"when God already knows what we want, what is good for us, what we need, why should we ask Him for it? He knows it. For this in the first place I would quote Christ's words: "Knock, and it shall be opened unto you; ask, and ye shall receive." In other words God knows your need, He knows what you want, but your want becomes clear when it is expressed not by the mind, or the body only, but by your whole being. That is the secret." (from the chapter bewlow; Prayer)
What is your understanding of it's meaning?
Often mankind thinks, "Since God is the knower of the heart of every man, what does it matter if prayer is recited and gesture or action made? Would it not be sufficient if one sat in silence and thought of God?" And the answer is that it is according to the extent of your consciousness of prayer that your prayer reaches God. If your body is silent and only your mind working, part of your being is praying and part is not, for you are constituted of both mind and body. Therefore, when the mind is praying the body must pray too, to make it complete. In reality God is within you, and as He is within you, you are the instrument of God and through you God experiences the external world and you are the best instrument of conveying yourself to God. Therefore your thought, action and word makes prayer complete.
Then there is another idea. The next question is, when God already knows what we want, what is good for us, what we need, why should we ask Him for it? He knows it. For this in the first place I would quote Christ's words: "Knock, and it shall be opened unto you; ask, and ye shall receive." In other words God knows your need, He knows what you want, but your want becomes clear when it is expressed not by the mind, or the body only, but by your whole being. That is the secret.
The question, "Why does God need praise from us? Who are we that we should praise God?" is answered thus: We can never praise Him enough, and our praise can never be sufficient, but at the same time our soul is blessed with the impression of the Glory of God whenever we praise Him. The soul could praise God every moment and yet be wanting to praise Him more. It is constantly hungering and thirsting to find the perfection of beauty. When to our utmost we praise the beauty of God, our soul is filled with bliss. Even to utter the name of God is a bliss which fills the soul with light and joy and happiness as nothing else can.
The first aspect of prayer is giving thanks to God for all the numberless blessings that are bestowed upon us at every moment of the day and night, of which man is mostly unconscious.
The second aspect of prayer is laying one's shortcomings before the unlimited Perfection of the Divine Being, and asking His forgiveness.
This makes man conscious of his smallness, of his limitedness, and therefore makes him humble before his God. And by humbling himself before God man does not lose any virtue. God alone has the right to demand complete humility. There is another side to this question: although humility is painful to the pride of man, the joy of humility is never known by the proud. The effect produced upon his own feeling is as if, by his very humility, he had opened the doors of the shrine of God which is in the heart of man. The one who asks forgiveness of his friend feels a joy that he of whom it is asked does not know. And it must not be forgotten that it is not pride that gives joy, but it is humility which gives a special joy.
If we can only know the joy of asking pardon even of our fellow man, when we realize we are in fault, however little it may be! And when we ask the Father of all to forgive our fault, joy, beauty, happiness, spring up in the heart in a way unknown until it is experienced. And then to think we can ask pardon of Him Whose love is unlimited, while our errors are numberless and our ignorance limitless! Think of the joy of asking forgiveness from God! Every moment of our life, if we can see wisely, contains some fault or error, and asking pardon is just like purifying the heart and washing it white. Only think of the joy of humbling yourself before God! There is a story told of Akbar. He was mourning for the death of his mother and for a long time his grief was so great he could not overcome it. His ministers and friends tried to comfort him, telling him how fortunate he was, how great was his influence and power. He answered, "Yes, I know it, but one thing grieves me. I have everyone to bow before me, but there was one, when I came in the palace, before whom I could be humble. I could be as nothing before her and I cannot tell you the joy of that."
Think then of the greater joy of humbling yourself before that Spirit, that Ideal, who is the true Father and Mother, on Whose love you can always depend; it is a spark of His love which expresses itself in the earthly father and mother, and in whatever manner you humble yourself before Him, it can never be enough. To humble your limited self before His Perfection, that is to deny yourself. Self-denial is not renouncing things, it is denying the self, and its first lesson is humility.
And the blessing one can receive by prayer becomes a thousandfold greater when that blessing is received by some few who are united in the same thought and are praying together.
