What does the term puja mean?

Sir, those who follow other paths seek a fee for the teacher.
Ime hi nāma, bhante, aññatitthiyā ācariyassa ācariyadhanaṃ

ācariyadhana: a teacher’s fee

Why shouldn’t I make an offering to Venerable Ānanda?
”Kiṃ panāhaṃ āyasmato ānandassa pūjaṃ na karissāmī”ti. AN11.16

I’m trying to understand the common usage of the term ‘puja’, as its used commonly in Buddhist temples as in puja to the Buddha, and picca mal puja- offerings of a certain type of flower.

Does it refer to an ‘offering to a teacher, for a his or her teaching’ and is there another aspect in brahmanism of an offering to God(s)?


Pūja (adj.) [Epic Sk. pūjya, cp. pujja] to be honoured, honourable A iii.78 (v. l.; T. pūjja); J iii.83 (apūja= apūjanīya C.); pūjaṁ karoti to do homage Vism
Pūjā (f.) [fr. pūj, see pūjeti] honour, worship, devotional attention (The Pali Text Society’s Pali-English Dictionary)

It is difficult to find examples from early buddhism to Pūjā(worship/ offerings). In fact when the tooth relic was brought to Sri Lanka, monks from Mahavihāra denied to accept it and conduct retuals. Since, protecting the relic was a responsibility of the king he built a dedicated place in Abhayagiri and placed it there. This led to the prosperity of Abhayagiri even though they had different teachings from the early buddhism.
However, in the period of the Buddha, there was a tradition to bring devotional gifts of flowers and perfumes, when someone is going to meet a honoured person.
In vinaya,
i. there is a story about the group of six monks (cabbaggiya bhikkus), where they used flowers recieved from devotees to decorate their beds.
ii. once, load buddha allowed the monks to place perfumes and perfumed things in a corner of the vihāra.

There are two concepts that resulted offerings such as offering flowers, fruits, etc. First is the notion of Buddha-bhakti,(not the saddhā itself) that is, of devotion to the figure of the Buddha. The second is the notion of karma.

These are explained in the Avadānasataka, an early anthology of Buddhist tales, the very purpose of which is to illustrate the effectiveness of different kinds of acts of offering. One of the striking things about these stories is that in them very simple acts of devotion and offering are said to lead an individual to great results: either Buddahood, Pratyekabuddhahood or arhatship. Avadanasataka originally is a work by sarvastivadins. These stories may have arrived with the infuence of other religions.

However, now it is very difficult to remove them from the so called Teravāda tradition. The Teravāda tradition also absorbed these from Mahāyāna and Sarvāstivāda with the exposure to these traditions over a long period of time.


The morning service is described as a puja in the text itself, particularly at “imehi sakkārehi yathārahaṁ āropitehi abhipūjayāma” /we worship, as is worthy, together with the respects that are prescribed.

The Tibetan puja is also just chanting generally akaif. You can watch them online. Just chanting, chanting, chanting. Maybe they had more Hindu ritual aspects at one point, but if that is so, it has cerebralized to chanting and Buddha-remembrance afaik.

As @Amatabhani has already mentioned there is the noun pūjā, which means to “honour” or “worship,” but there is also a verbal root √pūj in Sanskrit which means the same thing. So as similar to the noun dāna and the root √dā, we have both a fixed and an active meaning, so a “gift” but also “he gives,” and “an offering” but also “he offers.” I think that noting the different ways in which the words are used in context is useful in establishing their historical context and meaning. It seems quite clear that √pūj was used in a very active context, both with devas but also with icons and culturally significant items/beings around them. For instance, in an exam recently I translated a story from the Pañcatantra about a Brahmin who realizes he is not reaping the rewards of his field because he has not worshiped the snake guardian of the land. So, even in this sense it says na pūjayāmi (or something like that), “I have not worshipped/payed homage to.”

It’s interesting though how in Buddhism/Buddhist practice, the ideas of dāna and pūja have merged into a similar meaning. We no longer seem to have the meaning of, “I worship the Buddha/my teacher” when offering pūja, but rather it seems to have taken on a meaning of giving for the benefit of both beings (more in the dāna realm).

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Good points, thank you :slight_smile:

In a way, giving useful things/words/acts to other people is an act of worshipping the Buddha, who is still symbol of embodiment of realized sila, samadhi and panna :slight_smile

So the acts of practicing meditation, giving dana etc., can be seen as “worship” in a buddhist sense :slight_smile: Buddha always was saying that to honour him, just do your practice towards liberation and help others along the path. (comes to mind Mahaparinibbana sutta, when Ananda was crying and Buddha summoned him and spoken words in this spirit).

We might say that doing whatever that is conductive to liberation of beings, is an act of “worship to the Buddha”. :slight_smile:

I would call this a greatly underappreciated post.

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