“The efficacy of prayer is often doubted and prayer itself supposed to be a thing irrational and necessarily superfluous and ineffective. It is true that the universal will executes always its aim and cannot be deflected by egoistic propitiation and entreaty, it is true of the Transcendent who expresses himself in the universal order that being omniscient his larger knowledge must foresee the thing to be done and it does not need direction or stimulation by human thought and that the individual’s desires are not and cannot be in any world-order the true determining factor. But neither is that order or the execution of the universal will altogether effected by mechanical Law, but by powers and forces of which for human life at least human will, aspiration and faith are not among the least important. Prayer is only a particular form given to that will, aspiration and faith… Its power and sense is to put the will, aspiration and faith of man into touch with the divine Will as that of a conscious Being with whom we can enter into conscious and living relations. … Prayer helps to prepare this relation for us at first on the lower plane even while it is there consistent with much that is mere egoism and self-delusion; but afterwards we can draw towards the spiritual truth which is behind it. It is not then the giving of the thing asked for that matters, but the relation itself, the contact of man’s life with God, the conscious interchange.In spiritual matters and in the seeking of spiritual gains, this conscious relation is a great power; it is a much greater power than our own entirely self-reliant struggle and effort and it brings a fuller spiritual growth and experience.” (Sri Aurobindo, CWSA, Vol. 24, pp. 566-567)
Going through some old journals a few days back I came across some notes I had jotted down when reading a particular essay titled “How to Call and Pray,” in which the author Jugal Kishore Mukherjee speaks of the seven elements of a sincere prayer: Goal, Insight, Adhesion, Presence, Faith, Supplication and Resignation. Next to these seven elements I had also scribbled an old couplet in Hindi/Urdu which has been in my memory since childhood. It is a simple verse and goes like this –
Dua manzoor hoti hai agar woh dil se hoti hai
Magar mushkil bus itni hai ki woh mushkil se hoti hai
This may be translated as follows:
A prayer is answered if it is from the Heart
The only difficulty is that it happens with difficulty
I don’t remember where or when I had first heard or read this couplet or who wrote it, but it has stayed with me ever since I first came to know it. As my mind continued to dwell on my notes from that old journal, it occurred to me that in a way this couplet actually brings together and integrates the different elements of a prayer that Jugal-da speaks of, almost in a process of re-constructing the ‘parts’ into a ‘whole’.
To pray with utmost sincerity and devotion and faith, that is to pray really from the Heart is the only difficulty, says the unnamed poet. If one can do that, one’s prayer is granted. Of course, there can be philosophical, intellectual debates on whether all prayers are granted.
But from a spiritual point of view it is not in the limited human capability to know whether a prayer should be granted or not. Only the Divine knows what is needed for the aspirant, and that the Divine gives. There is certainly an important role for personal effort, the aspiration of the seeker. That is what the anonymous poet (anonymous to me, at least) of this couplet is perhaps referring to when he or she says that for the prayer to be granted it has to be from the deepest and most sincerest part of our heart, the heart that is purified and is beyond the limited, egoistic consciousness. And to get to that part of the heart is the sadhana of the aspirant.
This heart as described in the couplet above, which is the source of most sincere prayer, has a clear sight of its purpose or goal, that is, to seek only the Divine and only for the sake of the Divine. This heart has a deep, uncompromising faith and trust in the Divine and remembers to reject all the little temptations that come along the way in the form of desires and attachments.
“Faith in the spiritual sense is not a mental belief which can waver and change. It can wear that form in the mind, but that belief is not the faith itself, it is only its external form. Just as the body, the external form, can change but the spirit remains the same, so it is here. Faith is a certitude in the soul which does not depend on reasoning, on this or that mental idea, on circumstances, on this or that passing condition of the mind or the vital or the body. It may be hidden, eclipsed, may even seem to be quenched, but it reappears again after the storm or the eclipse; it is seen burning still in the soul when one has thought that it was extinguished for ever. The mind may be a shifting sea of doubts and yet that faith may be there within and, if so, it will keep even the doubt-racked mind in the way so that it goes on in spite of itself towards its destined goal. Faith is a spiritual certitude of the spiritual, the divine, the soul’s ideal, something that clings to that even when it is not fulfilled in life, even when the immediate facts or the persistent circumstances seem to deny it. This is a common experience in the life of the human being; if it were not so, man would be the plaything of a changing mind or a sport of circumstance.” (Sri Aurobindo, CWSA, Vol. 29, pp. 89-90)
This heart knows what is not in its interest as it continues to proceed on its path of purification, and therefore, firmly rejects and withdraws from all which can be a potential hindrance. This heart firmly knows that the most sincere act of rejection is possible only with the Grace and Presence of the Force, the Shakti. This heart is fully open and receptive to the Power of the Force, which is the most essential aid in its journey of purification. This heart grows further purified in the Presence of the Mother’s Force.
When all of this is present, the heart can call the Divine in a truest, simplest and most sincere way and offer all that it has and all that is – including its limitations and weaknesses – to the Divine Mother in the form of a purest prayer that it can draw out from its deepest core.
This prayer, this calling is the most gentle and delicate form of offering, and without any concern for whether it is granted or answered. There is no pulling of any kind, no mental or intellectual pressure applied to this call. There is no eagerness or impatience to this heart’s prayer. There is no bargaining that if the prayer is granted, the heart’s faith will grow stronger. There is none of that.
This is the purest form of call, a most sincere prayer with only one motive – to unite personal will to the Divine Will, and leave all else to the Divine Mother. Such a prayer, the poet says, is granted.
While flipping through the pages of the same old journal, I was again reminded of some beautiful lines from Sri Aurobindo, which I think are so helpful to remember always. In his most unique way Sri Aurobindo, through these words, helps us get closer to a really deep truth about the prayer. The perfection and beauty of his words also makes me think of the need to laugh often, to stay cheerful. Because cheerfulness, he reminds us elsewhere is the “salt of the sadhana.” Because perhaps only a heart that knows how to truly laugh and smile, how to stay cheerful, can experience a sincere and perfect simplicity, the source of a sincere prayer.
“As for prayer, no hard and fast rule can be laid down. Some prayers are answered, all are not… You may ask, why should not then all prayers be answered? But why should they be? it is not a machinery: put a prayer in the slot and get your asking. Besides, considering all the contradictory things mankind is praying for at the same moment, God would be in a rather awkward hole if he had to grant all of them; it wouldn’t do.” (CWSA, Vol. 35, p. 14)