God - Power of Prayer
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
The first rule in prayer is to approach God only with legitimate desires. The second is to pray for their fulfillment, not as a beggar, but as a son: “I am thy child. Thou art my Father.
Praise be to Allah,
Lord of the Universe,
the Beneficent, the Merciful,
Master of the Day of Judgement.
You alone we worship,
and to You alone we turn for
When My servants ask you about me,
tell them that I am near.
I answer the prayer
of every supplicant who calls to Me;
therefore let them respond to Me,
The rosary is an accessory of prayer used in many religous traditions. The beads—made of stone or wood like sandalwood— will add their own healing effect
Central to Christian faithIn times of trouble and illness, the family prayer is a touchstone of faith, a proof that we were in this together and that God is not too far away. The family
PrayerOur Father, Who art in Heaven,
Hallowed be thy name:
Thy kingdom come;
Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily
Our prayers should be burning words coming forth from the furnace of a
heart filled with love.
Enrich your prayer life
Be honest with yourself and God.
Make every thought a prayer—your thoughts create your reality.
Make your life your prayer. In
Unto Heaven be peace, unto the sky be peace,
Unto Earth, water, herbs, plants and trees be peace.
Unto the Gods be peace, unto the Creator be peace,
Prayer is preliminary to meditation through which alone there can be
direct knowledge of the Divine.
Real communion with the divine
comes through the silent mind.
Bharati Nirmal is today an entrepreneur-engineer based in Mumbai. But just one month before her third-year engineering exams, her mother was diagnosed with cancer. Much of her time was spent in accompanying her for radiation and other treatment, and she was left with only 10 days to study by the time the treatment was completed. She recalls: “My mother remarked that because of her I would miss a year. I assured her that it would not be so and prayed to God fervently to allow me to pass so that my mother would not feel guilty on my account. I studied hard for the time left and went for the exam. That year I got a first class with distinction! I’d managed to excel against all odds.”
Bharati relates another incident that further strengthened her faith in God and the efficacy of prayer. “I was carrying my daughter Kalyani and had been detected as having a low placenta and my gynaecologist told me that the possibility of a miscarriage was 90 per cent. She advised total bed rest, but at that time we were moving house and had to travel constantly on bad roads on a motor-bike. I reasoned to myself that God had sent me the child in answer to my prayer and that he had also sent the experience of moving house. Therefore, I decided to trust him completely and never to worry or doubt that all would go well.
“At the time of labour, we waited for 18 hours when I heard a voice from within telling me to go for a caesarean section immediately. The doctor advised me to wait but I told him that I had the sense that the baby was being reined back and that we must operate now. On operating the doctor found that the umbilical cord length was only one-third the normal length, which meant that the baby could never have made it out on her own, and which explained my feeling that she was reined back. What’s more, the doctor had tugged the cord so hard, not knowing that it was short, that it ruptured. Miraculously, it ruptured at a safe distance, otherwise the baby would have bled to death from the navel. Despite all the hazards, Kalyani came out absolutely clean, in no need of a wash and smiling!”
From that time, Bharati says, she never intervenes in any of the circumstances of her life for she trusts implicitly that she will be taken care of.
Prayer has evidently remained relevant today with all its power intact despite the rise in disbelief in God in the age of science.
Prayer is one of the most ancient as well as the simplest expressions of religion. It is also universal, we cannot think of a culture or society where prayer doesn’t find place. Psalms in the Bible form the noblest collection of prayers of both Judaism and Christianity. The Quran contains many touching prayers to the Almighty.
The Vedic Aryans, pastoral people as they were, profusely prayed to various gods for material gain, such as the wealth of cattle, good harvest, victory in war, health, progeny, success in some venture and so on. But they also sought wealth of character, wealth of happiness and joy, as well as spiritual wealth. In modern Hinduism we have poetic prayers of praise in the form of stotras, and aartis to adore the Lord. In Sikhism, prayer or ardaas is one of the three basics of Sikh religious thought, along with faith and grace.
