapuja.
Sacrifice literally means, to make sacred. Since antiquity, there is a concept that if you offer something up that is desirable to yourself, a sacred bond is formed between yourself and the one to whom you offered. Ganapuja is a ritual of sacrificial offering that incorporates many layers of meaning and profound subtlety. Although the ancient Indian style of Ganapuja was far more explicit and literal in its production of desirable objects and states compared to the more symbolic Tibetan style, the motivation and the sacrifice itself remains the same.
There are three stages of offering in Ganapuja. First and foremost is the offering to one’s master. In Vajrayana and in Dzogchen, it is recognized that one’s personal master is the quintessential source of everything necessary for realization, hence, this is the first (upper) offering. In Dzogchen, however, there is a unique understanding about the primordial nature of the master, vis-à-vis one’s own primordial nature. Accordingly, when Ganapuja is offered by practitioners of Dzogchen, there is also a kind of non-conceptual sacrifice that corresponds to this unique feature of Dzogchen. But whether one is following the path of Vajrayana Buddhism or Dzogchen, Ganapuja is considered a core practice not only for establishing and maintaining the auspicious circumstances conducive to advanced practices, but also for overcoming common hindrances such as those related to health and finances. In Vajrayana Buddhism one of the key principles is what is called the Two Accumulations. In Tibetan these are called, sonam gi tsok and yeshe gi tsok, the accumulation of merit and the accumulation of wisdom/knowledge. It is said that self-liberation depends on both. The “accumulation” of wisdom/knowledge of course refers to the actual experience of being in the state of Samadhi. Merit, on the other hand, is a function of karma. There are innumerable ways to generate good karma and Padmasambhava taught that we should never underestimate nor be complacent about even the smallest opportunity for such. He said that even though we may follow the most advanced, lofty, even non-conceptual practice, we should nevertheless always be mindful in regards to karma accumulations – even those that seem as slight as a single particle of finely milled barley flour. Of all the possible ways to generate positive karma, neutralize karmic hindrances and establish auspicious circumstances, Ganapuja is held to be the supreme method.
As a closing comment, many students and practitioners use the term Ganapuja and Ganachakra interchangeably. This is a misunderstanding. Ganapuja is the ritual in which we, as un-realized beings, can engage. Ganachakra refers to the state of a fully realized being manifesting totally uninhibited, blissful abandon. The realized beings who accept our invitation and join in our Ganapuja, together with any Mahasiddhas who may also be in attendance, are the ones engaging in Ganachakra.