Humility has several forms, and these forms are observed according to the customs of different peoples. There are forms of respect known: towards parents, towards Teachers, Masters. But at the end of examination, and after studying life keenly, one finds that it is to God alone that all forms of respect are addressed. And it is this lesson that the different religions have given to different peoples according to their needs.
And the third aspect of prayer is to tell to God one's difficulties, the troubles of one's life, and to ask God for what one needs and one wants. And who else deserves this trust but God? It is true that we have relations, friends who love us and wish to help us. But they are only human beings, traveling in the same boat on the same sea, subject to all the same difficulties, the same limitations. And man can be helped by man only to a certain extent. The more one studies human nature, the more one feels inclined to bring before God alone one's troubles, one's difficulties, and one's sorrows. Therefore this is a part of what is taught in the form of prayer: it is called an aspect of prayer.
The fourth aspect of prayer is the call of the lover to the beloved. No doubt this is a higher form; and to be able to pray in this manner man must rise above the ordinary level of life. As it is difficult for a human being to love man, whom he sees, so it is more difficult to love God, Whom one has never seen. Loving one's fellow man, yes; but not everyone is capable of loving the Formless, the God-Ideal, and to evolve by the lesson of love. For in this love there is no disappointment, and only the love of God can fulfill the desire of the human soul, and all other forms of love are only as steps that lead to the love of God. But who can explain the love of God to one who has never felt it? Because God is the perfect ideal, His love is the perfect love. There is the love of the mate, of parents, of friends, of children, but in the love of God all is found combined. Therefore its joy is perfect. The love of God is living and everlasting and the love of the true Beloved.
The fifth aspect of prayer is to know God, and by this means to draw nearer to God, which is the real meaning of the word "at-one-ment," which means complete union. And this cannot be learned; it is a natural tendency: it is the attraction of the soul to God. It is as the negative pole of the electric wire is attracted to the positive. Which means that the happiness of man depends on his nearness to God. This has been taught in the form of prayer.
It is these five aspects of prayer which constitute the form of religious worship. Every religion, at whatever time and in whatever country it has been given, has given as its method prayer. But man has always shown his childish nature. He has always fought with his neighbor because he does not pray as he himself does. Man has taken the outer form of prayer. He has used the outer form of prayer to satisfy his vanity, and the consequence has been that man, revolted by this state of things, has given up prayer. For instance, Protestantism is a sort of protest against the Catholic form of prayer. Many people, between the two, have given up prayer. And giving it up is not satisfactory, for nothing can take the place of what is called prayer.
The chaotic condition at the present time is caused by the lack of religion. Man's soul needs religion: his mind fights against it. In history we find that most wars have been caused by disputes about religion. In the East no one dares to say that he does not believe in God. In the West there are people who are proud of not believing in God. They say: "Force, or forces, are the origin of life." It is the greatest tragedy if one deprives oneself of God, because there cannot be any other means for man of rising to a higher consciousness.
The question arises in the inquiring mind: If God is within man, all our troubles and difficulties, our feelings and our attitude towards Him, our faults, are known to Him--what need is there to express them in prayer? It is like saying, "Because I love a certain person, why should I show it?" Expression is the nature of life. When every part of man's mind and body expresses his feeling, his thought, his aspiration, then it produces its full effect. And no doubt, by the fact of being met together for prayer, the effect is greater. The blessing that one can receive through prayer becomes a thousandfold greater when received by a few united in the same thought, and who are praying together.
Besides, the psychological effect is another thing. The world is a dome, and in this dome, every word that is uttered resounds. And when the resonance is produced in this dome, its re-echo is produced, and what comes, comes as the answer of God.
The question whether God has time to give attention to our prayer is answered, by the mystic, that it is through the medium of man himself that God hears his prayer. In the East the head of man is called the dome of God, which means "the greatest secret" and also "the highest place." For outwardly, it is the head which represents the eternal abode. It is for this reason that it is said in the scriptures, "We have created man in Our own Image."
The Effect of Prayer
There are three kinds of people among those who are in the habit of offering prayer.
There is one person who by praying fulfills a certain duty, which he considers as one among all the other duties of life. He does not know to whom he is praying; he thinks to some God. If he is in the congregation, he feels of necessity obliged to do as the others do. He is like one among the sheep who goes on, he does not know where and why. Prayer, to him, is something that he must do because he is put in a situation where he cannot help it. In order to fall in with the custom of the family or community, and in order to respect those around him, he does it as everybody else. His prayer is mechanical, and, if it makes any effect, it is very little.