Why should one pray?
Distress, despair and ill-health can strike and paralyse anybody. More, if friends, family, counsellors and doctors are unable to help, who do you turn to? This is the opening to prayer providence provides you. Swami Sivananda, founder of the Divine Life Society, Rishikesh, reassures you: “There are no problems that cannot be solved by prayer, no suffering that cannot be allayed by prayer, no difficulties that cannot be surmounted by prayer, and no evil that cannot be overcome by prayer.” Therefore, he advises: kneel down and pray.
Prayer is depending on God for help in distress. It gives an opportunity to God to comfort the devotee. Prayer lightens the heaviness of your heart by opening it to God. Prayer is expecting God to decide what is best for you when you are in a dilemma.
What is prayer?
Prayer has been verily described. ‘Communion with God through single-minded devotion’. ‘The words of sages, prophets and seers are prayers’. ‘Prayer is an act of Thanksgiving, a feeling of surrender—that there is a power beyond me’. ‘It is a reconfirmation of your faith in a divine power’. ‘Spiritual connection with something higher’.
Prayer is different from meditation, which progressively quietens the mind. It is not puja, or worship, though the two can go together. Neither is it japa, reciting the names of Lord, but the two can be combined.
Muslims pray to Allah, the transcendent God. Christians pray to Jesus, or to Mother Mary. Hindus worship their ishta devta (personal God). Vedantins, Brahman, the impersonal, absolute reality. New Agers can pray to their Higher Self. Those who favour inter-faith service or worship can pray to a divine power or law that governs the universe. Even though Buddhism is not a theistic religion, Buddhists pray a lot. Twirling the prayer wheels is a common sight in Buddhist temples.
Does it work?
Almost all the religious and spiritual leaders we interviewed unanimously said that prayer works, and it works wondrously.
Says Father Francisco Diniz, Superior, Father Agnel Ashram in Mumbai: “From a tender age, I renounced the worldly life and decided to have a life of celibacy. It was a difficult decision and not possible without prayer. If you wish to do what is correct, it is impossible unless you are confident through prayer. Also, there are many people who have told me their experiences where prayer worked in case of illness, and so on. Whether it worked psychologically or they were miracles in the true sense, it did help.”
But Father Diniz warns that if prayer is taken as a mere formality or as a ritual, instead of being a force or power, it becomes a drudgery, even oppressive—you do it only because others are doing it.”
Swami Ishwarananda, Acharya of Sandeepany Ashram of Chinmaya Mission, Mumbai, confirms that he has prayed for people who were sick or suffering due to some some difficulty and they were able to overcome their problem. “It did not remove their problem, rather it made them more confident of their capacity to resolve the difficulty,” he clarifies.
Dasturji Dr Firoze M. Kotwal, Zoroastrian High Priest of Mumbai, adds that for prayer to work, the person must lead a righteous life.
Will prayer done with evil intentions work? No, seems to be the answer. “It will be ridiculous to pray for something like that. Besides, you cannot even call it prayer then—jaadu tona, or black magic, maybe,” says social activist and reformer Asghar Ali Engineer. “And if the prayer is for a negative purpose, you will not get inner peace.”
However, opinion is divided on whether it is okay for a team or its supporters to pray for victory in sporting events. No harm, Father Diniz says. “But remember that you can request, not demand. God is not your servant, or someone with whom you have a contract.”
How may our prayers be answered?
Allah declares himself in the Quran that He is sami ad-dua, or ‘One who hears all prayer’. And why not? He is so close to us that He uses the image of running in our bloodstream, closer to us than our own jugular vein. He urges us over and over again to pray to Him, to place our trust in Him, to turn over the motivation of our lives to Him, that we may prosper both in this world and the life to come.
Every prayer is answered, is the bold declaration of Dada Vaswani. The trouble with us, he clarifies in The Little Book of Prayer, is we fail to recognise the answer, which can come in four ways:
The first is ‘yes’. We ask for something, we pray to God, and He says: “Yes, my child here it is: I give you what you asked for.”
