How to Pray?

Nov 25, 2012: The main question addressed in the Monthly Sunday Sabha for the month of November was  “How should we pray?” An English translation of the original discourse in Punjabi, follows below:

<Please click here to listen or download this discourse in Punjabi..>

As is common, one who is diseased wishes that his disease gets cured; one who is struggling in his business, wishes that his obstacles be removed. It is common that despite doing one’s bit, one’s path often get hindered by various obstacles – personal, familial, social etc. In such situations, one then turns to the Supreme Ruler and hopes that his wishes be heard. His prayers may be fulfilled. The question is simply, “How should these prayers be done?”

Let us note one thing. Often we need to get our things done by some minister, doctor or other personnel. We go to them, keep our issue in front of them. They hear it, sometimes things work out, and sometimes they don’t! Now, should one address or pray to the Lord in the same way as he addresses or prays to other personnel to get his things done?

No. The way we may keep our plea before someone, should not be the way we pray or plea to the Supreme Lord. There is a difference. If we understand the difference in asking someone and in asking the Supreme Lord, we will also learn the way to pray to Him. What is that difference?

For instance, we go to a doctor for treatment when we have been taken ill. Both of us are different individuals. A good doctor prescribes a good medicine and once our illness is removed, then there is no further need to go to the doctor for treatment. Similarly, we may have to go to some officer – who is authorized to do some work we may want to get done. If our demands are justified, he will do our work. And suppose the officer is a very close friend, then, we may not even have to ask for a favor. It may be given to us, even without asking.

With the Supreme Lord, prayer is secondary. The primary thing is to come close to Him. If we are praying to Him to get our things done, then in truth, no relation between us and Him has established. The results that we would get would not be influenced by our prayers, but just because that was how it was destined to be. If we really want to share our heart with the Lord and attain peace of mind, then the first thing we need to develop is a relationship of love with Him. A love that says – the Supreme is my Lord and I am His servant; the Supreme is the Whole, I am His part.    

This is the first thing, everything comes after this. “Kahe Kabir, ehe Raam ki ansh” – says Kabir, he is the child Divine. In the Gita too it has been said, “Mamayevansho jiva lokae” or as it is said, “Amritasya putrah” – You are the inheritor of the Divine Nectar. If only this fact is assimilated by our mind and our intellect, then a prayer is necessarily fulfilled!

There is a second thing, which is still more important. It is fine to believe that “I am a part of the Divine”, as has been said, but merely believing so is not sufficient. The second important thing to understand is this: the Supreme Ruler, where does He exist for me? Where is His court? Well, for me, the Supreme Lord is nearest within my own body. Indeed, the Lord is omnipresent, there is no such place where He is not, there is nothing but Him, but where do I search for Him?  Should I go and look in the forests, in the mountains, which special gurudwara should I go and search, which important pilgrimage should I do? Well, for me, wherever I may be, living there, until I go within my own body, till then, the Lord is far, far away.  

The Lord is near than the nearest. As another question has also been asked which says, “Ordinarily, we have to roam in solitude places to seek a Guru, but we have got one quite near to our home” – the fact is, the Guru is always met near, not far. Call Him as God or Guru, He is not attained by roaming and searching outside; He is met when we look closely within our own hearts. He is very near. Therefore, it has been said in the Gurbani:

Kahe re bann khojan jaai

O’ why do you go looking for Him in the forest?

Sarab niwasi, sadaa alepaa tohi sang samayi

He who is everywhere, yet unattached to anything, lives permeated within you

Puhap madh jiyon baas basat hai mukar mahe jaise chaayi

Like the fragrance that lives in the flower and the reflection that lives in the mirror

Taese hi Hari basae nirantar ghat hi khojo bhai

Just like that, the Lord forever dwells within this body, therefore, search this body alone.

   It begins as a question. Not that the Lord does not lives in the forests. He is there too. He is everywhere. But don’t think that He is attained by going to the forests. Going to the forests has its own utility – as a tapasya (penance), if it is done for the Lord. But the Lord is everywhere – in cities, in forests, at home, in the mountains. Though the Lord is everywhere, he is alepaa, unattached – just like there is fire within firewood, but that fire does not burn the firewood, until it manifests itself through the help of an external spark. It is only when the fire manifests, does it burn and does its work. Similarly, the Lord is present everywhere, but where is He manifested for me? The answer is that within my own body, is He manifested always, and therefore, search within this body.

If the Lord were not within me, then I couldn’t have eaten, couldn’t have digested what I ate, couldn’t breathe and couldn’t have moved around. It is through His power that I exist. In easy language, we can say, that in my body, I am also there, He is also there. But there is one place within this body, where His court exists in its entire splendor. Which is that court, which is that door passing through which we can enter His court and ask that prayer which never goes unfulfilled?  That door is the Dasham Dvaara – the tenth door.