And the second kind of person who offers his prayers is the one who offers the prayers because he is taught to do so, and yet is confused as to whether there is any God, if his prayers are really heard. He may be praying, and at the same time confusion may be going on in his mind: "Am I doing right or wrong?" If he is a busy man, he might think, "Am I giving my time to something really profitable, or am I wasting it? I see no one before me. I hear no answer to my prayer." He does it because he was taught by someone to do it, or because perhaps it might bring him some good. His prayer is a prayer in the dark. The heart, which must be opened to God, is covered by his own doubt, and if he prayed in this way for a thousand years, it is never heard. It is this kind of soul who in the end loses his faith, especially when he meets with a disappointment. He prays, and if his prayer is not answered, that puts an end to his belief.
Then there is a third person who has imagination which is strengthened by faith. He does not only pray to God, but he prays before God, in the presence of God. Once imagination has helped man to bring the presence of God before him, God in his own heart is wakened. Then, before he utters a word, it is heard by God; when he is praying in a room, he is not alone, he is there with God; then God to him is not in the highest heaven, but next to him, before him, in him; then heaven to him is on earth, and the earth for him is heaven; no one to him is then so living as God, so intelligible as God, and the names and forms before him, all are covered under Him. Then every word of prayer he utters is a living word. It does not only bring him blessing, but blessings to all those around him. It is this manner of prayer which only is the right way of praying, and by this manner the object that is to be fulfilled by prayer is accomplished.
It is not only belief but faith which is necessary. Belief is a thing, but faith is a living being. We rise by treading the path of faith. Someday we shall realize what God is, but that only comes after the first lesson has been learned. Faith is the A B C of the revelation of God. This faith is begun by prayer.
There are two ways of prayer, and in the first way there are three kinds of prayer.
One prayer is thanksgiving to God for His great goodness, for all that we receive in our life; asking God for His mercy and favor and forgiveness; asking God to grant the desires and wishes that we have. That is the first prayer. This is the first lesson that man has to learn. The other kinds of prayer can only be used as man develops.
In thanking God for all that He has given us, we develop that very thankfulness which man so usually forgets. If we could only reflect upon how many things there are in our life for which we should be thankful and appreciative! But we scarcely ever think about it. We so often think about what we have not got, and therefore keep ourselves always unhappy, when we might be thankful to have a few pennies in our purse. Instead of that, we think we should have a few shillings instead! The consequence is that man forgets to develop the thankful nature; he is unthankful to everyone, and therefore, whatever is done for him, he is still unthankful.
It is the same with all the trouble and struggle that there is in the world. It is his neglect of all that is done for him that causes the spread of unthankfulness. Having forgotten the prayer of thanking God, how can he thank man?
How that beautiful custom is disappearing of saying grace before partaking of the meal! This custom is no longer to be found at fashionable tables; only at houses where there is no fashion; for, when fashion comes, the things that are helpful, moral, and spiritual are forgotten. But what a beautiful thought it is to say grace even before a humble dinner! When thanks have been given to God, however simple the dinner may be, it becomes delicious because of the feeling of thankfulness, the feeling that this is a gift that has been bestowed upon us.
When Sa'adi was traveling to Persia, footsore because he had to walk with bare feet in the hot sun, it was so painful to walk that he was thinking, "There can be no one in the world who is so wretched and miserable as I." But two minutes did not pass before he came across a person whose feet were both useless, so that he was crawling along the ground and only progressing with great difficulty. This caused a prayer to rise in Sa'adi's heart, and he became thankful he was not afflicted like that. He thought, "If I have no shoes, at least my feet are healthy and sound."
It is when we are blind to the goodness, kindness, sympathy, service and help which our fellow men give to us, that we become discontented. There is so much to look at in our lives to excite the feeling of thankfulness in us.
Then there is the mystical meaning of thankfulness. That person who is always grudging, is so much the more in need of prayer. If he prays he will prepare influences which will remove the miseries and wretchedness in his mind, for all this misery is created by his mind during the act of grumbling and having a grudge. The person who is thankful and contented, and appreciative of all that befalls him in life, develops the sense of goodness in his life. The more appreciative he is, the more thankful he becomes and the more does he receive. Thankfulness and appreciation inevitably attract more of their like to themselves.