The second is ‘no’. For a good reason, God tells us: “No, my child, I will not grant your prayer.”
The third is ‘wait’. It is as if God tells us that the time is not ripe for us to receive what we want.
The fourth is: “Here is something better?” We have asked for one thing, but he grants us something else.
It is the last three answers that test our faith. Vaswani illustrates the ‘no’ answer from his own life. When he was in the 8th standard, one of his classmates decided to join the Merchant navy ship S.S. Duffrin. He was fascinated by the idea, for the sea had always been dear to him. He prayed and prayed and prayed and even fasted for a few days to join Duffrin. “But my prayers were not answered. Today I am truly grateful that God did not hear my prayers,” he says.
Our prayers must be backed by faith. When you finish your prayers, you must actually believe that what you have asked for in your prayer, has already been granted to you. So, you may as well thank God for it.
How does prayer work?
Christians believe that the kingdom of God is within us. They believe that Jesus Christ is the head of humanity and just as sap flows to all branches of a tree, his divine power goes in every human being. But, the power would be obstructed by difficulties. These difficulties are evil intentions, pride, lust, hate, and so on. These difficulties can be controlled and sublimated by an act of grace, sought through prayer.
Jaya Row, renowned speaker on Vedanta and the Bhagavad Gita, says that prayer will bring results if coming from gratitude. Never pit your will against God’s, better become a conduit to God’s will. “Whatever be the result of our sincere efforts, you accept it as God’s will,” she concludes.
Asghar Ali Engineer explains the prayer phenomenon in psychological terms: “Prayer operates on two levels: it gives inner peace and confidence to the person that the problem will be solved.”
Quoting that old chestnut “God helps those, who help themselves”, Swami Ishwarananda cautions people: “If you don’t make a sincere attempt, if you don’t use your full potential, prayer will not work.”
The most well-known advocate of the application of prayer in medicine is Dr Larry Dossey, MD. And mind you, he is not on the fringe, he is Co-Chairman of the Panel of Mind/Body Interventions, Office of Alternative Medicine, for the National Institutes of Health, the apex body in the US.
Healing Words, The Power of Prayer and the Practice of Medicine is just one of his books on his abiding concern. Perhaps the earliest study he cites came out of San Francisco General Hospital. “It showed that prayer made a major difference for heart attack patients at a coronary care unit. It was what is called a randomised, prospective double-blind study in which a prayed-for group did terrifically better on several accounts than an unprayed-for group.” Curious, he began to poke around. Says he: “There are easily 130 studies that show that if you take prayer into the laboratory under controlled situations, it does something remarkable, not just to human beings but to bacteria, fungi, germinating seeds, rats, mice and baby gerbils.”
Speculating on how intercessory prayer (praying for someone else) may work, Dr Dossey refers to the recent scientific theories on the nature of consciousness. They go beyond the old view that the effects of the mind are confined to one’s individual brain and body. So prayer might act at a distance to bring about actual changes in the world. It is a non-local event, to borrow the term from quantum physics.
Studies on intercessory prayer found no correlation between the religious affiliation of the praying individual and the effects of the prayer. This affirms the view that prayer is universal, it belongs to the entire human race.
Dr Dossey even cites studies which indicate that prayer can range back and forth into the past and the future. This implies that there’s something about who we are that’s non-local in space and time, which means that something about us must be omnipresent, infinite, immortal, and eternal. Dr Dossey says excitedly: “The benefit of this recognition dwarfs whether your particular physical problem gets better or not. I hope it does, but if that doesn’t happen, you just may have to settle for immortality!”
Types of prayer
In the Little Book of Prayer, Dada Vaswani lists many types of prayer. It can be vocal or mental.
Petitionary prayer: This is asking for things that we need. This is for the beginner and the most common for obvious reasons. But you should know what you really need and can ask for legitimately.
General prayer: It is an act of approach to God as a loving and understanding father from us who are full of faults, frailties, weaknesses and imperfections. You can pray anywhere, anytime. It could be a set prayer taken from a scripture—anything that appeals to you.
