Meaning of Vandanam
Vandanam means offering prayers and obeisance to the Lord. Prayer is an act of communicating with the Lord. Prayer requires immense faith in Him, as he is not visible to the naked eye. As one develops faith in the Lord, prayer becomes an indispensible part of one’s spiritual journey. The depth of prayer is proportional to one’s spiritual progress made, not only in this life but through several previous births. It is through constant prayer the bhakta, develops a relationship with the Lord. The Lord becomes his father, mother, friend and Lord who can be talked to at all times.
Prerequisites of prayer
Faith in the Lord is the foremost requirement of prayer. Prayer with faith helps the bhakta to realise God residing within and deepens the relationship with Him. Humility and seeing the entire universe as the Lord Himself in different forms is also another requirement of a prayer.
Types of prayer
a) Petition: is the most common form of prayer. When caught between troubles and desires in life, individuals pray for relief and fulfilment of desires.
b) Intercession: is praying on behalf of others. This is a higher form of prayer, as the prayer is not for oneself, but for others.
c) Adoration: This is an earnest prayer for God for his own sake without any material gains as the objective.
d) Contemplation: The devotee surrenders himself completely to the Lord and takes the attitude “Thy will be done”.
Chanting of Lords’ name, visiting temples, singing bhajans, attending Satsang, serving the poor, keeping fast or Upavasa, meditation and parayana (reading scriptures) or listening to religious discourses are all different types of prayer. Prayer includes some of the intimate conversations with the Lord.
Method of Prayer
Sitting in a calm place and making the mind mentally prepared to pray even before the actual prayer begins is the first step in prayer. Prayer must start with closing one’s eyes, concentrating on the bindu or the point in between the eyebrows and visualizing Him to be seated in the centre of the heart. Prayer started in this manner will calm the mind and gradually His presence can be felt within. It is only when the mind and the speech act in unison, the prayers will be answered.
Swamy Chinmayananda opines that praying is like maintaining a savings bank account. If deposits are made by praying regularly, then in times of distress, divine grace can be drawn from the deposit.
Goal of Prayer
Prayer is not begging. Prayer is not about seeking material comforts or mundane objects. Prayer is an invocation of the Lord residing within. It is through prayer that God who is veiled by one’s ego can be discovered. When the god within is unveiled by removing the ego, which is the root cause of all the sufferings and pain, then the divine radiance within will shine, which is the outcome of a true prayer.
All the human faculties such as the body or the sense organs, (physical level) mind and intellect should be used to glorify the Lord residing within. All work performed should be in a spirit of offering or as a prayer to the Lord. A prayer for others is a very strong Sadhana. It removes negativity.
For an ordinary man, prayers are directly proportional to the intensity of suffering. Higher the suffering, the more intense will be his prayer. A true bhakta is never perturbed by joys- sorrows, pleasures and pain, for he knows, troubles or sufferings are the ways through which God saves him from himself. Kunti prayed to Lord Krishna to give her more troubles, so that she could always remember Him. In times of suffering, a bhakta prays to God to give him more strength to endure, for he knows that suffering is the medicine of life. An attitude of complete surrender with a strong faith that “His will be done” should be developed.
Benefits of prayer
God who is the Creator is also the Giver. It is God who has created the body and has placed Himself in the body, known as Soul. Prayer aids the bhakta to realise and feel the divine forces within and there upon draw the Divine infinite strength and Grace to swim through the tide of life. Through congregational prayers, satsang etc., the mind gets trained to concentrate on God and thus hastens the spiritual progress.
Prayer makes one discover god. It is through prayer that devotion to the Lord gets deepened. A deep devotion to the Lord makes one’s ego or “I” merge with Him, which unleashes infinite joy and peace. Prayer relaxes the mind and purifies the heart. It gives the confidence, energy and hope to face the difficulties in life head-on. Prayer intensifies the faith in God and thus in times of adversities, prayer reassures the mind that God will alleviate the suffering.
The effect of prayer on the mind is similar to that of the effect a song, or a nature scene or a poem has. Regular and earnest prayer makes the mind disciplined; otherwise it will run after material objects. Mass prayers have immense benefits upon the community. There are several instances where mass prayers are held for the good of the society at large.
Prayer when offered with all sincerity purifies one’s heart. When prayer becomes a mere bundle of words without any devotion, they mean nothing to the Lord. Through constant prayer and prostration, mind will become calmer and turn towards God. Through prostration to the Lord an attitude of surrender will develop. When the attitude of surrender germinates in an individual, it is indicative of the spiritual progress being made.
Prayer makes an individual content with whatever he has. It does not make a man desirous of worldly objects. Prayer makes the individual realize that the good things in life are the signs of His Grace. He will also know that God will provide only what is needed.
Prostration means touching the earth with the eight limbs or sashtanga of the body before a form of God or the other forms knowing them to be the manifestation of the Lord with utmost faith. In Bhagavatam, it is mentioned that “the sky, air, fire, water, earth, stars planets, the cardinal points (directions) trees, rivers seas and all living beings constitute the body of Sri Hari”. Therefore a bhakta should prostrate before everything in absolute devotion with the feeling that he is bowing before Lord Hari Himself. Lord Krishna says to Uddhava “Giving no attention to those who laugh in ridicule, forgetting the body and insensible to shame, one should prostrate and bow down to all beings, even to the dog, donkey, the Chandala and cow. All is Myself, and nothing is but Myself”
Bhishma in Mahabharatha says”Even one bend of the head to Lord Sri Krishna is equal in merit to the completion of ten horse sacrifices. The latter does not bring about Liberation, but the former makes one God Himself”. Bhishma offered salutation to Sri Krishna in a choked voice and immediately, the Lord bestowed the Divine Knowledge upon Bhishma.
To prostrate or to bow is a sign of humility or humbleness. A person with a large ego will find it difficult to bow. The ego in the individual separates him from the other forms seen around the world. As one advances spiritually it becomes easier to recognise and realise the omnipresence of God in all living and non livings beings. When one prostrates to another, it means that one is prostrating to the God residing in the other person as well as one to the God residing within. Thus when one bows to everything around the world, it is acknowledging that God exists in everything. Through intense prayer, the separateness of the “I” or ego should be completely effaced out which will eventually lead to emancipation or liberation, the ultimate goal.