bhāvanāyāḥ kriyā upacārāḥ | ahaṁ tvaṁ asti nāsti kartavyaṁ akartavyaṁ upāsitavyaṁ iti vikalpānāṁ ātmani vilāpanaṁ homaḥ | bhāvanā viṣayāṇāṁ abhedānāṁ tarpaṇam ||

भावनायाः क्रिया उपचाराः। अहं त्वं अस्ति नास्ति कर्तव्यं अकर्तव्यं उपासितव्यं इति विकल्पानां आत्मनि विलापनं होमः। भावना विषयाणां अभेदानां तर्पणम्॥

(Bhāvanopaniṣad 21)

Contemplating Her alone is reverence. In other words, meditation is the best practice. I and you, existent and non-existent, that which ought to be done and which ought not to be done, that is to be worshiped are to be offered as oblations into the Self (Brahman within). Offering all dyads into the Self is the real fire oblation or homa ritual. Contemplating non-differentiation is libation (tarpaṇa). In other words, considering x higher than y, etc is to be discarded (discrimination is to be discarded). This alone is true tarpaṇa.

This verse talks about higher spiritual level, which takes the aspirant closer to Her. Reaching Her is the penultimate stage to liberation. This is based on the fact that Śiva alone can offer liberation. This verse says that She can be reached through mental contemplation. It subtly conveys spiritual transformation. Upacāra means approach, service, polite behaviour and reverence. Upāsana and upacāra are almost similar. Upāsana means intent concentration on Her. Concentration can be through rituals or through meditation; the former always leads to the later. Emancipation happens in deep stages of meditation such as nirvikalpasamādhi (the state of thoughtlessness due to dissolution of all dualities). Again upacāra can also be through ritual or through contemplation. Śri Cakra navāvaraṇa pūjā is a typical example of ritual worship. Mantramātṛkāpuṣpamālāstavaḥ is a typical example of mental worship.

There are several aspects in external worship and each type of worship has different purpose. Worshiping  different gods for different purposes, such as worshiping Gaṇapati for removing obstacles, worshiping goddess Sarasvatī or Hayagrīva for education, worshiping Goddess Lakṣmī  for material wealth, propitiating different planets to ward off their evil effects, etc. There is another aspect in external worship, worshiping Iṣṭa Devata for all purposes, without going into multiple forms of gods and goddesses. This is known as upāsana. Pursuing multiple upāsana-s leads us to nowhere, as there can be only one Iṣṭa Devata. Sometimes, Iṣṭa Devata and Upāsana Devata could be different. Depth of devotion alone is important in contemplation. It is only the love that connects the practitioner with Her. Śiva said to His Consort Pārvatī, “When a sādhaka places offerings before me, I accept them by sight only. But I eat them through the saintly devotees (saintly devotees are those who have discarded all dualities).”  But, we often get struck with multifarious rituals without making sufficient efforts to move forward towards emancipation. If emancipation can be attained only through meditation, one may ask as to what is the very purpose Śrī Vidyā. Śrī Vidyā does not refer only to ritualistic procedures. It also refers to visualization and contemplation. Another person may ask, what is the purpose of Sage Patañjali’s Yoga Sūtra-s or Bādarāyaṇa’s Brahma Sūtra or variousUpaniṣad-s. It is like asking what is purpose of high schools and universities. It is obvious that without passing out from high school, one cannot enter university. Similarly, perfection in ritualistic practices leads to contemplation, visualization and meditation and ultimate realisation and liberation.

Let us take the case of pañcapūjā, which is followed both in ritualistic worship and during mental japa. Pañcapūjā refers to five basic elements during external worship – earth (applying sandal paste), ākāśa (offering flowers), air (offering incense sticks), fire (dipārādhana) and water (food offerings or nivedya). The same method is followed while mentally performing mantra japa, which is as follows.

laṁ - pṛthivyātmikāyai gandhaṁ samarpayāmi|

haṁ - ākāśātmikāyai puṣpaiḥ pūjayāmi|

yaṁ - vāyvātmikāyai dhūpamāghrāpayāmi|

raṁ - agnyātmikāyai dhīpaṁ darśayāmi |

vaṁ - amṛtātmikāyai amṛtaṁ mahānaivedyaṁ nivedayāmi |

The five basic elements are taken into account in both the types of worship because the universe is created only with these five elements and their different modifications.