We should pray as often as we can. Kabir said aptly: “Everyone remembers God in times of difficulty, never when things are going well. But if you remember Him during happy times, why would suffering arise.”
Prayer of denial: This prayer helps you to say ‘No’ to conditions that are unsatisfactory, to refuse to accept certain things that come to you—negative emotions like fear, jealousy, hatred and resentment. Suppose you are beset with jealousy, you can pray to God: “Father, I refuse to accept this tendency of jealousy in me. Please take it away from me.”
Significantly, prayer of denial is at the core of the 12-point programme of Alcoholics Anonymous. AA members admit that they have a problem which they have been unable to solve themselves, so they surrender to God, to help them get rid of it.
Prayer of affirmation: This should follow the prayer of denial. To every denial, you must add an affirmation. After noting what you do not want, you must think of what you want. For example, hysterical mothers worried about the safety of their children can phrase their prayer like this: “My Lord, God. My children are under your divine protection. I have no fear of them. I have cast out all fear, for I have surrendered my children into your safe hands. Please accept my thanks for protecting my children.”
Prayer of silence and meditation: In this prayer, we enter into the silence that is within us. We take a few words of prayer (say ‘Om mani padme hum’, meaning ‘the blessed jewel in the lotus’), and enter into the deep silence of our soul. We keep on repeating the words and delve deeper and deeper into their meaning until they take hold of our consciousness and quieten our body and mind. We will feel rejuvenated, revitalised, rendered anew. Prophets and sages of old practised it, so do modern spiritual masters by periodically going into a retreat.
The prayer of praise: Think of God as often as you can, contemplate on his infinite love and mercy and praise him for his eternal glory. Prayers of praise fill scriptures of all religions. Here are some lines from Guru Nanak, the founder of Sikh religion: The sky is your salver, the sun and moon your lamps,
The stars of the firmament your pearls,
All the earth’s sandalwood is your incense,
The winds your whisks,
The flowers of all creation are heaped before you,
What shall I worship you with?
Says Dada Vaswani: “Whatever happens to us, it can be turned into a blessing if we thank and praise God for it. The prayer of praise is thus also the prayer of acceptance, the prayer of thanksgiving and of humility.”
‘Count your blessings’ has become a cliché, but it is a spiritual principle with far-reaching consequences.
The prayer of intercession: From petitionary prayers, it is the highest. Here we are asking God to intercede, step in to help someone we love, someone we know, someone in need of our prayer and His mercy. Since we are all his children, we can pray for the benefit of all human beings. Or, why stop there, why not pray for all beings, sentient and non-sentient. Vedas invoke God’s blessings on the whole world, the whole creation: Sarve jana sukhina bhavantu.
The prayer of intercession inherently means that we have moved away from our own narrow, selfish concerns. It comes out of, and in turn generates, compassion.
How to pray
For Doubting Thomases looking for proof of God, the Isha Upanishad says:
As oil in sesame seeds, as butter in cream,
as water buried in dry riverbeds, as fire in friction sticks,
so is God hidden in my soul,
If I search with honesty and true effort.
Saints and sages actually have the realisation that there really is a God, Almighty and Supreme Being, that the power and ‘heart’ of this Being created and maintains all that exists, encompasses the entire vastness of all the universes, and yet at the same time is aware not only of each person as an individual, but of each ant, and of each microbe that may live within the body of that ant. So God is what we should pray to.
Prayer does not demand high intelligence or eloquence. God wants your heart when you pray. Even a few words from a humble, pure soul, though illiterate, will get you the Lord’s ear.
If you want to pray better, pray more, says Mother Teresa. To make your prayer forceful, she further advises: “Our prayers should be burning words coming forth from the furnace of a heart filled with love.”
A prayer is indeed more effective when it is intended for the welfare of others, or when our intention is to gain spiritual knowledge through sincere efforts.
