Prayer is one of the oldest of human acts and one of the first of human needs.
"Teach us how to pray," cried the disciples to Jesus. The modern man is just as bewildered as they were. He has to learn the answer afresh.
The quest begins with prayer and even ends with it too. No man, whether novice or proficient, can afford to throw away this valuable means of communion, adoration, worship, and request.
The call for prayer which, in most religions, is timed for once or twice a day and, in the Islamic religion, for five times a day, has at least two objectives in the mind of those sages who originally framed it. The first is to act as a reminder of what one is--a soul--and where one is going--ultimately to God. The second is to rescue us from the narrowing materializing routine of work or business.
Prayer is very necessary. It helps to clean or purge the feelings. Prayer later leads to intuition.
Do not pray for things to happen in the way you wish them to; this is not always the same as what is best for you. Even in your daily prayers you can do something to better your character.
Most people start their prayer asking for something. That is not right; prayer is an act of devotion and love to God. It is the manifestation of the feeling that there is something higher with which it is possible to come in contact. Prayer is not only asking, it is first and foremost an act of worship and love of God. Only after that is done you may ask for something for yourself--mainly, of course, for spiritual things and not material. You should pray in solitude, if possible. But you may pray with others if they are in harmony with you.
There is no man so advanced that he can afford to dispense with prayer. It occupies a most important place in the philosophic aspirant's life.
The sceptic who deems all prayer vain and useless, who regards the reasons for it as foolish, is too often justified. But when he ceases to search farther for the reasons behind prayer, he becomes unjustified. For if he did search, he might discover that true prayer is often answered because it is nothing less than making a connection--however loose, ill-fitting, and intermittent it be--with the life-force within the universe.
There is no one so sinful or so degraded in character that he is denied this blessed privilege of a contrite yearning for communion with his own divine source. Even the failure to have ever prayed before, even a past life of shame and error, does not cancel but, on the contrary, merely enhances this right. This granted, it will be found that there are many different forms of such communion, different ways of such prayer.
There are those who object to the introduction of prayer into the philosophic life. In a world governed by the law of cause and effect, of what avail is this whining petition for unearned boons, they ask. Is it not unreasonable to expect them? Would it not be unfair to others to grant them?
These objections are valid ones. But the subject is covered with clouds. To dispel two or three of them, it is worth noting two or three facts. The first is that whether a prayer is addressed to the Primordial Being, to the Overself, or to a spiritual leader, it is still addressed to a higher power, and it is therefore an abasement of the ego before that power. When we remember the smug self-complacency of man, and the need of disturbing it if he is to listen to a truer Voice than his own, what can be wrong with such self-humbling? He will not be exempted by his petitioning from the sway of the law of cause and effect. If he seems to get an answer to his prayer we may be sure it will be for reasons that are valid in themselves, even if he is ignorant of those reasons. But how many prayers get answered? Everyone knows how slight the proportion is.
The man who is earnestly seeking to advance spiritually will usually be ashamed to carry any worldly desire into his sacred prayer. He will be working hard upon himself to improve, purify, and correct himself, so he need have no hesitation to engage in prayer--for the right things. He will pray for better understanding of the higher laws, clearer sight as to what his individual spiritual obligation consists in, more and warmer love for the Overself.
It is strange that most just persons usually acknowledge having no right to get something for nothing, yet in the matter of prayer they feel no shame in requesting liberation from their particular weaknesses or habitual sins. Are they entitled to ask--often in a mechanical, importunate, or whining manner--for a result for which other persons work all-too-hard? Is it not effrontery to ask for divine intervention which should favour them while the others toil earnestly at reshaping themselves?
How then should a man pray? Should he beg for the virtues to be given to him gratis and unearned for which other men have to strive and labour? Is it not more just to them and better in the end for himself if, instead of demanding something for nothing, he prays thus: "I turn to you, O Master, for inspiration to rise above and excel myself, but I create that inspiration by my own will. I kneel before you for guidance in the problems and decisions of life, but I receive that guidance by taking you as an example of moral perfection to be followed and copied. I call upon you for help in my weakness and difficulty, my darkness and tribulation, but I produce and shape that help by trying to absorb it telepathically from your inner being." This is a different kind of prayer from the whining petitions often passing under that name, and whereas they seldom show direct, traceable results, this always shows them.
