Prayer, the Call of the Soul
A moment of prayer is worth a whole life. by Sri Sri Ravi Shankar
The Call of the Soul
When you achieve something you are very happy, very proud about it. But there is nothing to be proud of in your achievement. If you have achieved something by your effort, that means it is something which is within your capacity to do. What is great in having achieved that which is within your capacity? All that you can gain by your own effort is not worth gaining because you already have it. That something which is greater than you, bigger than you, is worth having. And that which is greater than you can’t be achieved by your effort. Isn’t that so? So your achievement really means nothing.
All that is worth having in life comes out of prayer. And prayer can happen only when you know that something is beyond your capacity, that you can’t achieve it. Then you pray, and all that then descends to you by grace is what is worth having.
Prayer…who can pray? Just see this point. Who can pray? Only those who feel helpless can pray. If you think you can do something, you can achieve something, there is no need to pray. But when you become aware of the futility of your efforts, when you become aware that you are insignificant, that your existence is insignificant in the world, then you can pray. It’s only a matter of realization. If you keep thinking you are a very important person, very significant, or that you are achieving great things, prayer can never happen in you.
Prayer happens only when you become aware of the insignificance of your existence, which matters not at all. Over thousands of years, many people have come on this earth and gone without leaving a trace. In the thousands and thousands o f galaxies, millions of millions stars, the whole universe, you are nothing. You are not even a particle there. How can one be so blind as not see this reality? See yourself from the context of the whole universe. An intelligent man can see that. And he will definitely feel it, feel that he is nobody, is nothing.
Every person is faced with this true situation. At certain times you feel great because you have achieved something. You say, “Yes, I have done this.” At other times all your efforts fail, and you don’t get the result that you wanted. Then there are two choices for you. Either you can brood over it, feel upset, depressed, unhappy, or you can make use of the same situation to pray. Become aware of your insignificance and turn the same situation into a prayer. Every helpless moment is a golden opportunity to pray.
A wise man, an intelligent man, makes those opportunities to pray because in those moments you can go very deep into your heart. You can sink deep into your consciousness, your existence. Or else you can brood over it and keep yourself in a very unhappy situation, worrying about it, feeling sad about it. If you can turn every helpless moment into a moment of prayer, I tell you, you will never face unpleasant moments in your life. If you’re intelligent enough to recognize your insignificance, every moment will be a prayerful moment and in every moment becoming a prayerful moment, your whole life dawns—unconditional joy dawns in you, God dawns in your life, in your mind. So simple!
The first and foremost qualification for prayer is to feel your insignificance, to be aware of your insignificance in this world, to give a wider context to your life. You may think you are doing things in your life. What is it that you are doing? You may think you have planned your life. What is it you have planned? It’s like the story of the lizard. A lizard came to invite another lizard to go for a walk. The second lizard said, “Oh, how can I move from here? I am holding the roof. If I move, the roof will fall off.” We are no better than that. The lizard may appear to be very stupid. So are we. We think we are holding the whole thing up, holding it together.
What have you achieved in your life? Where are you today? You may be a doctor or engineer, a professor, whatever. What did you do to become what you are today? Very honestly, make sincere inquiry into the events of your life. You became an engineer or a doctor or a professor or whatever you are when several things fell into place, didn’t you? All the events fell into place and made you what you are now.
Now see whether you have achieved something every time you made an effort. Many times you have put forth your effort, a one-hundred-percent effort, and still you have failed, haven’t you? And how many times when you have not put forth any effort, did you not fail, but simply passed through the situation?
There must be a limit to ego. You even go to the extent of doing things to satisfy God, to fulfill the gods and goddesses. That is making them a football of your praise and displeasure. You think you are going to please God. God does not want a thing that you have. God doesn’t need anything from you. You think you are offering fruit, flowers, incense, everything to God in order to please God, taking vows and fasting and participating in ceremonies. By doing all these actions, superficial actions, you think you are pleasing God. That is not prayer.
And you are afraid that you may earn the displeasure of God. Can you displease God? Is there a way? God isn’t going to punish you. There isn’t a God sitting up there somewhere on a mountain saying, “I’m going to come and punish you one day, doomsday.” He’s not going to repay you for your good deeds or bad deeds, giving you reward and punishment.
Nor is prayer demanding from God: God heals me of this, God heals my leg, heals my eyes, heals my stomach, belly. You violate all the law of nature and then you go to God to get yourself healed. As though God were your own servant you are asking, ordering. And you even say, “If you do this thing for me, then I will fulfill this role or do this thing,” conditioning the supreme existence, the supreme intelligence. It’s impossible. It’s all a play of your little mind. Look into all this.
