Faith Healing - Prayer works - And how!
by VN Narayanan
Bhajana bina sukh shanti nahi
Hari nama bina anand nahi
(Without worship there is neither comfort nor peace; there's no bliss greater than the chanting of Hari's name)
That enchanting song frequently heard in Prasanthi Nilayam—abode of peace—Sathya Sai Baba's base in Puttaparthy in Andhra Pradesh, India, conveys a message of far greater import than what poet Tennyson conveyed when he said that "more things are wrought by prayer than this world dreams of".
Acts of worship, whatever the faith and whatever the method, through collective singing and chanting perform a profound social function. They act as bridge-points between a religion and the community, drawing in both young and old and believer and non-believer in a manner rarely achieved during normal times of the year. The involvement of all people in the Indian celebrations of Deepavali, Durga puja in West Bengal and Ganesh Chaturthi in Maharashtra is ample proof that such events and occasions are defining moments in proclaiming faith in a cynical world.
Faith may or may not move mountains but it certainly has a detectable influence on other movable entities-us in particular. Doctors and scientists admit that prayer at home and regular visits to a place of worship enhance the prospects of psychological well being as well as longevity. The miracle of a godly person like Sai Baba lies not in what he does as in what we do to ourselves vis-à-vis him.
The effects of prayer are not only cathartic to the mind but also to the body. There have been several studies in different parts of the world establishing a clear link between having a strong faith and living a long and healthy life. According to one such study in the USA, those who went to church at least once a week were not only happier but also had 40 per cent lower blood pressure than those who did not. Another study points out that regular visits to places of worship and praying would increase one's life span by seven to 14 years more than those who do not.
These studies appear to be over optimistic and the credibility of such studies is not very high. They are as much valid as medical surveys about smoking as a cancer producer and life reducer. They are acceptable as general truths rather than as statistically provable facts. And, precisely for that reason, one need not be a believer in God or the tenets of a specific religion to enjoy the benefits of sincere prayer and worship. The regular temple-goer or the participant in group singing has a psychological basis for better living and thinking.
There are three major factors and variables that seem to be acting together to produce the desired effect. First, if people think that God protects them, they are likely to lead less stressful lives. Second, regular temple goers and prayer-chanters reduce the hours spent in bed and do not run such high risks of contracting sexually transmitted diseases and, quite possibly, they are not heavy drinkers or smokers. Third, regular church and temple goers acquire a supportive network of people to help them out in case of sudden problems.
Those psychological aspects apart, what all medical scientists now accept as a truism is the fact that those who pray, evoke positive mental images that augment the immune system. Of course, such imagery is possible with secular dreaming too, as for instance, dreaming about a cricket victory or holiday in the hills.
It would be trifling with the concept to conclude that prayer is important for its therapeutic value. It is not so much a healing agent as the single most important tool to mould and re-construct the personality of every human being. Nothing gives the human mind so much strength and confidence as prayer based on faith. It is this strength and confidence that cures incurable diseases, not the object of one's prayers.
Pulitzer prize-winning American journalist Norman Cousins displayed such disciplined confidence in his ability to defy the deadliness of a disease by a programme of abstention and a conscious campaign to live in harmony with himself. Given by doctors just six months of life, he lived for 20 years to tell the tale and analyze the modern Americans' pathetic reliance on drugs as cures. The real basis of cure is faith, in oneself, in divine power and in fellow humans like one's doctor.
Cousins narrate an incident about his interview with Nobel Laureate Albert Schweitzer. While they were talking, two African tribals came to him. The doctor was told that one of them had a disease that refused to go away. Schweitzer examined him and then asked him to go immediately to the local witch doctor. Norman Cousins was surprised that a staunch believer and practitioner of modern science should abet in the promotion of witch doctory. The learned doctor answered that the man's disease in question was not curable with modern medicines but might be cured by native treatment. The basis of cure of any disease, he said, "is faith. Your faith in my science and their faith in the witch doctor".
The herd instinct is also the human instinct. We have all seen in recent times that people who as individuals are perfectly rational, decent and compassionate, turn into brutes and savages when they imbibe the group instinct or the collective identity. Much of the carnage and hatred we have witnessed in recent times is a manifestation of this. There is an obverse side to this. In a gathering of peace-loving people, the violent person turns a peaceable individual. The effect of group singing and chanting has always been to wean humans away from destructive thoughts.
There is no greater secular binding force than music. Noted Indian classical singer Pandit Jasraj once sang his bhajans (devotional songs) in Karachi swaying the Muslim audiences who, with tears in their eyes, told him: "Panditji, aapne bhajan gaake hamein Allah ko dikhaya" (You revealed Allah to us by your bhajan singing.) Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and Abida Parveen, renowned Pakistani singers, have had the same effect on Hindu audiences in India.
Yes, prayer is good for you, whoever or whatever the object of one's prayer. Saint Tyagaraja reminds us that "the nectar of raga (music) affords us the ripe fruits of yaga (penance), yoga (exercise) and bhoga (pleasure). How sad it is that we are looking everywhere else for true secularism!
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