Prayer or Prarthana in Sanskrit means pleading fervently. It is a form of communication with a deity or an object of worship or a spiritual embodiment. It is praise of God. Prayer could be through use of words or songs. Prayer is a religious practice of reaching out to God for the fulfilment of one’s desires, guidance or help. It is the awakening of the divine consciousness which is within oneself. God will answer the prayers if one prays earnestly and sincerely. A bhakta resigns himself to God and considers himself as a mere instrument in His hands. He thinks of god all the time and has no worldly desires. He believes that God will surely help him and guide him. With such immense faith in God, the devotee will be basking in the divine grace. He will reach the highest order of bhakti i.e self surrender or Para Bhakti or Purushartha.
A vedantin prays for his Self which is within himself. In the initial stages, the sadhaka will pray to God with or without desire. As he progresses in his spiritual journey, the realisation that Self which is within oneself is the Absolute, the Real will dawn on him. He will reach a stage where his will or desires will merge with the cosmic will.
Three stages in prayer:
Verbal, mental and merging with the Lord’s will. In the first stage, verbal, the devotee sings the Lord’s praise, hymns, chants mantras and pours out his heart to God. In the second stage, the mind becomes calm. There is no physical effort involved in praying to the Lord as the bhakta through rigorous practice, will restrain his sensual hankerings. The mind is not distracted by worldly desires. Thus prayer becomes a mental exercise. In the third stage, the mind is in a state of objectless consciousness. Prayer becomes automatic, habitual and natural, as the bhakta through sustained and steadfast practice would have trained his mind to focus all his emotions on God and God alone. There are no other distractions. Prayer reaches its highest state. When god is invoked by the bhakta’s prayer in this stage, his mind merges with God’s will. God’s will becomes his will. The bhakta does not perceive anything internal or external, in other words, there is no self consciousness. He enjoys a state of oneness with god- eternal bliss.
Prayer is usually filled with different emotions to God. Some prayers are deep, some shallow, some superficial and yet some serene. One of the prerequisites of prayer is sincerity. Prayer should always be sincere. If prayer is only emotional without sincerity, then it becomes ineffective. The outcome of a prayer or response to the prayer depends upon the inner nature of the person who is praying, his temperament and the objective or the desire to be fulfilled, his faith and sincerity. Sometimes the objective of the prayer can be to fulfil material needs, or for some selfish desires or in some cases even wishing bad/evil for others. One of the prerequisites of prayer is it should be selfless. First a sadhaka should pray for the well being of others, peace of the world and finally for his spiritual evolution. One’s prayer should be for the eradication of evil qualities, for wisdom and knowledge, for goodliness and saintliness.
The following is the ideal prayer “Asato ma Sat gamaya, Tamaso ma Jyotir gamaya, Mrutiyorma amrutamgamaya, Om Shanti Om Shanti Om Shanti hi” Lead me on from unreal to Real, darkness to Light, mortality to immortality”. Thus a sadhaka should pray for removal of ignorance, realise the Truth, and seek the Real Self which is the Absolute.
Immense faith in the Almighty and belief in the prayer plays an important role while invoking God. The outcome of a prayer is directly dependent on one’s faith and belief in Almighty. Sometimes even if the prayer is sincere, it may go unanswered. A sadhaka should not become despondent, lose faith or go astray, if his prayers are not answered. If God is not answering one’s prayer, it does not mean that He is not listening to the prayers. It is just that the patience or the steadfastness of a bhakta is put to test. Just as gold is passed through the crucible several times to remove its impurities, so also God tests His devotees through various trials and tribulations. This way God will remove the impurities of the mind, purify the heart and strengthen one’s faith in Him. All the prayers of a bhakta will eventually be answered and he will reach the highest Self.
In times of danger and calamity, mass prayer works wonders. Prayer to the departed souls brings peace. The power of prayer is such that it can move mountains. The profundity of prayers should be actually experienced as it is indescribable in mere words.
Eg: It is the prayer of Prahlada that cooled the burning oil when it was poured on his head. It was prayer that freed the King elephant Gajendra when his leg was caught by a crocodile. It was the prayer of Mira that converted the bed of nails into bed of roses and cobra into a flower garland.
The Divine Name
Bhakti is intense attachment or love towards God, the Supreme, the Real and the Absolute. Needless to say, this love or attachment should not be confused with the attachment or longing for mundane objects which are unreal. This expression of love or attachment to God takes various forms or names. Irrespective of the form of expression of emotion to God, (be it visual or mental, subtle or gross) there is a name associated with each emotion. For eg: Singing the praise of Lord is known as Kirtan. God who is all pervading is known by different names and different forms in different times. Thus any name denotes a particular concept of object. The Supreme Lord, being infinite is difficult to comprehend for a finite mind. Thus the infinite Lord is given different forms, names, symbols and objects depending upon the individual perceptions. In the initial stages a bhakta will prefer using a particular name, symbol or object to focus on. As he advances in his spiritual progress, he will understand that though the names, forms and symbols are different, all are but the manifestations of the one Supreme Lord. Names and forms are given to the Lord as per the faiths and tendencies of the different sects and races of different times and places.