Whereas through the nine doors (the nine sense organs) we connect to the world outside, there is one other door, where if we can reach, we will connect straight to the Lord. That Lord – who is the Ruler of the Universe; that Lord – through Who’s will the suns and the moons are created – that Lord, in His totality, resides beyond the Dasham Dvaara. If we reach there, then everything asked will be fulfilled. But the fact is that when that realm is reached, all asking ends. Upon attaining the Supreme Lord Himself why would the mind go after the little trifles!

But yes, until we are separated and our consciousness is active in the body and the mind, and we are in need of the things of the world, until then we should pray in such a way that I am His part, He is my Whole; He is Giver of all and therefore, I ask of Him alone. And in this way, pray such that your voice reaches Him. Once, the consciousness ascends through the tenth door in Samadhi, then there is no point in asking, but until the consciousness is active in the senses, and we need to pray, we must pray in such a way that our voice reaches Him. To pray is not simple – a prayer that reaches Him and is always fulfilled. If our voice can reach the Dasham Dvaara, even close by, then it will be heard. He hears everything. But how will our voice reach there?

Let us understand this with an analogy. If you shoot an arrow, it flies off in the forward direction. Very little impulse is felt backwards. Now, the senses through which we connect to the outside are also the ones to be used to connect within. It shouldn’t be that when we pray, our mind should be stuck outside, running hither and thither; our tongue is unable to turn within. Let us discuss an easier method.

If one can’t meditate, then he can pray by speaking.  But which is that tongue, spoken through which the vibes of our prayer will enter within and reach the tenth door in the brain? We will say that we have just this one tongue – but there is a difference. In fact a lot of it! And that difference is this. That tongue which speaks bitterly, that tongue which speaks lies and slander, a prayer done through that tongue will only remain on the surface, how can that go within!

Let us try and understand this. When we are angry, then how loudly we speak! Our tongue and mouth get rigid, and the eyes become red. In anger it is not possible to speak softly, the words rush out, we become oblivious of what all we spit out. And on the other hand, in keertan, when we are to speak with love and longing, it is not possible to be angry at the same time. If we say, close your eyes and chant the name of the Lord, and if we are angry, it will impossible to keep the eyes closed. Now say one is not angry but has those samskaras within him, and we ask him to close his eyes and chant – it will be difficult for him to do it. The point is this, to keep the eyes closed, and chant with the same depth and fervor as in extrovert speech, is difficult. One who can do it, in him the vibes of the Shabad have started to go into the brain. This is the easy way.

There is a second way too which is even deeper and better. Keep the eyes closed, and with the same depth,  fervor and loudness chant, but the voice should not be heard outside. This is a little difficult. When we address someone outside, the mouth opens to the outside. But if we can keep the eyes closed and speak loudly, in higher octaves through the mind, though the tongue may move but without producing any audible sound – in this way the mouth and the throat will begin to open towards the inside. This is a basic technique to chant. But it appears difficult, because the doors are locked from within.

Those beginning often complain that the mind does not become steady in chanting. But the way to concentrate the mind is very simple. The simple way is – keep the mouth closed and chant in high octaves. It can also be done is very low octaves. Or for those who do not have a knowledge of musical scale, the simple thing to remember is, chant as loudly as one speaks in anger, only that the voice should not be heard outside. Because in this way, the entire body gets stimulated. In anger this stimulation is outwards, in this kind of chanting it is inwards. Vibrations will be felt in the brain, in the chest, in the navel. Hence, it has been said

Kaliyuga mein keertan pardhaana, gurmukh japiyee laaye dhyaanaa

In Kaliyuga, keertan is the main practice, through it do japa and meditation.

So start with keertan. Sing the Lord’s name in high and low scales, keeping the eyes closed. Then do chanting. In doing that, though the tongue may move, but the lips may be steady, the voice may not be audible outside but go on singing and chanting within, with the same fervor. When we will do this, the vibes of the mantra (shabad) will begin to permeate our body. In such a state if you can feel it that You are my Master, I am Your part – then a relationship of love manifests with the Lord.

In such a state our mind’s emotions will reach the inner center. But even here there is a special thing. Not all emotions will reach there. Every single prayer will not find its way there. Yes, if our body is diseased and we pray that it may be healed, such a prayer will definitely reach. Because, this body is a temple and its health and well-being are essential to progress on the path. Therefore, such a prayer, if our consciousness is within, is definitely heard and positive results are necessarily obtained. For this Surya Sadhana and Agni Sadhana are really useful. In front of the sun or the fire, chant the mantras loudly and devotedly, and many diseases get healed in this way.

But which prayer shall not reach there? Which prayer shall stop on the way? That prayer – as a result of which someone is to be harmed, and because of his harm we are to be benefitted, such a prayer will not reach!That, “My work be done, and his be not done!”, such a prayer is not heard. But Why? Because, asking such things implies that our consciousness is still stuck outsides (and we have thus failed to satisfy the preconditions to pray effectively). Until the consciousness if outward bound, we may cry and wail as much as we want, but our prayer, vibes and emotions will not travel within.

Yes, good and bad go on happening simultaneously. That is just fulfillment of the law of karma. Because the worldly affairs are such that in fulfillment of some action one loses and other wins. That is natural. No worries for that. We are deliberately not hurting anyone, but are doing our karma. We might win and the other may lose. But that is fine.