He should not fall into the error of believing that the transition to philosophical study has exempted him from the duty of mystical practice or that the transition to the latter has exempted him from the need of religious devotion. We do not drop what belongs to a lower stage but keep and preserve it in the higher one. Aspiration is a vital need. He should become as a child at the feet of his divine Soul, humbly begging for its grace, guidance, and enlightenment. If his ego is strong, prayer will weaken it. Let him do this every day, not mechanically but sincerely and feelingly until the tears come to his eyes. The quest is an integral one and includes prayer alongside of all the other elements.
Prayer is the mood of the lower self when it turns towards the higher self.
We pray to confess sin or to humble self, to commune with the Divine or to invoke Grace, in joy as well as in despair.
Prayer does not mean bribery, flattery, or fright.
Those endowed with strong critical judgement may feel that it is useless to bow the head and bend the knees in prayer. It might be better for the personal balance if they did so, but their difficulty must be recognized.
Buddha labelled prayer as quite useless. Jesus, on the contrary, invited his followers to frequent prayer.
We are called to prayer because we can achieve no success, whether in human life or in the spiritual quest, without seeking and gaining divine help.
In those situations wherein it is totally helpless to save itself from danger and death, every creature sends forth an anguished cry from the heart. And this is as natural to animals as to human beings. The younger animals address it to their physical mother, the older ones to the Father-Mother of all beings, God.
Can anyone correctly say that he can put no feeling behind prayer for spiritual light, guidance, or help because he knows so little about it or has so little faith in it? At least he realizes the need of help from an outside source and can beseech or petition whatever powers there be to give whatever help they can. Telepathy being a fact and the mental world being no less real than this one, such concentrations cannot be without some kind of value.
The first value of prayer is that it is a confession of personal inadequacy and, by consequence, an aspiration to personal upliftment. It is a self-humbling of the ego and the beginning of a detachment from it. It is a first step in obedience to Jesus' paradoxical proclamation, "He that loseth his life shall find it."
Dionysius the Areopagite said that there were three kinds of prayer: the circular, the spiral, and the direct.
Those who believe prayer to be a remnant of primitive superstition, outmoded in a modern spiritual life or unheeded by a higher mystical one, are wrong. The twentieth-century man may as profitably give himself to it today as the second-century man did--perhaps more profitably because he requires more help from outside himself.
However, if prayer is an indispensable part of the spiritual life, lower conceptions of prayer are not indispensable to a higher grade of that life.
Within the conception of philosophy there is room for the humblest prayerfulness as well as the acutest intelligence.
The Christian grace before, the Hebrew thanksgiving before and after meals, were prescribed for the same reason that the Muhammedan's brief five-times-a-day prayer was prescribed. And this was to bring the remembrance of life's higher purpose into everyday living.
Many philosophic students do not realize the importance of prayer and are genuinely surprised when counsel is given to preface their meditations with a few minutes of humble worship. Some protest that they do not know to What or to Whom to pray; that God as the Absolute Principle is incapable of intercommunication, whilst God as the popular dispenser of boons and woes is a mere fiction of priests and clerics. They seem to think that those who have started practising mystical exercises--and certainly those who have commenced philosophic studies--have no further need for prayer. They could not be more mistaken.
The positive gains from each stage of the Quest are never lost. Those of religion are preserved in the mystical stage, and must not be rejected; those of mysticism are retained in the third and higher degree of philosophy. Naturally, the individual advances to higher conceptions of prayer, but that is not to say he advances beyond its practice altogether. Such an atheistic attitude could never be sanctioned. Sincere prayer is a necessity and a delight to the earnest student.
