The Power of Prayer
Prayer it is said is God’s only weakness and man’s only strength. For some reason, I never liked this saying. More because it attributes a weakness to ‘God’ – a term we use to define Absolute Power.
Sometimes, deep introspection reveals deep truths. So as I sat to ponder upon what this really meant, I couldn’t help but disagree. It is not so much as a ‘weakness’ for God. Perhaps it is a catalytic action to hasten what was due to you as an ‘answer’ to the prayer. Simply put, the very act of prayer is often misconstrued as ‘seeking for something’. As I have mentioned elsewhere, we are so used to pray ‘for’ something that we forget that prayer is not ‘asking’ for something. It is communication. It is an expression of love to your Beloved – the Almighty.
When I go home after a long day’s work and the kids at home look forward to talk to me, they don’t expect anything from me. They just want to talk to me. So is the case with God I suppose. He waits for us to talk to Him. That act is ‘prayer’. When communication becomes communion, when expression becomes ecstasy and when happiness becomes bliss - that is Prayer!
Often people think that by counting beads on a rosary, by chanting certain hymns, by singing certain devotional songs, the number of hours spent in prayer can be measured. However, would that really mean prayer? Is the number of hours spent at the altar a measure of prayer? Or is there a metric by which we could measure the intensity of Prayer?
Prayer to me is when one is lost in the thought of the Lord, without any expectation or without any desires in mind. Swami would often say Adugakuve O Manasa meaning – O Mind, don’t ask! If you ask, what is to be given to you will be delayed. Why did Swami say that? Because, if you ask, it becomes barter. ‘O Lord, please bless me to get highest marks in the exams. If you grant this, I will come and circumambulate 108 times around your temple.’ This is trade, not prayer.
However, we can only appreciate the beauty and power of prayer when we understand the significance of prayer and how it is effective. It is definitely a cure to many ills – mental, physical and spiritual. Prayer takes us to a mental realm which is sublime and ethereal. If your prayer is not doing this, its not prayer. It’s probably a laundry list of the things you want God to do for you.
I am reminded of an incident in 2005 when Swami had called my parents for an interview. My mother asked Swami, “Swami, can we pray for relief when we have certain bodily ailments?” Suprisingly Swami said “No”. He said, “The Lord knows what to do and when to do. Why should you pray for such and such a thing. There is no need. Instead, pray for strength to face whatever comes your way.”
That said, there are certainly occasions when we pray ‘for’ something or the other. Another factor in prayer is the factor of selflessness. If one has to pray ‘for’ something, it better be for the good of all.
Here, I would like to recount an incident where I experienced this first hand. It was 2002 and I was in my first year of MBA at Puttaparthi. Swami would often talk to me and lovingly enquire about the Hyderabad youth team and their activities. During a festival, when the team had come for seva and left, they did not get the opportunity to show Swami an album on the activities they were doing. This was because Swami was not going to the gents’ side for darshan during that phase. However, being a student, I had the rare privilege of being in front and Swami would come out and talk every now and then.
As the team was leaving after this festival, they handed over the album to me and told me to show it to Swami if possible. So here I was, with the album in my hands, waiting for Swami to arrive during Darshan. As Swami approached the students’ block, He looked at me, looked at the album and signaled to stay put. He coolly walked into the interview room. I was feeling really bad for the team. I knew they had put in a lot of effort and put together an album with the hope that Swami would see it. They did not get the opportunity to show it anyway. Now, Swami seemed to refuse to see it even when they were not around. I started to pray hard. In my mind, I was screaming to Swami to have a look at the album. It had some pictures of wonderful seva done by the team in a government run orphanage in Saroornagar, Hyderabad. There was another student sitting next to me who saw me and said, ‘Maybe you should pray’. I looked at him and said, “I can’t pray any harder. He will see if He wants to. I give up.”
The next moment, the interview room door swung open and Swami came out looking straight at me. As He approached the front portico, He signaled to me to come. I ran up to Him and showed Him the album. He saw each photo with a great deal of interest and to my delight, He was happy with the activities. I called up some of our team members that evening from the hostel and told them about Swami having seen the album. What they didn’t know though, was how Swami made me pray and taught me the great lesson that prayer should not be ‘for’ something. It should be prayer to reach a state where you surrender to the Divine Will. That is when the prayer automatically gets answered.
Another misconception about Prayer is generally that it should constitute praise or Stuti as it is said. Hence most prayers are generally in praise of God or are composed extolling God. To me, how would extolling or deriding someone make a difference to the One who is beyond the duality of both. Praise or blame do not make a difference to God. Love does.
I am reminded of an incident that happened when I was staying on in Puttaparthi after completing my MBA. I was waiting for Swami’s instructions. Many boys wait after their studies to do Swami’s bidding. Some wait for Swami to give them some role in His projects, others wait for His permission to leave. As was the case with me, there were certain other seniors waiting for a few years for His directions. One such senior was so frustrated having waited for more than a year that He wrote a letter to Swami. The letter was quite harsh. He called Swami heartless and cruel and proudly told us about it. What happened in the next few months was quite unbelievable. Swami showered love and attention on this boy and subsequently gave him an opportunity to serve in the Institute where he works to this day. The quality of Swami has always been that He sees the love behind the act. The act doesn’t matter. To Him, praise or blame made no difference. Love did.
So, does prayer work? If it does, what kind of prayer works? Well, that prayer which is motivated by Love for the Lord and not for material possessions is definitely energizing, cleansing and elevating. He may fulfill material desires if you pray for those, but He will do so only so that you may at least start praying. Because praying ‘for’ something may be the starting point…but the ‘for’ needs to be sublimated. Just pray. Period!