Prayer is the wing wherewith the soul flies to heaven, and meditation the eye wherewith we see God.
Each soul is divine, perfect. Until this perfection is reached desires will remain. Every desire is a prayer articulated or not. Men are at various stages of this journey to perfection,
man's prayer also depends upon the state of his consciousness.
Regarding the efficacy of prayer, Swami Vivekananda says:
'By prayer one's subtle powers are easily roused, and if consciously done, all desires may be fulfilled by it'.
Prayers are of two types: Secular and spiritual.
The Gita classifies men into four types: those who are in distress; seekers of ‘more’ be it wealth, power, progeny, long life etc.; enquirers after truth; and those who are perfect. The prayers
of these four classes also differ accordingly. The first two types of men fall into the worldly type. The third one has had enough of the world and now seeks to know the goal of life and the way
to attain it.
According to Christianity prayer is divided into five types:
Petition is asking, begging God for something. In this type of prayer man prays for relief from distress for oneself or one's family, or a beloved person. This is considered as the lowest form
Intercession is a petitionary prayer on behalf of another person. Here one is asking God to help somebody. We find Sri Ramakrishna vowing for the health of Keshab Sen. “I made a vow to worship the Mother with green coconut and sugar on Keshab’srecovery."
Penitence is seeking forgiveness of all evil acts one has done in the past and is now repenting. In this prayer one also asks for strength so that one does not repeat such deeds in future.
Here a devotee reaches a state where he feels immensely grateful for all that he receives from God, even pain and suffering.
Gratitude is a rare commodity. We take many things for granted as our birth-right. Only in an advanced stage do we realize that everything we get is a gift from God, and become grateful for
everything we get. When suffering comes we tend to blame God or someone else. We do not realize that Divine Providence uses pain for our own
good by teaching us valuable lessons in life. God wants us to suffer, so that we may attain illumination sooner.
Adoration is a prayer that springs from our heart when we understand our relationship with God. When man realizes that God is the ground of every thing and every object, and that this world is a glory of God, he bursts into spontaneous praise.
From the spiritual point of view the highest expression of prayer is total self-surrender. Here the devotee surrenders his all and maintains the attitude of ‘Thy will be done '.
‘Lord, inspire us to read your Scriptures and meditate upon them day and night. We beg you to give us real understanding of what we need, that we in turn may put its precepts into practice. We ask that the words of Scriptures may also be not just signs on a page, but channels of grace into our hearts’.
Prayers for spiritual progress
One of the most ancient, sacred and most potent prayers is the Gayatri mantra. Even today millions of Hindus repeat this mantra at least once a day if not twice or thrice. This is a mantra which can be repeated by anyone irrespective of race, religion,
gender and nationality. The mantra simply means
'O Lord, I meditate upon you. May you give me Right Understanding’.
Sri Ramakrishna teaches us how to pray to the Lord quoting the example of Narada.
Narada says: ‘What boon shall I ask of Thee, Lord? Grant me pure love for Thy Lotus Feet, and may I never be deluded by Thy world-bewitching maya!’
Vedanta has given us some of the most wonderful prayers which can be chanted by anyone. Here for instance, we have the peace incantation which a spiritual aspirant offers every day:
'Om. Lead me from the unreal unto the real, from darkness unto light, from death unto immortality.' He prays for enlightenment, to walk in the path of God, to endear himself to Him. God being the only reality, he wants Him only. So he prays:
'O gods, may we hear with our ears, only what is auspicious; may we see what is only auspicious with our eyes O ye worshipful ones; may we sing praises to ye, and by our strong body and limbs may we enjoy the life allotted to us by the gods. May there be peace.'
Sri Ramakrishna teaches us through his own example: “To my Divine Mother I prayed only for pure love. I offered flowers at Her Lotus Feet and prayed to Her:
‘Mother, here is Thy virtue, here is Thy vice. Take
them both and grant me only pure love for Thee. Here is Thy knowledge, here is Thy ignorance. Take them both and grant me only pure love for Thee. Here is Thy purity, here is Thy impurity. Take them both, Mother, and grant me only pure love for Thee. Here is Thy dharma, here is Thy adharma.Take them both, Mother, and grant me only pure love for Thee.’
A spiritual aspirant is not satisfied with his own good. As he progresses towards his goal he feels more and more the presence of God and feels for the welfare of the whole world. So he prays:
Types of Prayer
‘May all be blissful, may all be free from diseases, may all see what is auspicious, may not anyone be miserable.'
Then there are the hymns that speak of the glory of the Self. Here is one instance of it. 'I meditate at dawn within my heart on the Self-effulgent Atman, the Existence-Consciousness-Bliss Absolute, the goal of the supreme ascetics, transcendental and eternal, who is beyond the states of waking, dream and deep sleep. That Brahman I am, not a combination of material elements.'
Prayer is the most important part of spiritual life. A sincere prayer can inspire, guide and lead us to God.Here is a prayer that says all: ‘Give me, dear Lord, a pure heart and a wise mind, that I may carry out my work according to your will. Save me from all false desires, from pride, greed, envy and anger, and let me accept joyfully every task you set before me. Let me seek to serve the poor, the sad and those unable to work. Help me to
discern honestly my own gifts that I may do the things of which I am capable, and happily and humbly leave the rest to others. Above all, remind me constantly that I have nothing except what you give me, and can do nothing except what you enable me to do’.
Vedanta Magazine March - April 2014