To return to those who are still wondering to What or Whom they should address their prayers: it is suggested they offer them in the direction of That in whose existence they presumably do believe--their own Higher "I."
Too many individuals--and some of them are followers of this Quest--fail to remember the importance of simple prayer. There is not enough humbling of intellectual pride at the feet of the Higher Power and there is an obvious neglect of reverent worship in their attitudes and daily lives.
One must not overlook the importance of prayer, particularly at a certain stage of development. This does not mean the mechanical formula of an orthodox church, but simple, spontaneous, fervent worship--a petition for communion--directed from the heart to the Higher Self.
The mystic has to pass through the earlier stage of regarding the Overself as an "other" before he can arrive at the later stage of regarding it as his own essential self. Hence the need of prayer for the first stage.
True prayer may be any of several things: humble opening of the whole heart so that the Divine may enter if it chooses to do so, allowing endeavour to achieve silent communion with the higher power, or a selfless seeking to understand the divine will in any particular situation.
The suggestion that the student devote more time to prayer is made and repeated because it is believed that prayer can be of great help to his progress.
Forms of prayer
The devotional nature of the student should be brought out by cherishing love for the Divine, nurturing aspirations toward the Divine, and cultivating earnestness in quest of the Divine. These qualities are best expressed through the habit of daily prayer. The love will be expressed by the eager feeling with which he turns his thoughts to prayer every day; the aspiration will be revealed by the height towards which the worship will reach during the prayer and by the depth towards which his self-abasement will fall during the same time. The earnestness will be shown by the fundamental mood of endeavour after self-betterment which should underlie his whole waking life.
Each morning the inner work is to be prefaced by a brief prayer and physical obeisance, the first asking to be used as a channel, and the second seeking a reorientation of contact.
A philosopher's prayer: "That which is the ever-living presence in man: to That I turn when in trouble; on That I meditate when at rest; may That bless with its grace my entry into the other side of death."
It is good to pray that the coming year may find in you a more aspiring and more determined person, a calmer and better balanced seeker after truth.
The power of thought is greatest when it is inspired by that which is beyond thought, and so, with the approach of the Christmas-New Year season, the mystic takes others with him into this mental remembrance which is to him a form of meditation and which he believes will not be without some inner value to them.
Kneeling, the Western bodily attitude of prayer, expresses the mental attitude of humility. Prostration, the Eastern attitude of prayer, with the forehead bent close to the floor, carries the same mental attitude to the extreme degree--abasement.
Thanks for Thy presence and existence here and now.
Praise for making life on earth more bearable and more endurable when it becomes oppressive.
The Egyptian priest knelt on the floor on his haunches, heels supporting buttocks, both arms stretched out sideways to receive invisible powers from above, the palms upturned toward heaven.
Prayer is at its best, and consequently most effective, when it is done in humility and love.
He should make use of prayer. Every day he should go down on his knees and pray for grace, offer himself in self-surrender to the higher self, and express his yearning and love for it. Such readiness to go down on his knees for a minute or two, to abase the ego's pride in prayer, is extremely valuable. This is what Jesus meant by becoming "as a little child"; this humility is inspired childlikeness, not stupid childishness.
It was Origen, the early Church Father, who asserted that the true posture of prayer is the standing one, where the arms are stretched out in the shape of a cross.
O Thou Divinity within me, (and in whom I similarly am)--may I ever remember why this earthly life must be elevated and redeemed.
With hands upraised, the palms and fingers steepled in the gesture of prayer, a man expresses himself, with or without voice, to the Infinite instinctively and physically.
"May He guide our minds," prays the Hindu every day. This is a good humbling thought.
At some point during your prayer surrender your personal self to God, and your personal will to His Will.
If you want a workable and faultless prayer, what is better than the one which Socrates habitually used, "Give me that which is best for me," or the one which some older pagan used, "May I love, seek, and attain only that which is good"?
In all times hands have been lifted--whether in supplication or in aspiration--before God. This is an instinctive natural gesture.
