As children, we pray to our parents, elders and guardians at the time of our need: we seek their help, their guidance. When we grow into adolescence, we learn to pray to ourselves to our latent abilities and strength: we try to be self-supported without being dependent on others' aid. But there is a limitation to this prayer. When we feel that we are in need of something else which is beyond our capacity, which is not always humanly possible, we resign ourselves to God, and pray for His help, for His guidance. Evidently, we feel His response: an all potent Inner Force that listens to our prayers and fulfils our wish the moment we are a little sincere and faithful.
As for the devotee he resigns himself to God, surrendering his ego at His feet; he forgets all about the world and thinks of nothing else but God alone who would surely save him, and who alone is able to help and guide him. He communes his will with God's and acts as per His guidance. There is no sense of individuality or doership in him: he knows God's Will is his will, and must act up to it. Does that mean that he is shorn of Purushartha? Certainly not. For, he negates himself and resigns to the Lord; to him flows the divine grace instantly; his nature is divinised; and so, he naturally exerts himself in the right direction. Indeed, the very act of self-surrender is the Purushartha of the highest order.
Whereas, for a Vedantin, his prayer is essentially the prayer to the Self within to Himself to the cosmic consciousness that is immanent in all. At his initial stage, he considers his prayer as a sort of desire either earthly or spiritual, either with motive or without motive. Then, when he sufficiently advances in his Sadhana, he considers his (so-called) desire as his will which finally opens his intuitive spiritual sight and becomes one with the Cosmic Will. H.P. Blavatsky views prayer as such.
According to Ghazali, the Muslim mystic, prayer has three stages: verbal, mental and when merging with the Lord's Will. At the first stage, the devotee sings the glory of God, chants His praise and pours out his anguish of heart in melodious hymns. Secondly when the mind becomes calm, when the outgoing senses have been restrained by sustained practices, when the mind cannot be easily affected by the evil influences, prayer becomes mental: there no physical effort is needed. At the third stage, when the mind gets concentrated in the Divine when it loses its outward attractions and becomes serene, devoid of desires or cravings, the prayer becomes automatic, natural and habitual: it reaches its highest stage. The Lord's Will becomes his own will. For, God who is invoked by his prayer, merges in his mind in his will; there is no self-consciousness for him, he abides in the Lord, his mind being entirely saturated with Him: he perceives nothing external, nor anything internal; he even forgets that he is praying to the Lord, that he is absorbed in the Lord's Willa vague sense of duality. But he has only one -experience his oneness with the Lord.
Prayer is full of emotions: deep, serene emotions, marrowed with sincerity. But when it is more of an emotional, natural than of an actual sincerity, it becomes rather jejunical, and therefore, ineffective. It is here we do not receive direct response from God. Prayer has its consequences the nature of its response mainly depending upon the inner nature of the person who prays, his temperament and his object in view, his requirements, and his faith and sincerity the sine qua non of prayer.
Sometimes our main object of prayer becomes selfish, grossly earthly, unreasonable and irrational. We crave for our selfish ends, for the fulfilment of our material desires. At times, we even venture to pray to meet our evil wish. It is here we experience its negative consequence. Essentially, prayer should be selfless as far as possible. We should first pray for the good of others, for welfare and peace of the world and for our own spiritual evolution; we should pray for the eradication of our evil qualities, for wisdom and knowledge, for goodness and saintliness.
Asato Ma Sat Gamaya
Tamaso Ma Jyotirgamaya
Mrityor Ma Amritam Gamaya
Lead me on from unreal to Real, from darkness to Light, from mortality to Immortality.
This is the best prayer; the prayer for the Light, for the Truth, for Immortality. The foremost prayer of an aspirant should be for the removal of his ignorance. His goal is to realise the Truth and to free himself from the meshes of those that are unreal. His goal is to realise his essential divine nature.
At times even sincere prayer is not responded to. This however, should never be allowed to mar our faith or sincerity or to discourage and depress us; but should be considered as a necessity, to test our sincerity, our serenity and faith in God. At times this irresponse is often repeated. The devotee gets bewildered; he begins to lose his faith in God; and sometimes he is diverted from the Path. Indeed, it is here that we have to show our patience, our steadfastness and faith in His grace. Often God tests us with severest trials. But does it mean that He is unkindHe does not wish to pay heed to our prayers? Obviously not. It is only a test, which the aspirant must pass through. His faith may not be strong enough; his dross of mind might not have been cleaned yet; his heart might not have become pure yet. How can he strengthen his faith? How can he cleanse the dross of his mind and purify his heart? It is only through tests, trials and tribulations. Just as gold is purified by passing it through the crucible several times, so also the heart must become pure, the faith must become unflinching, by passing through the crucible of trials again and again. But at the ultimate end, all prayers are fulfilled and gratified with the highest fulfilment. Therefore when we pray to God or wish to receive grace from Him, we must be prepared to accept joyfully his irresponse and even trials and tribulations.
Prayer cleanses the dross and steadies the mind. It washes off the impurities of the heart with the pure waters of spiritual emotions, corrects the defects and shortcomings and prepares the mind for the reception of Self-knowledge. In times of danger and calamity, mass prayer works wonders. Prayer for the departed souls bestows peace on them.
Prayer is as real as the force of gravity. It can reach a realm where reason is too feeble to enter. It can work miracles. Its magnanimous efficacy is indescribable. Its potency can be hardly comprehended without actual experience.