The respective names associated with Gods produces respective images on the mental surface eg Lord Nataraja or Lord Shiva or Lord Rama. Lord Nataraja’s name produces the dancing image of the Lord in the mind. Similarly Lord Rama can never be imagined with a snake around his neck and vice-versa. Through continuous reminiscing of the name and form of the Divine, a deep rooted impression is formed in the minds of the bhakta and ultimately he attains God vision. The bhakta enjoys divine bliss in the Name of the Lord which is indescribable. He reaches a state where god and the Divine Name are one. This is also a state where the bhakta realises his oneness with god.
The power of the divine name is such that it liberates the soul from the bondage of births and deaths. His name has no barriers or distinction. By constant chanting of His name, the mind gets purified from a lower self to a higher state where the distinction between the “I” and the “Self” gets merged and universal consciousness can be attained. The duality such as bondage- freedom, Unreal -Real, mortality- immortality which arises due to associating oneself with the material world can be removed by chanting His Divine Name. He sees the different objects around him as manifestations of the Lord. He has the same love for animate and inanimate objects of the universe. The glory of the Divine Name can be only experienced through faith and belief.
While chanting the Divine name can absolve a bhakta of the worldly sins, and attain salvation, it is important to note that the name is chanted with the utmost faith and reverence. The following are the ten sins to be avoided while chanting the divine name.
a) Criticism of saints and devotees
b) Differentiation against different names
c) Showing disrespect towards Guru
d) Disregard for scriptures
e) Treating the glory of Name as exaggerated praise
f) Committing sins in the Name of the Lord
g) Ranking the Divine Name with other virtues and practices such as fasting, charity, sacrifice etc.
h) Recommending the chanting of the Divine Name to unworthy or ungodly persons or people who are not interested in knowing about the divine.
i) Want of love for the Name even after hearing its glory
j) Attachment to material objects and emphasis on “I” and “mine”
If the above mentioned sins are committed unintentionally, then chanting the Divine Name is the only recourse. According to Padma Purana,
“Namapardhayuktanam namanyeva harangtyagham.
Avishranyaprayuktani tanyevarthakarani cha”.
The Name itself is the atonement for the sins against the Name.
Divine Grace can be felt in all aspects of His creation. Just like how a well’s water is warm in winter and cold in summer or fruits like water melon, grapes is available during summer, feeling of freshness during spring etc, the list is endless. Kathopanishad says in a thundering voice: “Not by study or discourses, not by argument, not by intelligence is the Self attained. He whom the Lord chooses attains Self- realisation. He reveals Himself to such a chosen person.” Lord’s grace is directly proportional to the extent of Self Surrender. The impediments to realise the Self such as lust, ego, anger, pride etc are eliminated by God’s grace. He who prays to God with faith and devotion is bound to attain God. God will help only those who aspire to seek Him and not to others who think that He will reveal Himself without any personal effort. It is God who will initiate and inspire the aspirant in the spiritual progress. No amount of Sadhana or self study is complete without God’s grace. It is only for real seekers of the Lord, will He reveal Himself. Mira had such thirst for Lord Sri Krishna that she abandoned everything to seek Lord Krishna.
Obstacles in the Path of Bhakti
a) Ego: Ego is identification of oneself with the body. The ego prevents the aspirant from seeing objects in their true perspective. The ego creates the separation between the “I” and the “Self”, the Real. Ego divides the world into mine and not mine. Tulsidas rightly says that “mai aur mora tora tai maya” Me and My, You and Yours, that is the delusion of man. This “Myness” is the root cause of the troubles which a man faces. An aspirant knows that the Universe is a manifestation of the Supreme Lord, and all belongs to Him, yet his finite mind attached to the mundane objects is unable to comprehend the infinite. The seeker can go astray if his mind is distracted by “myness.”
b) Possessiveness: The feeling of my body or my family or my children, my wealth can make a bhakta go astray.
c) Sense organs: The pull of sense organs towards objects of enjoyment or merriment can be so strong that several sages have fallen prey to it.
The best way to overcome these obstacles is to be part of Satsang. Satsang is the company of fellow seekers. Satsang helps the mind to understand things in the right perspective (i.e without attachment) and removes the distractions associated with worldly objects.
Lankini fell to the ground when Lord Hanuman gave a blow to her head. When she got up, she thanked Hanumanji for having knocked out her false notions and wrong values due to her bad company. She expresses her gratitude for the satsang she had which made her a better person.
The name of the Lord is powerful than the Lord Himself. Thus it is the Lord’s name which will help an aspirant to sail through the ocean of Samsara and attain realisation.
Ten Commandments of Bhakti
According to Swami Shivananda, the Ten Commandments which a Bhakta must follow is:
1) Practice Japa, Bhajan. Eat Sattvic Food. Worship God by doing Puja
2) Satsang: Keep the Company of Saints and read devotional books
3) Always chant the name of the Lord as the Name and Nami are one. Kirtan is the easiest way to Salvation in Kaliyug.
4) Pray whole heartedly. Surrender oneself to the Lord as an instrument. Seek faith and devotion.
5) See God in the Universe. See God within one self.
6) Practice Sadhachara (right conduct). Be truthful, humble and Kind to one and all. Control anger and develop compassion
7) Sense organs should be trained to behold the Lord in every action.
8) Total self surrender. Offer all actions to Him.
9) Total Faith in the Lord.
10) Constant remembering of the name of the Lord, or Mantras.