Hymn: "Praise God from Whom all blessings flow,
Praise Him, all creatures here below;
Praise Him above, Angelic Host,
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost!"
Buddhist form of showing homage: Place both hands together with palms touching. Raise up the arms and then bring them backward until the thumbs rest on the forehead.
What a privilege to carry
Everything to God in prayer!
Oh, what peace we often forfeit,
Oh, what needless pain we bear--
All because we do not carry
Everything to God in prayer!
It is advisable to bring your prayer or healing treatment to an end with a silent or spoken expression of thanks to the higher power. It should be uttered with strong fervour and deep humility.
The Jain saint Amitagati: a) "Pray my mind, O Lord, be always at equilibrium, at home and abroad." b) "By self-analysis, self-censure, and repentance, I destroy sin."
Unseen, untouched and unknown,
The only grace I beg for
Is the grace of loving Thee!
The Seven Sacred Physical Postures and Mental Attitudes of Philosophic Worship (Essay also printed in volume 4)
The function of these postures is suggestive and helpful. They are symbolic of seven emotional attitudes. Each physical posture is to some extent an index to the feelings which actuate it. Because man dwells in a body of flesh, his bodily posture is as significant during prayer and worship as during any other activity: it becomes a sacred gesticulation.
Some mystically minded people, either because they reject all ceremonial observance or because they can see no utility in them whatever, object to using these postures. On the first ground, we answer that in philosophy such practices are not hollow rites, but valuable techniques, if performed with consciousness and with intelligent understanding. On the second ground, we answer that the exercises depolarize the physical body's earthward gravitation and render it more amenable to the entrance of spiritual currents. They clear the aura of undesirable magnetism. If anyone feels that he has no need of them, he may dispense with them.
Three remarks by Avicenna serve as an excellent introduction to the use of these postures.
The act of prayer should further be accompanied by those
attitudes and rules of conduct usually observed in the presence of kings:
humility, quietness, lowering the eyes, keeping the hands and feet
withdrawn, not turning about and fidgeting.
These postures of prayer, composed of recitation, genuflection,
and prostration and occurring in regular and definite numbers, are visible
evidence of that real prayer which is connected with, and adherent to, the
rational soul. In this manner the body is made to imitate that attitude,
proper to the soul, of submission to the Higher Self, so that through this
act man may be distinguished from the beasts.
And now we would observe that the outward, disciplinary part of
prayer, which is connected with personal motions according to certain
numbered postures and confined elements, is an act of abasement, and of
passionate yearning on the part of this lower, partial, compound, and
limited body towards the lunary sphere.
--from Avicenna on Theology, by A.J. Arberry
1. Standing and remembrance.
(a) Stand comfortably, facing towards the east or the sun. (b) Plant the feet ten inches apart, raise arms forward and upward until they are about halfway between vertical and horizontal levels, at forty-five degrees above the horizontal, and fully extended. (c) The palms of both hands should be turned away and upward. (d) The head is slightly raised and the eyes are uplifted.
Bring the mind's attention abruptly away from all other activities and concentrate only on the Higher Power, whether as God, the Overself, or the Master. The act of uplifting the arms should synchronize with decisively uplifting the thoughts. The mere fact of abruptly abandoning all activities and of practising the lifting of hands for a certain time will help to bring about the uplift of the mind. 2. Stretching and worship.
(a) Assume the same position of feet and arms as in the previous posture. (b) Bend in lower part of arms at elbows and bring palms of both hands flatly together, at the same time inhaling deeply. Hold the breath a few seconds. Exhale while letting arms fall.
The attitude should be one of loving, reverential, adoring worship of the Overself. 3. Bowing and aspiration.
(a) With feet still apart, place both hands lightly on front of the thighs. (b) Bend the trunk forward at the waistline until it is nearing a horizontal level. Take care to keep both knees rigidly straight and unbent. (c) Let the palms slide downward until they touch the knees. Relax the fingers. (d) The head should be in line with the backbone, with the eyes looking down to the floor.
