Last night, one of my Dharma friends asked me if it's better to come to puja or to do good works within the community. Of course, we should try to both. But sometimes there is an unavoidable conflict and each of us has to decide for ourselves what we think is the best thing to do.
However, I strongly encourage all my friends in the Dharma to set aside the Four Great Times (or Days) for prayer, meditation, puja, and sadhana, whether at home or at our local temple/center. What are these four? Cho-trul Du-chen when Lord Buddha defeated the Tirthikas with displays of miracles, Saga Dawa, the celebration fo Lord Buddha's Enlightenment and Parinirvana , Cho-khor Du-chen when Lord Buddha turned the Wheel of Dharma for the first time, and Lha-bab Du-chen when Lord Buddha returned to this world from the Heaven of the 33 Gods where He taught His departed Mother, Mayadevi, for three months.
Why are these four great times or days so important for Dharma practice? Because all karma, whether virtuous or non-virtuous, is multiplied 10 million times on these days. 10 MILLION TIMES! That's totally amazing, totally wonderful, totally miraculous. What a powerful opportunity to make huge amounts of merit for the sake of all sentient beings (including ourselves). Then, if we use the skillful means of the Vajrayana (mantra, mudra, meditation, aspiration prayers, etc.) and the multiplication effect of practicing in a group, we can mulitply this virtue even many millions of times more. With such fantastic results from a single day's practice, it's hard to understand why any Buddhist would choose to do anything else on these days.
So I urge all my friends in the Dharma to set aside these four great days NOW for next year so we are not suddenly caught by a conflict in our schedules. During the Fire Bird year of 2017/18,
Cho-trul Du-chen occurs on Sunday, Mar. 12.
Saga Dawa occurs on Friday, Jun. 9.
Cho-khor Du-chen occurs on Thursday, Jul. 27, and
Lha-bab Du-chen falls on Friday, Nov. 10 (according to the Rigpa Tibetan Calendar 2016-2017).
Good luck & best wishes.