Continuing with highlights from his talk on God Siva, Bodhinatha talks about Gurudeva's admonition that devotees should never come to the temple empty-handed, even if the only offering they have is a leaf. The ideal is to put time into preparing a special offering. It's also important to pay attention to what is happening during the puja and to not let the mind wander.
The next point which Gurudeva stressed for all fifty years of his ministry - Bring an offering. Don't come empty handed. Usually, it is a flower offering but if flowers are scarce, at least bring a leaf is what he used to say. No reason in the world that you cannot at least bring a leaf as an offering, when you come to the temple. So don't come empty handed, bring something.
Ideally, you can bring an offering that you have spent time preparing. Like, sewing a garland is the traditional one. Something where you put time and prana as well. You put your energy, your life force into the offering. When you make a garland of flowers, you are handling the flowers, you are touching them, you are putting your life force into them, as well as, thinking about the Deity you are giving it to. You are putting your energy into it. Later on, when that garland is placed upon the Deity, your energy is in the garland and the garland is touching the Deity. So therefore, it is the same as if you were touching the Deity, reaching up with your hands and touching the murthi. It is the same effect. You have created a psychic closeness with the Deity through putting your prana into the garland which is placed upon the Deity. That helps create a closeness, much more than just bringing a single flower and offering it.
It is also important to pay attention when you are attending a puja or other temple ceremony, not just let the mind wander all over the place. Sometimes this is challenging because all the chanting or even the singing can be in a language that you don't understand. So it is hard to focus on what is going on, but it is important. You need to figure out a way to do that. For example, if the puja is going on, at least remain aware of different actions, "Oh incense is being offered. Now we are offering the flame. Now we are offering flowers. Now we are chanting the names." At least, keep track of the basic actions that are going on in the puja. Don't just let your mind wander. If you are singing devotional songs in a language you don't understand, make sure you find out the meaning. It does not do much good to sing something and not have any idea what it means. Even though you have looked up the meaning, after a few years you might forget and just get in the habit of singing it without remembering what it means. So it is good to refresh your memory every once in a while, every few years at least, on devotional songs that you don't understand that well and at least have a general sense of, "What are we singing about here? What is this about?"
Another way of getting close to the Deity through temple worship is taking advantage of the fact that all days are not the same. All days are not equally auspicious for worship. Festival days for example, the major festival days are the most auspicious for worship.
On Mahasivaratri, for example, is a very auspicious day for Siva worship. The energy we put into worshipping on Mahasivaratri brings better results than on other days. There are monthly days that are more auspicious than other days. Different temples have different traditions. It is not the same at every temple. But keeping in mind the auspiciousness of the day and on days that are more auspicious, putting more energy into your worship, more time at the temple, is a good way of increasing our closeness to the Deity.
In closing, we have three little phrases to remember. The first one is traditional, from scripture. It is Auvaiyar,who said "Do not live in a village that is without a temple." We all know that one, right? Meaning, we want to be able to go to a temple every week. We have two more to add to that.
"Do not go to a temple without an offering." A simple one to remember.
The third and last one, "Do not attend a puja without attentiveness."
Now we have got three, simple, little guidelines to remember.
Aum Namah Sivaya.
Now we can bring our minds back from Mauritius, where we were right down there by the ocean there in Grand Bay. We will hear it in Creole, it will be translated in Creole. That is one reason it needs to be simple. It has got to come across in the Creole language.