All that we give is also given to us. But grumbling and grudging also attract their like to ourselves. If the person to whom we give a reward or gift receives it grudgingly and grumblingly, shall we give him more? And then, the fact that we do not give him more gives him still more to grumble about! But the person who is glad and thankful and appreciative of what is done for him, you think he is so good. It gives you such a feeling and such happiness to see him happy and appreciative and contented that he encourages you to do more, and it encourages others to do good also.
Besides thankfulness, there is the request for forgiveness and mercy. The effects of this are also to be seen in our daily life. A servant or child or young man who is abrupt will push against you and never say, "I am sorry." But another person says, "I am sorry," and at once you have forgotten the harm that he has inadvertently done to you. That is the effect which his request for forgiveness has produced.
In some countries and among some people (as, for instance, in France) there is a custom that when a person meets you at the door or on the stairs he shall take off his hat and say, "Pardon." There is no reason why he should do so except that he chanced to meet you, and he thinks that perhaps he should be forgiven. We find that the sensitiveness of man's heart is so delicate that even the presence of a stranger causes a jar. But by saying, "Pardon," that uncomfortable feeling is at once removed, and, in the place of that, the good feeling of friendship is introduced.
However great a fault may be, if this person only comes and says, I am very sorry; I will never do it again; pray forgive," the friendship at once comes back. On the other hand, however trivial and slight the fault may have been, if pride prevents the man from asking forgiveness and pardon, perhaps he will lose that friendship for the rest of his life. His pride prevents him from asking pardon. The fault may have been very small, and he may say, "I do not care about it," and yet the friendship is broken. How many there are who would be ready to forgive if only the person came and said, "I am sorry." But everybody will not do it; they will not admit they have been in fault.
To ask forgiveness of another produces a proper sense of justice in one's mind. He perceives the need for asking God to pardon his faults. When he asks for forgiveness, that forgiveness develops in his nature too, and he becomes ready to forgive others. Christ says in His prayer, "Forgive us as we forgive others." The virtue, the secret, is in that. By asking forgiveness of God, you give up the desire to demand forgiveness from your fellow man, and you desire to give forgiveness to him. We see this with the Arabs and Bedouins in Mecca and the desert. They are so ready to fight one another and kill each other. They may be fighting, and actually have their knives drawn to kill one another, and yet if a third person comes and says, "Forgive, for the sake of God and the Prophet," as soon as they hear these words they both throw away their knives and shake hands, and the handshake is the seal of friendship. Though the Bedouin has no education, yet he has such a devotion to God and His Prophet that no sooner does he hear these words than he at once offers his hand, and from that day there is no spite nor evil thought in his heart.
If we only had that! With all our education and learning, with all the claims of civilization that we make, we are not as good as these. We retain the bitterness in our hearts. We never reflect what a poison it is. The very person who would shudder at the idea of having something in his body that is decayed and offensive--something that should not be there, but should be taken off or cut out or removed--will tolerate that poison of bitterness in his mind: he will not take it out; he will foster it. Had he not lacked the sense of forgiveness and had he not neglected to cultivate the habit of asking forgiveness, he would have become ready to forgive and forget.
Have you ever experienced the joy when two friends, who have quarreled, have mutually asked forgiveness of one another? It is as if there were no more possibility of ill feeling. It is the most delightful feeling. It feels as if the doors of heaven were open for both. When the bitterness has gone, it is as if a mountain had gone, and the heart were free again.
The third part of the first kind of prayer is our need. This is a delicate thing, and yet it is a great virtue. What a beautiful nature it is that will refrain from asking relief from trouble, from difficulty and suffering, except from the one Friend. This is a virtue and not pride. The door of faith is kept open for that Friend upon Whom they can call and ask and obtain ease. "There is One to Whom I can go in my trouble and distress and despair. You are the One, the only One. You are He before Whom nothing is hid. If I desire to unburden myself of this trouble, You, O Lord, are He to Whom I will go."