It is said that more care should be taken during internal worship than external worship. This is based on the fact that the period of connectivity between Her and the devotee is restricted only during the period of pūjā or homa. But this restriction is not present for the one who always stays connected with Her through his mind. In the beginning of his meditative practices, he tries to install Her in his mind and when he succeeds in his attempt, perpetual connectivity is established with Her and his individual ego loses ground over a period of time. As long as ego is present, realization is not possible as ego makes a person to identify himself as a separate entity, the concept of dualism. Though, one may find the process of contemplation difficult in the initial stages, with persistent practice and perseverance one can move forward to liberation with ease and comfort.

Again, homa (oblations offered in the fire) is of two types, external and internal. In external homa, the concerned deity is invoked in the fire pit and oblations are offered into the pit. The fire god Agni takes these oblations to the concerned deity or deities; Agni is the carrier of these oblations who are posited in higher realms. But the internal fire oblations are far more powerful than the external fire rituals. The fire of kuṇḍalinī (the subtlest and the most powerful form of Parāśakti) is the internal homa pit (homakuṇḍa). Instead of offering different material oblations as is the case with external fire rituals, thought processes of the mind, ego, sense organs, desires, attachments, hatred, and dualism are all offered as oblations into the fire of kuṇḍalinī. Lalitā Sahasranāma 98 samayācāra-tatparā explains in detail how mental worship of kuṇḍalinī is to be performed.

Finally, this verse speaks about tarpaṇa, which means offering water or libation (oblation and libation are almost the same. Former is a fire ritual where offerings are made into fire. In the case of the later, water is offered to appease gods and pitṛ-s). As far as Śrī Vidyā is concerned, tarpaṇa is made in the central point of Śri Cakra, known as Bindu (Lalitā Sahasranāma 974, bindu-tarpaṇa-santuṣṭā). Contemplating tarpaṇa in Bindu is mental worship. Secretion of nectar fluid during meditation is also known as internal homa. Please refer Lalitā Sahasranāma 105 and 106 - Sahasrārambujārūḍhā, Sudhāsārabhi-varṣiṇī.

To conclude, every part of external worship is related to internal worship. For example, let us take a dhyāna verse. It is not enough to simply recite dhyāna verse verbally. Dhyāna verse is meant for contemplation through mind. Literally dhyāna means mental representation of the personal attributes of a deity that are to be visualized. It is also said that outer worship should not be done without performing mental worship, for without inner worship, outer worship is fruitless. Shiva said to His Consort, “A single inner worship grants the fruits of millions of outer worship.” In Gaandharva Tantra it is said, “The man who offers mental offerings to Parāśakti attains happiness (Bliss) and longevity (liberation).”

The ultimate aim of everyone is attain liberation. If aim of someone is different from emancipation, he is not considered as a true devotee. For attaining liberation, there are set guidelines available. The whole process starts with external worship. After attaining external worship, one has to perform japa mantra. During this period both external worship and japa mantra are done one after another. When he attains perfection in japa mantras, he has to move on to meditate on Her. To begin with, one has to meditate on the mantra which will stop on its own when meditation becomes perfect. After attaining perfection, the aspirant installs Her in his or her mind and establishes perpetual connection with Her. When this connection is firmed up, the aspirant transforms himself or herself into Parāśakti and experiences Bliss which turns perpetual over a period of time. At the end of high intensity of Blissful state, he or she confidently says “I am That” or “ahaṁ brahmāsmi” (I am Brahman). Reaching this stage is the very purpose of Bhāvanopaniṣad. This can be achieved only through internal worship such as meditation, contemplation, visualization, etc.