By pouring the devotion and love towards the Higher Power, the feeling of a personal relation to It should be nurtured. 4. Kneeling and confessions.
(a) Drop down to the floor and rest the knees upon it. (b) Lift the trunk away from the heels, keeping it in a straight erect line with the thighs. (c) Flatten the palms of both hands together and bring them in front of, as well as close to, the breast. (d) Close the eyes. This, of course, is the traditional Christian prayer posture.
Remorsefully acknowledge weaknesses in character and confess sins in conduct in a repentant, self-humbling attitude. Be quite specific in naming them. Also confess the limitations, deficiencies, and imperfections one is aware of. Second, ask for strength from the Higher Power to overcome those weaknesses, for light to find Truth, and for Grace. The qualities needed to counteract them should be formulated in definite terms. This confession is an indispensable part of the philosophic devotions. When it is sincere and spontaneous, it makes a proud man humble and thus opens the first gate in the wall of Grace. It compels him to become acutely conscious of his ignorance and ashamedly aware of his weakness. The praying person humbles the ego and breaks up his vanity; therefore he must not hide his mistakes or look for excuses. Only through such frankness can the time come when he will get the strength to overcome that mistake. This confession forces the praying person down to the ground and his self-respect with him, like a humiliated beggar. In his anguish, he constantly rediscovers his insufficiency and need of help from God or God's man. 5. Squatting and submission.
(a) Remaining on the knees, sink down until both heels support the trunk's weight, spine and head erect, hands on thighs. (b) Lower the chin until it touches the chest. (c) The eyes should be kept half-closed.
This posture is to be done with the mind and heart together completely emptied and surrendered to the Higher Power in utter resignation of the self-will. Humbly surrender the ego and discard its pride. Pray for Grace and ask to be taken up into the Overself completely. It is a sound instinct which causes a man to bend his head when the feeling of reverence becomes strong within him. 6. Prostrating and union.
(a) Without rising, and keeping legs folded at the knees, bend the torso forward and incline the face as low as possible. (b) Bring the hands to rest upon the floor-rug, with palms outstretched, taut, and touching. (c) Place the forehead upon the hands. The knees should then be crouched up toward the chest. All ten toes must touch the floor. (d) Shut the eyes. The ancient Egyptian religion made hetbu or "bowing to the ground" an important part of its worship. The Muhammedans make bowings of the body during prayer equally important. This posture is practised widely in the Orient, but it is inconvenient to most Western people and is therefore usually withdrawn from them. If anyone, however, is much attracted to it, he may practise it.
During this posture, one should empty the mind of all thoughts and still it. Relax the emotions, open the heart, and be completely passive, trying to feel the inflow of heavenly love, peace, and blessing. 7. Gesturing (with thoughts concentrated on service and self-improvement).
(a) So as not to lose this high mood, rise from the floor slowly and smoothly to resume ordinary activities in the world. At the same time, turn attention away from self towards others, if inclined. Intercede for them, draw blessings down upon them, and hold them up to the divine light, power, and peace. (b) Press the right hand to brow, mouth, and heart by turns, pausing at each gesture. Resolve to follow firmly the ideal qualities mentioned during the confession of posture 4. When touching the brow, resolve to do so in thoughts; when touching the mouth, resolve to do so in speech; and when touching the heart, resolve to do so in feelings. Epilogue.
Cross and fold the arms diagonally while standing. The hands will then rest upon the chest, the fingers will point upwards toward the shoulders. In this last stage, you are to be sincerely thankful, joyously grateful, and constantly recognizant for the fact that God is, for your own point of contact with God, and for the good--spiritual and material--that has come your way.
The first part of his prayer should be spoken aloud. His lips must give his thought a physical embodiment. This is because he lives in a physical world and the prayer should start on the same level. But the second part should be silent and mental, introverted and absorbed. Yet he should not arbitrarily fix the moment of passage from the first to the second part. The change from speech to silence ought to come about of its own accord and by his own inner prompting.