What a great thing this is! What a sense of honor it is that causes him to refrain from telling his suffering to anyone but God, believing that He will help more than anyone can help. Perhaps another man could help, but it will not bring the satisfaction that comes when it is God that has given the help. What a great pleasure, what a great honor God has done to give him help! That is what comes when the problem has been solved which comes into the life of every noble man, everyone with tender feelings, with inherited good and religious sentiments--solved by deciding "There is no one whom I will ask in my poverty and trouble and need, but only God." These are three things that go to make up the first kind of prayer.
There is a story that a king was traveling and hunting in the woods, and the king was hungry and stopped at the house of a peasant, who treated him very kindly. When the king was leaving this peasant, he was so touched with his kindness that, without telling him that he was a king, he said to him, "Take this ring, and if ever you are in trouble, come to me in the city, and I will see what I can do for you." After a time there was a famine, and the peasant was in great trouble, and his wife and child were dying; and he set out to go and see this man.
When he showed the ring, he was brought to the king. And when he entered the room, he saw the king busy in prayer; and when the king came near to him, he said, "What were you doing?" "Praying for peace and love and happiness among my subjects," said the king. "So there is one greater than you," said the peasant, "to whom you must go for what you seek? Then I will go to him who is greater and on whom even your destiny depends." He would accept no help; and at last the king had to send what was needed quietly to his home, first saying that no one must tell him that it came from the king.
What honor, what spirit it brings when man fixes his trust on Him Who is called "Almighty," Who is Almighty. Rumi says, "When the fire, air, earth, and water all seem to us dead things, the elements, yet they are servants to God, they work for Him, and they always obey Him!" And he goes on to say, in another part of his Masnavi: "Man, when he becomes intelligent, begins to see causes. But it is the superman who sees the Cause of causes, the Source of causes." God is the Cause of causes, the precedent Cause. One who looks at the precedent Cause sees the cause of all in time. A person may study causes all his life, and yet never come to understand the Cause of causes. All causes before that Cause become effects! That Cause remains the Cause which is called "the Word"; then it became Light. "When the Word was spoken," says the Qur'an, "all things came to existence." "Without Him" (the Word), says St. John, "was not anything made that was made."
What is this Cause? It is that inner divine Impulse which has made itself active in every direction, and has accomplished whatever it purposed. It is that which has accomplished all things. The one Cause behind all things is the cause which we call the Power of God.
There are two more ways of prayer.
When people have evolved, they begin to use a still higher prayer. That prayer is the adoration of the immanence of God in the sublimity of Nature. If we read the lives of all the Prophets and Teachers from Krishna to Buddha, Moses to Muhammed, Abraham to Christ, we see how they dwelt in the jungles, and went into the forests, sat beneath trees, and there recognized the divine immanence in all around them. It is a prayer--not to a God in heaven, but to a God living in heaven and on earth--both.
What will praise of God, praise of His creation, praise of His nature, develop in man? It develops in him such an art that nothing can compare with it, a sense of music with which no music can be compared. He begins to see how natures are attracted to one another, and how they harmonize; he sees how inharmonious are produced. The causes of all such things become clear to him, once he begins to see into Nature, to admire the beauty of its construction, its life, its growth, as soon as he begins to study Nature and its causes.
Those who have praised Nature through their art appeal directly to man's heart. Those who praise Nature in their music become artists in music, and those who have expressed their praise in poetry and verse are seen to be great poets. All of them appeal to the heart of man because they have seen God. They have seen Him in Nature, and not alone in Nature, but also on earth. They have turned earth into heaven. That is the next step, the higher step.
Zoroaster has said, "Look at the sun when you pray, at the moon when you pray, at the fire when you pray." People therefore call them sun-worshipers, fire-worshipers, when all the time this worship was merely a way of directing man's attention to all the witnesses of God which express His nature. The one who cannot see any trace of God anywhere, can see Him by looking at all these beautiful things, and observing the harmonious working of all these things.
From beginning to end, the Qur'an points to Nature, showing how by the sun that rises in the morning, and by the moon that appears in the evening, by the Nature that is over all--there is God! Why does the Qur'an always express it this way? If you wish to have some proof of Good, look at Nature and see how wisely it is made--or is it without wisdom? "Mankind, with your wisdom you become so proud that you think there is nothing else worthy. You know not that there is a Perfection of Wisdom before which man is not as a drop to the ocean." Man looks at the surface of the ocean. Yet he is so small that he cannot even be compared to one of its drops, limited as he is in intellect and in knowledge. He seeks to find out the whole creation, whereas those who have touched it, have bowed to God, forgetting their limited selves. After that, God remained, and spoke through them. Such are the only beings who have been able to give any truth to the world.