It’s nothing great to be an theist. A very stupid person can become an atheist. It doesn’t take much to disprove God—you can very easily disprove God. But to prove the existence of supreme intelligence you need intelligence. Only an intelligent man can have faith in God—not just believing, but having faith, which is deeper, which comes from the depth of your heart. When you know, you have faith. When you don’t know, then you can only believe. Do you see the difference?
By reading books, by hearing what people say here and there, you may have belief. But faith generates within you. Faith is a happening, and event, a stage of maturity of your knowledge, of your wisdom. When knowledge matures, it becomes faith. Prayer is being in total faith. God knows what to give you. God knows what you need. God is aware of you, totally. And if you are aware of that, that is prayer. Don’t go to God as a beggar, asking for this small thing, that small thing. We use God as currency; we act as though God is a currency note we can cash in. People go to temples, churches, mosques to gain some little worldly things. People worship and do puja and go to temple so that their business may prosper, so that they may get peace. So your peace you are placing above God. Your peace has become greater to you than God. So you have become greater than God. This ego, this you remains. And God is far away.
So prayer is not demanding. Prayer is not asking for something. No. Prayer is gratefulness. Prayer is being in totality, being aware of the love that God is pouring on you every moment, the huge waves of love that eternity blows on you. You are in deep slumber now, but in this tidal wave, this storm of love, you can’t sleep. If you’re intelligent, you can’t be asleep. God loves you so dearly. Every day and night, God is doing puja to you. God is giving water to you, giving food to you, being a companion to you, giving love in many, many forms. Recognize this. Prayer is recognition of love, recognition of the ocean of love that existence has for you.
Prayer is experiencing the presence of God. “Does God come first or prayer?” somebody asked. “Let me know God, then I’ll pray. To whom should I pray? Unless I know to whom I am praying, how can I pray?” No, no, no, that is not it. You pray first. Wherever you pray, there is God. You don’t have to go to churches or to temple or to a mosque someplace. Wherever you pray, there is God. Atheists say this, “Let me know God and then I’ll pray.” It’s like saying, “First I’ll learn to swim and then get into the water.” No. The whole mathematics here are very different. Pray comes first. You pray. Pray is being grateful for all that has been bestowed on you. You are being bestowed with eyes, ears, nose, the whole world—feel grateful for all that. Feel grateful for all that you have now. That is prayer.
Another question is, “Why should I pray?” That is not at all a question, “Why should one pray?” No. If one has prayed, then one knows how futile this question is. It’s like asking why should you live? Why should you want peace? Why should you want to be happy? Why do you want to give love and to be loved? Prayer is the flowering of your life. Prayer is evolution; the nature of an evolved human being is prayer. Prayer is a sign of evolution. If you’re not grateful, that is as good as being an animal. Even animals are grateful. Everything in creation is grateful. There is something basically wrong in you if you are not full of gratitude. If you don’t recognize the-presence of infinity around you, then you’re not normal, not in your true nature.
Nature has devised pain in your life in many ways and brings out some of the quality of prayer through it. When we find excuses and slip away—we are very good at it, at slipping away—we miss every opportunity for prayer and try to remain in a small shell.
To whom you should pray is not at all an important question. It doesn’t matter to whom you pray. Whether it is Rama, Krishna, Jesus, Mohammed, Allah, it doesn’t matter. Prayer depends on the one who prays. Pray depends on you and you alone. If you are there, that is enough. You are more than enough for a prayer to happen.
Prayerfulness is a very intimate feeling. It’s very personal. You can’t intimate prayer. You can’t duplicate a prayer. Prayer spontaneously happens. You can’t just pray something and keep on chanting it, singing it. That is not prayer. Prayer is very original. If it is not original, it’s not prayer.
Tolstoy has written a beautiful story. He says that behind a mountain somewhere in Russia or China there were three saints. The Bishop of the town came to know about them and their fame, and he became a little jealous. So he went there, went right to the mountain with all his paraphernalia and pomp and show. When he arrived, the saints welcomed him. He felt a little better to see that they respected him. People who have an inferiority complex want respect.
So the Bishop asked them, “Who made you saints? You have proclaimed yourselves saints. And then what is all this you are doing, calling so many people around you?” And the saints said, “No, Sir, we are just ordinary people. We tell these people not to come, but more and more they are not listening. The more we say not to come, the more they are coming. Please help us.”