Prayer, if it is petitionary, is best formulated just before and just after entering the stillness. In the first case, the heart is then purer and will ask more wisely. In the second case, if the silent communion has been established, and the afterglow of peace is there, the heart will then understand that the whole problem is then best left with the higher power and anxiety dismissed, that demands made from ignorance merely limit or thwart the power.
Prayer ought to be a reaching out to the spiritual presence of the higher power. It ought to satisfy itself with obtaining a certain intuitive feeling, above and beyond all its ordinary everyday personal feelings. Then, if it seeks something specific, it ought to ask for more light of understanding, more power of self-mastery, more goodness of heart--not for more dollars in the bank, more furniture in the home, more horsepower in the car.
He should not hesitate to pray humbly, kneeling in the secrecy of his private room, to the Overself. First his prayer should acknowledge the sins of his more distant past having led to sufferings in the later past or his immediate present, and he should accept this as just punishment without any rebellious feeling. Then he may throw himself on the Grace as being the only deliverance left outside his own proper and requisite efforts to amend the causes. Finally let him remember the living master to whom he has given allegiance and draw strength from the memory.
To enter this stillness is the best way to pray.
It is not to be, as it is with so many unenlightened religionists, nothing more than a request to be given something for nothing, a petition for unearned and undeserved personal benefit. It is to be first, a confession of the ego's difficulty or even failure to find its own way correctly through the dark forest of life; second, a confession of the ego's weakness or even helplessness in coping with the moral and mental obstacles in its path; third, an asking for help in the ego's own strivings after self-enlightenment and self-betterment; fourth, a resolve to struggle to the end to forsake the lower desires and overcome the lower emotions which raise dust-storms between the aspirant and his higher self; and fifth, a deliberate self-humbling of the ego in the admission that its need of a higher power is imperative.
Do not make your request until you have first made the highest grade of your devotional worship or scaled the peak of your mystical meditation. Then only should you formulate it, and hold it before the Power whose presence you then feel.
He should believe that he is at that moment receiving that which he is praying for. But he should do so only if he feels no contrary indication of coldness or doubt, and only after he has made contact with the power through pure worship or meditation.
Whenever an emergency arises wherein you require help, guidance, protection, or inspiration, turn the thought away from self-power and bring it humbly to the feet of the higher power in prayer.
Prayers really begin when their words end. They are most active not when the lips are active but when they are still.
Many people turn to prayer through weakness in desperation and pain. Others turn through strength in the desire to establish communication or attend holy communion.
That which is prayed for in the turbulent desire of the ego may be wrong. But that which is prayed for in the deepest stillness of the Overself's presence will be right and, therefore, received.
A public place is an unnatural environment in which to place oneself mentally or physically in the attitude of true prayer. It is far too intimate, emotional, and personal to be satisfactorily tried anywhere except in solitude. What passes for prayer in temples, churches, and synagogues is therefore a compromise dictated by the physical necessity of an institution. It may be quite good but too often alas! it is only the dressed-up double of true prayer.
Perhaps the best solution of this problem is to combine the two: to perform private prayers in a public building as the Catholics do. But those individuals who have gone some way ahead of the mass will usually prefer to follow Jesus' advice and pray in the secrecy of their own chambers.
Too often prayer is mere soliloquy, a man talking to his own ego about his own ego, and heard only by his own ego. It would be far better for him to learn how to keep his thoughts silent, to put himself into a receptive listening attitude; what he may then hear may convince him that "the Father knoweth what ye need."
Oh, Lord, if I have any prayer at all it is, "Make the `me' absolutely quiescent and lead me into thy utter stillness where nothing else matters but the stillness itself."
Prayer is of course only one part of the Quest. Prayer should be the expression of his reverence and love for the Higher Power, God, or the Soul, or whatever he likes to call it. It can be silent or not. In his prayers he should follow this worship with a confession of those defects and weaknesses which hinder his full communion with God, and, only at the end of the prayer should he ask for help in overcoming them and for light to guide him.