As Amir says, "He who has lost his limited self, he it is who has attained the High Presence." Do we not forget ourselves when we behold the Vision of Beauty? If we are blind to beauty, we cannot see it, and then we cannot forget ourselves in the beauty and sublimity of the vision.
When we perceive the beauty of Nature, we bow our head in love and admiration. "I cannot study you, for you are too great, you are too beautiful. The only thing left for me to do is to bow my head in prostration at your feet."
If we could only see this perfect beauty around us, if we only had our eyes opened to it, we should at once bow the head in all humility before ever attempting to make a study of it. No pride could find a place in our heart. Without any doubt we should bow our heads before this beauty and wisdom of the Creator, the art of the Creator, and His skill in the flowers, plants and leaves; in the construction of man, his birth, and all other things in life.
It would suffice, did we but once ask how all these things have come--that, as the poet says, "Where there are no teeth, milk is given. When the teeth come, the food suitable for teeth comes also." The eyes are so delicate, and yet a delicate eyelid is formed for them, to cover them and protect them! How all the organs of man's body are fitted and suited for the purpose for which they are made! With all that, there is also the beauty of the art with which the things are made and the height of beauty is attained in the skill shown in the making of mankind.
Whoever has seen beauty, has found that beauty cannot exist without wisdom. Wisdom is behind creation. The one life which has created rocks, trees, plants, animals, birds and all things, is both one life and one wisdom. The flower, the leaf, the fruit and branches, all come from one root, even though they have different names. It is all one. It might be called He or She; yet it is both. When we see that Life with Wisdom is both He and She, we see that Wisdom is behind all things that we see. And then we say that that which is behind all things, is a Person Whom we call God.
The third way of prayer is still greater. It is the way followed by philosophers and mystics. Advancement in this spiritual path is gradual. One cannot use this third way without first having used the other two kinds of prayer.
The third kind of prayer is that of Invocation of the Nature of God, of the Truth of His Being. These are symbolic names. In their meaning there is a subtlety. God's nature is explained in this form of prayer; He is analyzed. The benefit of this prayer is perceived when one has arrived on this plane and the benefit is that he has passed from being a human being--as in the first prayer--through being a holy being, as in the second prayer--to become a God-conscious man. Why? Because this third prayer is in order to bring man still closer to God. Not only does this prayer draw him closer to God, but it makes him forget his limited self until it is entirely forgotten in the end, leaving only the Self of God--the only ideal and aim of all Teachers.
Man has not arrived at his ideal goal until he has used prayer to help him to this stage.
When we look at things from a mystical point of view, we shall find that there is one single straight line, which is called Aim. That line represents the line of the life of any being; the upper end is God, the lower end is man. The line is one. Though that line is one to the mystic and the philosopher, in the realization of the Truth, yet the line is unlimited at the upper end, limited at the other. One end is immortality, the other is mortality.
The innermost yearning of life is to see the ends brought together. It is the third prayer that draws the end which is man near to the end which is God. When he invokes the Names of God, man forgets his limitations, and he impresses his soul with the thought of the Unlimited. This brings him to the ideal of Unlimitedness. This is the secret of life's attainment.
Man is the picture or reflection of his imagination. He is as large as he thinks himself, as great as he thinks himself, as small as he thinks himself. If he thinks he is incapable, he remains incapable; if he thinks himself foolish, he will be foolish, and will remain foolish; if he thinks himself wise, he will be wise, and become wiser every moment; if he thinks himself mighty, he is mighty.
Those who have proved themselves to be the greatest warriors,
where did their might come from? It was from their thought, their feeling
that "I am a mighty one." The idea of "mighty one" was impressed on their
soul, and the soul became might. The poet had poetry impressed on his soul,
and so the soul became a poet. Whatever is impressed on man's soul, with
that the soul becomes endowed, and that the soul will become. If the devil
impresses himself on man's soul, he will become a devil; if God impresses
Himself on man's soul, he will turn into God!