However, when we want to directly connect to the Lord, then pray and say, “This is my wish, but may Thy Will be done.” If our asking would be right, it will happen. Or even better, we can pray, “This is my goal. I want to be so and so. You give me the power to do such actions that I may achieve my goal.” We will get the power to work, and as per the law of karma, our goal would be reached. Such a prayer can be fulfilled.

But what kind of prayers are definitely fulfilled? These are prayers which say, “May my mind get engrossed in meditation”, “May he/she be benefitted”, “May I get vairagya, Bhakti”, “May I get the power to do action” – such prayers are clearly fulfilled. But if our prayers pertain to accomplishment of worldly goals, then alongside prayer, we would need to do appropriate works too. But then people may ask, “If we are to eventually do work, then what is the utility of prayer?”  The utility of praying is that we will get the power, shakti, and understanding to do those “appropriate works”. We will not be misled, we will not succumb to difficulties on the way. And this is a grand thing.

Now does this imply that we cannot directly pray for wealth etc.? Do we have the right to only pray for ability to do skillful karma? No, this is not the case. But let us understand this through an example. Suppose, we saw a very expensive and luxurious car with someone; seeing that, a desire arose in our mind to have one for ourselves too. Now, nothing is wrong in that. Say, seeing someone’s beautiful house, we also desire one for ourselves. It is natural for the mind to have such desires. So how do we pray in such situations?

Now, there is no denying that we will have to work appropriately to satisfy these desires. But along with that we can pray thus, “It is wonderful that he/she has that car or house. May he get more of them. But may I also get one for myself.” So, we should be happy to see someone prosperous and pray for our own prosperity too. Ask for the strength to work appropriately. And it is possible that our desire will be fulfilled soon enough.

Now, if you were to ask this being, he has a simple way of prayer. Nishkama Karma! Whatever is our duty fulfill that in the best way. And whatever desires may arise in the mind, surrender them to the Divine saying “This is my wish, but let Thy Will be done.” This is the best way to pray. Why? Because, in reality we do not really know, whether by the fulfillment of our desire we will be benefitted more, or otherwise.

Yes, we can pray this way. “This is the desire in my mind. If it is right, fulfill it, else just root out the desire itself. But I can’t turn away from You. May I keep on getting the power to do pure action.” There is no place for despondency. There is no place for turning away from the Lord. Let me forever remain engage in performing the pure, appropriate actions. There is a nice illustration for this.

We all must have heard about APJ Abdul Kalam. He has been a former President. He had a degree in Engineering. He wished then to get admitted into Indian Air Force. He appeared for the interview, somewhere further than Rishikesh. But, he did not have some of the qualities that were required for the job, and he was rejected. He felt dejected – he was very intelligent, very much able for the job, but couldn’t satisfy one or the other needs of it. In such a dejected state of mind, he returned and stopped on the way at an ashram in Rishikesh. He shared his dejection with the saint there. Hearing him, the saint replied, “You are an able man. It is possible that instead of this job with the Air Force, some bigger post is waiting for you.” With this, his dejection was uplifted. “Indeed it could be so”, he felt. “Why should I get depressed. Let me go on doing my work.” And in this way, he became a researcher and won many prizes for his work, and just kept on doing more and more. If he had been selected there, he might not have progressed so much.

So the thing is this. Pray and do nishkama karma! Even though we did our all, yet couldn’t  achieve our desire, there should be no need to get depressed. In this way, if we don’t stop and just go on doing our work, we will be successful in the world; even bigger than this – if we will ask from the Lord, and get what we asked, our relationship and love towards Him would deepen. And ultimately, we could attain to even Lord’s devotion (Bhakti). And if the inner path begins to open up, then what else is there to say!

So, we started by saying that first we need to develop a relationship with the Lord. If our prayer is fulfilled our thanks are to Him, if not, then too our thanks are to Him. There is a illustration. Once a king became satisfied with his three servants and gifted them a horse each. The first servant said, “Wow! I used to walk on foot. Now I can ride a horse.” The second said, “The king has become happy. Today he has given a horse, tomorrow he might give something more.” The third said, “We got a horse. It is great. Now we can quickly reach and serve the king all the more.”

So all three got the horse, but the one who had love for the king, also came close to him. Now similarly, if our prayers are answered by the Lord, let us also check to which category do we belong. If we go on using whatever we have got, in the service of the Lord, then we come close to Him. Then when our consciousness is established in the Dasham Dvaara, then the entire creation is behind us and we are face to face with the Creator Himself.

So the meaning and way of  prayer is to go on surrendering the wishes of the mind to the Divine, doing nishkama karma and also keertan, japa, meditation along with that. We think this should be a sufficient answer to this question.

And concerning the other question about Gurumantra, it should be remembered that any sound in the Gurumantra, has the Supreme, the Divine as its ‘signified’. The meaning of the Gurumantra is that the Supreme is within me, I am His part, and He is the destroyer of all my obstacles between me and my real Nature.