What shall he pray for? Let him aspire more intensely than ever to the Overself and ask to become united in consciousness with it, surrendered in will to it, and purified in ego.
If the presence of divinity is felt, no name need be uttered in invocation and no prayer need be made in petition.
It is wiser not to talk excessively in prayer, better to remain silent a while and thus give God a chance to speak to us.
Prayer and meditation are private acts for they do not concern a man's relations with other men, but with God. Therefore they should be practised privately.
Pray by listening inwardly for intuitive feeling, light, strength, not by memorized form or pauperized begging.
When we are actually in the vivid presence of this holier self, we may utter our petitionary prayers, but not before.
The step from public worship to private communion is a step forward.
The Russian Staretz Silouan wrote, in the notes which he left behind when he died in monastic Mount Athos, that prayer should be so highly concentrated that each word comes forth slowly.
He may always rightly close his prayer by soliciting guidance and sometimes by asking for forgiveness. Such a request can find justification, however, only if it is not a request for interfering with karma, only if it comes after recognition of wrong done, perception of personal weakness, confession leading to contrition, and a real effort to atone penitently and improve morally. The eternal laws of karma will not cease operating merely for the asking and cannot violate their own integrity. They are impersonal and cannot be cajoled into granting special privileges or arbitrary favours to anyone. There is no cheap and easy escape from them. If a sinner wants to avoid hurtful consequences of his own sins, he must use those very laws to help him do so, and not attempt to insult them. He must set going a series of new causes which shall produce new and pleasanter consequences that may act as an antidote to the older ones.
Misunderstandings and misuses
If the world's business were to be at the mercy of every uttered petition that rises from the lips of man, then it would tumble into chaos, and life would become a bewildering maze. No!--before we talk glibly about prayer being answered, we should first distinguish between pseudo-prayers and genuine prayer.
The belief that the Supreme Principle of the universe can be drawn away from Its work by every call from every person, or induced to obey every request of every kind, or persuaded to cancel the operation of cosmic laws to suit one creature who dislikes its effect upon himself, is not only naïve but also insulting. For it would lessen God and dwindle him down to the status of a mere man. Ascribing more power to his own prayer really implies that there is so much less power in God.
Men and women who find themselves in situations of great need, or confronted by problems which render them desperate, or oppressed by sickness, loss of employment, in debt, or involved in circumstances of grave peril, are not to be blamed if they turn for help to the Source of all love. Their prayers are as legitimate as the outcries for help from every child to its mother or father. Their call for relief is pardonable and not improper. But what is unreasonable is the refusal to enquire how far they have themselves contributed to their situation and how much they must themselves do to amend it. The immature child cannot be expected to make such enquiry and its parent may have to do alone everything that is required to help it, but the grown adult has also grown into responsibilities and duties. What I am trying to say is that he must share with the higher power the work of saving himself, a work which begins with examining the past causes of his calamity, goes on to taking present steps off the beaten path on required action, and ends only in resolving on a future character or capacity which will throw out the seeds of such causes. Call this rational prayer, if you like. The act of praying is here neither wildly denounced as being quite useless, a kind of childish talking to oneself, nor foolishly praised as being the right way out of all troubles.
If men knew, as the seers know, how wide a gulf lies between established, organized religions and true religion itself, they would understand why the prayers of such religions, whether for national or individual objects, so often fail to reach God and get no response. On May 26, 1940, there was a mass appeal to God from every house of worship throughout England and the British Empire. The British Government declared it a National Day of Prayer for this purpose. But within a few days Belgium surrendered, and within a month France collapsed. Britain was left to fight alone. Was this the answer to her prayer? Religious prayer, when neglected at other times and resorted to only when material benefit is sought, is the greatest example of wishful thinking the world has ever known. If the response of the Almighty Deity is to be in direct ratio to the volume of the prayers He receives, if He is to be amenable only when these incantations reach a certain figure, then the Tibetan prayer-wheel deserves to be manufactured in the West by mass-production methods!
