What is the Place of Prayer?
Since the ancient Vedas,
Hindu teachings contain various prayers, praises and propitiations
to the Supreme Reality in its different aspects. Prayers may be
given on different levels. The lower level consists of praying to
the Divine for ordinary goals of life like health, wealth, and
family happiness. This lower level of prayer is essential for the
right functioning of society. The higher level is to pray to God for
spiritual knowledge and Divine love.
This is necessary to bring
us into the spiritual life. There is also a third form of prayer
wherein we pray to the Divine for the benefit of others. The highest
form of this is to pray to the Divine for the benefit of all
creatures, with prayers for universal peace and understanding.
There is a science of prayer
whereby we connect with the Divine energies in the universe to bring
about the fulfillment of the desires of the soul. For this the use
of the appropriate mantras and rituals becomes helpful.
Prayer can also be
misapplied or part of a system of black magic. If our prayer is
motivated by the wish to control or hurt others it is impure. Prayer
to convert others to a belief, for example, is a lower form of
prayer that is tinged with egoism and violence.
Yet 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 is 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.