The Sikh prayer called ardaas, devised by Guru Gobind Singh, has a set routine. The first part invokes God and the blessings of the first nine Gurus. The second part recounts the events in the life of the Tenth Guru, the subsequent Sikh history, the struggles and sacrifices for the reform of temples and the maintenance of Sikh tradition. The third part pertains to the individual’s own thoughts and any special purpose or the occasion for it. In the end, the Sikh prays for a humble mind and sound intellect, the victory of the Khalsa Panth, and betterment of all humanity, sarbat da bhala. The Sikh ardaas too demands a complete surrender to the divine will. This submission eliminates the ego, the wall which stands between man and his Creator.
For many people in our times, the roadblock to prayer is usually their strained relationship with the religion of their birth. They are prone to throwing the baby with the bathwater. Says Joan Borysenko, a Jew who has studied the world’s religious and spiritual traditions: “What people often do is discount their own religion—they may still be angry with it... yet the prayers, the music and ritual are deeply embedded at the cellular level.
“So many people feel they have been personally wounded by religion, or they see the wounds that religion has dealt to other groups—everything from the Inquisition to patriarchy to the kind of opinion that says ‘my way is the only way’. Many people, particularly Baby Boomers who are interested in spirituality, have to heal their religious wounds and forgive the churches and synagogues of their childhood before they can be spiritually open.
“In this regard, prayer, along with music, candles, incense and other rituals, can be bridges to healing these wounds. Music is prayers that are sung. You hear a song, and your heart flies open. There is a place no deeper. Your cells can really drink deeply.”
The devout often pray with the assistance of rosary or prayer beads. Christians, Hindus and Buddhists use it. Even Muslims carry what is called a sibhah. Traditionally, prayer beads are used to keep track of how many times one has recited the prayer, say, in Islam, Subhan Allah, Alhamdulliah and Allahu Akbar. The material of the beads, wood or stone, will add its own effect, depending on its characteristics. Tiger-eye is traditionally used to enhance understanding and strengthen belief. Turquoise keeps the feeling of unconditional love in one’s heart and helps one feel more connected with God. It also helps draw out negative feelings such as envy or anger from a person. The healing power of wooden prayer beads is often in their scent, which is released and revived with usage. Sandalwood, popular in India, is an antidepressant, antiseptic, and sedative wood. It can assist in the healing of cells.
Paramahansa Yogananda, author of the legendary Autobiography of a Yogi, lets out an esoteric secret in his book, Man’s Eternal Quest: “Right prayer, when it is persistent, is will.” And “Will power is what makes us divine.” Put together, it means, God works through our will. So, Yogananda’s advice is to surcharge your will power through concentration and apply it towards fulfilling your true necessities, and realising your goals. You may make a start by willing small things first. And, of course, you have to make practical effort to move towards the goal you set. “Then you will see that whatever you require for success starts coming to you. Everything will push you in the right direction. In your divinely surcharged will power is the answer to prayer.”
But ultimately, Yogananda says in his wisdom, your greatest necessity is God. Any other need or desire when it is fulfilled leads to the germination of another need and desire, in an endless cycle. But once you are one with God he will satisfy your every desire. Your wildest dream will come true, he writes. It is like capturing the fort, because then all territory under its rule becomes yours. Why settle for anything less, fighting battles for small pieces of land?
There is more to spiritual life, of course, than prayer, agrees US-based Vedic scholar David Frawley: “All forms of prayer have their limitations. Praying to God for some personal reward is tainted with egoism. It is not wrong but it does not reflect a mature soul. Praying to the divine for universal well-being, however useful, is also no substitute for meditation. Praying to the divine to know him is also limited by the concept of duality, that God is apart from ourselves.
“Prayer is preliminary to meditation through which alone there can be direct knowledge of the divine. Real communion with the divine comes through the silent mind, the mind that is not seeking anything for itself but is open to the bliss of Pure Existence. The receptive mind is the highest state of prayer, in which no thought occurs.”
Amen to that.
With inputs from Roozbeh Gazdar in Mumbai
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