Although there is infinite potential in each one of us, we cannot attain all of our desires due to our own self-imposed limitations. At such times, what can man do to remove his limitations and achieve his goals? Of all methods of self-development, prayer is considered the simplest and most effective.
Many people pray, but few truly know the efficacy of prayer or how to pray. Prayer is generally misunderstood to be a chargesheet of complaints against God, or a shopping list of desires. Indeed, often our prayers are nothing more than sheer beggary.
So, what exactly is prayer? When we are unable to do something on our own, we pray in an attempt to tune in to some Higher Power. When we surrender in devotion at the altar of the All Knowing, the All Powerful and the All Compassionate, we liquidate our limited ego and the power of the Higher flows through us and helps us achieve that which seems difficult or impossible. This is the principle of invocation.
The universe is a cosmos not chaos. People may not believe in religion or theories of God. Even so, many people do feel that some Higher Power pulsates through, and guides the universe. Attune yourself to this Higher Power in whatever way you can, and visualise whatever form you like – whatever gives you peace, a sense of divinity and encouragement in your heart.
There are five essential steps in any prayer. The first is Naman (Prostration). To Prostrate is to have an attitude of humility. If we have to ask the Lord for something, then it must be done with humility. Very often, we approach the Lord with one of our many prides. Of these, the pride of the intellect is the most dangerous. Wealth, power and beauty come and go, but he who is proud of his intellect is never ready to accept his own ignorance, and thus remains proud and arrogant forever.
The second step is Smaran (Invoking). This is to invoke the presence of the Lord in our mind or in the heart. For that Higher is not merely an idol, symbol or concept. That is a living Reality, the Absolute Truth. Call the Lord with love to listen to your prayer.
The third step is Kirtan (Praise). Praise is never for the Lord. He does not need it. But it is only when we praise or revere someone that we are capable of surrendering our ego. It is only when we surrender our ego at the altar of love and respect that His divinity flows through us.
The fourth step is Yaachan (Asking of Boons). We should first invoke the Lord’s presence, praise Him and then ask Him for what we need. Ask not merely for things. Ask for strength, intelligence and knowledge. With only strength, we are unable to achieve much. Intelligence is also necessary. And without the right knowledge, the intellect is of little use. Having got these by the grace of the Lord – need one ask for more?
The fifth step is Arpan (Surrender). Now that we have asked something of the Lord, should we not offer Him something in return? But what could we possibly offer the Lord that he does not already have? We should offer what we have in plenty, and that which God has none. These are the five kaleshas and the six vikaras. The kaleshas are all the miseries caused by ignorance, likes, dislikes, fear of death and the ego. The vikaras are the six poisons of the mind which cause agitation – lust, anger, greed, attachment, arrogance and jealousy. Offer all these so that the Lord can take them away from you.
Thus, in the process of praying, we should prostrate in all humility (Naman), invoke the Higher power that flows through the universe (Smaran) and sing the glories of the Lord (Kirtan). While surrendering our many weaknesses (Arpan), we may ask for our boons (Yaachan).
Remember that Prayer is not only for asking for something. No gain is a gain until and unless we recognise what we have and what we have gained. Prayer should also be out of our sense of appreciation and gratitude. If prayer may not change things for us, at least it will change us.