Now the Bishop felt even happier so he said, “OK, what is it that you do here?” And the saints said, “We do some prayers.” He again said, “OK, what is the prayer you are doing?” In a church they would have set prayers. They repeat prayers from the Bible. So the Bishop said, “What prayer are you using?” Say it and let me see if you are making a mistake or doing it correctly. I’ll guide you.” People who are misguided feel they want to guide others. Who is going to guide whom?
These saints felt really ashamed to say their prayer. They said, “How can we say the prayer, Sir? It is so personal, so intimate, we feel a little shy to say it.” But the Bishop insisted and so they said, “OK, this is what we pray. We say, “You are three, we are three. Please bless us. Let thy grace be on us. We are three, you are three.”
The Bishop started laughing. He said, “What, is this the prayer? Are you making a joke out of the whole thing?” Then he said, “Come, I will teach you a prayer.” So he dictated a long prayer with very tough words in it. When he had finished, these three illiterate saints could not understand it. Very politely they asked the Bishop, “Would you kindly repeat it for our sake, Sir?” The Bishop said, “OK, all right.” So he recited the prayer once again. Now he was very happy because he thought he had corrected these misguided people, that he had brought them back onto the path. Thinking so, he left.
There was a small lake which he had to cross by boat. He must have crossed to the middle of the lake when he saw something behind him, and when he turned back he saw these three saints coming toward him, walking on the water, running. The saints called to the Bishop and said, “Please, Sir, would you repeat the prayer once again? We are very dull-headed people. We have forgotten. Kindly repeat the prayer once again for our sake.” The Bishop’s eyes were wide open. He said, “No, no. Whatever prayer you were doing before, please continue that.” Then he said, “Now please add one more. You were saying, ‘You are three, we are three.’ Now please say, ‘You are three and we are four.’ Pray for me too. And take me with you also.”
Prayer is very personal and intimate. It is not the repetition of something. You don’t have to say one thousand times, one hundred times, “Ram, Ram, Ram, Ram, Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, Jesus.” No. Once you call from the depth of your heart, that is prayer. It’s not repetition. It is original. Even prayer can be made stale by repetition. Prayer is very original. Every devotee, every saint has sung in his own words. There were many songs before Mira, before Kabir, but they did not sing the same old songs. They made their own songs. They sang in their own way. They connected themselves very personally to God. There are no rules. All rules fall away in prayer.
When Ramakrishna Paramahamsa was asked to pray, he prayed in his own way. He broke all the rules in the temple. He said, “My Mother knows me, and I know what my Mother wants.” There are no rules in love. When you so love somebody, it’s not that you must sit on this side, you must love like this. Nobody goes to a school, to college, and reads books to learn to love. You don’t have to become a scholar to love. Love, devotion is your nature.
No one else can do your prayer. Your prayer is your own prayer. Your prayer is your own flowering. No other bud can bloom for you. Any other blossom that blooms, blooms for itself. Being thankful, being grateful is what prayer is. You have to do your own prayer, but you can be helped. Prayer is not possible through words. Certainly not. It’s not that God only understands Latin, Greek, or English, or Sanskrit, or Hindi. No. Prayer can never be done by words.
Words cannot reach that well where prayer happens. You can use words to bring about a feeling. It is in the depth of the feeling that prayer begins. So don’t worry about words or wording. Prayer is not going outside you to something away from you. Prayer is becoming aware of the presence, experiencing the presence in the depth of your feelings.
You can pray anytime. There is no fixed time that you should get up and pray. And it is not necessary to pray in some particular manner. I know one gentleman who would get up at three o’clock in the morning when everybody was asleep at home and start chanting and reading, louder and louder and louder. He started reciting and signing at three o’clock in the morning. He disturbed the whole house. His wife and children used to get very upset. You don’t have to pray that way, getting up early in the morning or sitting late at night. At any moment you can pray. Prayer is not a mechanical thing. It should rise from within you. Prayer can rise with maturity. If you are immature, any effort you put into it, any amount of practice you do, you can’t pray. Prayer should never be practiced, cannot be practiced at all. Prayer is not a practice; it’s a spontaneous happening which comes when your life matures. The more maturity you have in your life, the more prayerful it becomes.
Prayer is not a serious thing. You don’t need to be sad to pray. Prayer is joy. Prayer is a game, it’s play. If you’ve once tasted the joy, the ecstasy of prayer, you can never forget it. There is no experience that equals the ecstasy of prayer. So a devotee takes every opportunity to pray, every opportunity to dance, every opportunity for God to dawn. That is evolution, no?