Upasana - to sit near god

At a gross level, the word upasana is used for devotional worship with meditation. The linguistic meaning of this Sanskrit word means – to sit near ( God liness). It implies being engrossed in thoughts and sentiments that inspire divine virtues. It is a powerful source of personality development ; because, the nature of human mind is shaped by its thoughts and except for the highest state of trance, it can’t remain thoughtless even for a fraction of a second. Thoughts flow as per the focus and medium of thinking and influence the actions and reactions accordingly. Haphazard or hazy thinking prevents one from doing anything properly; such people can hardly complete any task or produce anything worth. Those leaning for sub-standard or depraved thinking conform to inferior deeds and the taints of this dirt are also reflected in their character and conduct. 

The essence of upasana

Upasana in its perfection means unifying the devotee’s consciousness with the divine consciousness. This is practised by mental and emotional engrossment of the devotee in the (divine) object of his upasana ; the devotional sentiments attached with the latter help the devotee think, contemplate and adopt the virtuous qualities and teachings inspired by the latter. It is not the appearance or proximity with the physical object or image, rather, it is the devotee’s faith and attitude towards this focus and the intrinsic image of the latter in his mind that is important here. 

The Soul of Upasana

The depth of the devotee’s mental and emotional engrossment, in the highest kinds of upasana leads to submerging of his individual consciousness in the divine self; the devotee (upasaka) and the divine object (upasya) both become one in this ultimate case. The living presence of God dess Kali experienced everywhere by Swami Ramkrishna Paramhans, the uniting of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu with Lord Krishna, the complete selflessness and unification with the cosmic consciousness realized by Swami Ramtirtha, are some of the live examples of this intense effect of total involvement in upasana . Although everyone can’t reach this extraordinary state of devotional accomplishment, gradual purification and enlightenment of thoughts is certain to be observed with regular and thorough practice of upasana . Emotional inclination also begins to flow towards nobility with this progress. 

The object of Upasana

How one’s overall personality develops mostly depends upon what is his attitude towards life , what is his ideal, what he aspires for and what are his values in life ? If his ideal or source of motivation is enlightened and noble, then his attitude, thoughts and hence conduct will also be of superior quality. The inferior or unscrupulous level of one’s aim or goals on the contrary would induce and encourage declining and evil mental tendencies and thoughts and lead to downgraded and perverted personality . Selecting the deity or divine focus ofupasana is implicitly like setting a preeminent role model or ideal of one’s value system, having mental and emotional intimacy and association with which would mold one’s personality accordingly.

Should it be a visible or physical object or symbol of divinity (e.g. an idol or a photo of a manifestation of God or a saintly personality )? Or, should it be a formless conception or realization? This selection would depend upon the mental status and faith of the person who wants to practise upasana . Usually, concentrating the mindover a physical object suits the most to the beginners. One can chose a symbol, image or idol as per his liking and faith in a form that reflects the divine qualities of this ideal and also inspires the devotee. In the initial stages of upasana , the devotee could look at this object and recall the virtues represented by the associated name, manifestation or image of God or divine character. He should try focusing his thoughts within the same domain and ponder over it as much as he can without much disturbances. This practice could gradually be converted into meditation. As the extent and duration of mental concentration increases, the emotional linkage of the devotee with divinity also intensifies and induces a subtle process of spiritualrefinement . Similar is the case of meditation on formless realization of divinity. 

How and why of Upasana

You are taught here to practice pavitrikarana, pranayama and dhyana (meditation) while doing upasana . During this you should also attempt to feel that you are surrounded by the radiant aura of divine protection; that you have surrendered yourself to this beatifying protection of the Almighty, which expels all negative effects, guards against their re-entry and also removes your inner blemishes and weaknesses. But, when you practice self-analysis you have to be strict and scrupulous like an esteemed judge and find out all your flaws and infirmities. Be firm and fair in scrutinizing your good and bad tendencies, your wrongs and rights. Don’t let your mind drive you away with deluding excuses. 

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