by Chinmaya

Climbing a flight of 200 stairs, as Surya reached the Shiva Temple at the peak of Mt. Bhupati, he reverentially stepped inside the shrine, kneeled down and with folded hands started chanting various prayer hymns to Lord Shiva. While chanting though, his mind felt ruffled; thoughts of his ailing mother at home and his ensuing Law exam kept him worried. Finishing the hymns, he started conversing with Lord Shiva, quite spontaneously and naturally, as if talking to an intimate acquaintance. He spoke about his mother’s illness and his exam, asking for Lord’s help. Very soon a deep sense of peace and assurance filled him… and he wondered – were those conversations indeed his prayers?

What is a prayer? Our inner concerns, feelings, desires when directed towards God usually gets called as prayers. Often this act of prayer is accompanied by gifts of flowers, fruits, wealth etc.

What makes us pray? Firstly, a firm conviction in God’s capacity to resolve our problems or satiate our desires plus a belief that God would “listen”.  Often this trust comes from “love” but could also be due to fear or influenced by social norms.

Generally speaking, prayers can be directed to anyone we consider capable of fulfilling our wants. As such, one ends up praying to spouse, boss, the town hall and so forth. It can take shape of demand also, as in case of a child’s prayer to his parents. But as one evolves, God is seen as most powerful and those requests get directed to God – as a superior authority, who transcends earthly limits. There can still be a sense of awe and associated fear of God. But as feelings evolve, fear gets replaced by love. That Almighty God is also my dear one, who cares for my welfare. The more we turn to God to fulfill desires, the more we remember Him, and our thoughts gets purer. Our desires evolve. Initially we may pray for money, job, good health… those desires evolve into want of peace, holy company, and eventually want of God alone!

Efficacy of prayer lies in the firm faith on its positive result. Even while praying to the unseen, unknown God, isn’t it amazing, that we still maintain that belief?

Prayers are an integral part of scriptures, although in Vedanta tradition it’s mostly found in dualist texts where God & I are separate. But is there no place of prayers beyond dualism? Let’s see what happens when we pray. It’s mainly a mental act. With prayer the mind becomes more and more focused on the object of desire, as prayer continues with sincerity, so does this mental focus and tuning. The mind attunes to everything that makes our fulfilled desire look ‘real’. As the mind thus changes, so does our awareness and so does our perception… eventually that very object of desire becomes a reality! Our prayers thus get answered by none else but our very act of praying. Such is the power of prayer. Then instead of using it for transitory desires, why not use it for That which brings permanent joy?