This is a good question. I need to write a post or two on the subject.
1. First, the conventional spelling is “pujā” even though it is pronounced, “poojā.”
2. “Pujā” is normally translated as homage or devotional offering. However, it has a deeper meaning of “making a suitable background/environment for spiritual development (to attain Nibbana.)
3. As we all know, Buddha Gotama is no longer in this world. So, it is not a “devotional offering” for Buddha Gotama.
– Of course, a pujā in his name symbolizes our gratitude to the Buddha for teaching us how to stop suffering in the rebirth process.
4. There are two ways to “make an offering” or pujā. (i) Āmisa pujā and (ii) Paṭipatti pujā
– The first type, Āmisa pujā, is to offer food, clothes, etc., that can be used. Of course, that does not apply to a Buddha pujā.
– It is the second type of Paṭipatti pujā that applies in this case. The Buddha taught that the best way to honor him would be to follow his teachings and attain Nibbāna.
5. Thus, we must figure out how to conduct a proper Paṭipatti Buddha pujā.
– The customary way is to offer flowers, incense, and light. All three have deeper meanings and also set the background for formal meditation.
6. We offer beautiful flowers to the Buddha. But we know those flowers would lose beauty in a day or two. That symbolizes the “anicca nature.” We contemplate that our bodies are like those flowers (if we are still young.) Our parents/grandparents had young and vibrant bodies while they were young, but now some have decaying bodies with ailments, and others may be dead. That is the fundamental nature of this world.
– If you have seen incense sticks, they are pretty straight. They symbolize one’s character (gati.) If one is truthful and does not engage in any immoral behavior, one does not need to “bend to ask for forgiveness.” You may have seen people being arrested for crimes; they try to hide their faces with their heads bowed.
– Furthermore, the odor/smell of incense is not like that of perfume. People wear perfume to parties. The smell of incense is not suitable for a party atmosphere but has a calming effect.
– Light symbolizes wisdom, the opposite of darkness which symbolizes ignorance.
– Furthermore, oil lamps with wicks soaked in coconut oil are typically used. That has a deeper meaning too. Such a lamp will extinguish if the oil or the wick burns out. In the same way, our bodies will die when the kammic energy that sustains this human bhava runs out or the lifetime of this physical body comes to an end. Thus we must be mindful of the limited time we have to make progress on the path. Thus, it also symbolizes the anicca nature.
7. Of course, people normally recite verses while engaging in such offerings. Those verses have meanings too. See “Buddhist Chanting.”
8. If such an offering is made with the proper mindset, that makes one’s mind calm and peaceful. That is why it is done before a formal meditation session or listening to a discourse.
Please feel free to comment or ask questions. That will help me write a couple of posts in the future too.
– I will write about Bodhi pujā later on, either here or in a post. It is not about just blindly “worshipping a tree.” The Bodhi tree is a special tree that will stay alive through the end of this Buddha Sāsana, 2500 years from now.