To regard--as W. Tudor Pole regards--the successful withdrawal from Dunkirk or the successful air battle of Britain as being the result of the Church's intercession or of the National Day of Prayer is merely to fall into superstition. Why not say that the capitulation of Belgium and the collapse of France were also due to the same cause because they also occurred about the same time? Why did not all the clergy's prayers save the thousands of British churches which were destroyed by German bombs? No--karma is more powerful than the Church, evolution more fateful than intercession; Britain was saved because both the British karma and the world's evolutionary needs demanded its saving.
The idea that because of national days of prayer the war took a different course than it might otherwise have taken is one that must be questioned. Since the most ancient times, nations have had such days whenever they found themselves in trouble and usually they consisted of nationwide requests that the trouble be taken from them. Merely making such a request cannot of itself alter the course of Destiny, nor influence God. True prayer should be something more, something deeper than that. There must be true repentance and not merely an attempt to escape a situation toward which one has contributed by one's own wrong thinking and wrong actions. How few are the nations who have genuinely repented; once out of trouble they have quickly resumed the same old course. One may have the greatest faith in the value and power of prayer, but in order for it to be effectual, it must be genuine and it must be practised correctly.
The emotional worship and wishful thinking of popular religion have not saved the millions who practise it from following leaders who led them into war and destruction, or from customs which caused sickness and spread disease. Prayer will not prove a substitute for intelligence nor prevent man experiencing the effects of his own failure to restrain his lower nature.
So many believe that if only they keep on begging, God will magically put into them the good qualities which they lack. Is such a great result to be achieved as simply as that? The hundreds of thousands of disappointed persons who find themselves the same as they were before, despite months and years of pouring out their emotional petitions to a crudely and childishly imagined God, show that this naïve belief is either a misuse and misunderstanding of true prayer or a mere superstition.
When we consider the tremendous number of public prayers which have been spoken, chanted, read, or muttered in public gatherings for so many centuries, the human race seems to have derived disproportionate profit from the practice. May it not be because the utterance has become too formal, a matter of mental repetition without the supporting inward loving devotion needed to make it real?
Considering that all is known to God, and that therefore all our needs must be known to him too, what is the use of offering this information to God in our prayers?
How useful are prayers which are set, formal, and prepared? All too often they lack individual appeal and fail to stir any feeling. Nevertheless, it would be wrong to say that they are quite useless.
Who has kept count of the number of ministers who prayed for sick patients, only to witness the latter get worse and die! How many relatives have gone to the bedside of their ailing one, there to pray earnestly for recovery, but the ebbing underflow of life trickled away despite their request? Nobody knows the ratio of answered prayers to unanswered ones, but everybody knows that it is a small one.
To utter routine prayers whose words have never received sufficient thought, or even any thought at all, is a waste of time.
It is a great and grave fallacy to believe that it is necessary to pray in order to be taken care of by God. The truth is that there is no moment when God is not taking care of us or, indeed, of everyone else. God is in every atom of the Universe and consequently in full operation of the Universe. This activity does not stop because we stop praying.
When these three signs of the most elementary stage are brought together and united--the public rite, the spoken utterance, and the set wording--there is danger of the whole prayer itself becoming a mere gabble unless the individual safeguards it by the utmost humility and sincerity.
Many more people than is usually admitted fall into the posture or utter the petitions of prayer without much hope that it will be effectual.
For so many thousands of years in the historic epoch, and for unknown thousands of years in the prehistoric epoch, men have propitiated God, and prayed for boons or relief; yet the world today is more miserable and more engulfed in suffering than ever before.
Father John of Kronstadt was called to the Imperial Palace to pray for the Empress, who had had only girls born to her, whereas the Tsar urgently wanted a son and heir. The holy man's prayers failed to produce the desired result. Yet at other times and with other persons, they had been granted.
Dogmatic or mechanical prayer is really valueless. The only effective prayer comes straight from the heart. It should be fervent, reverent, and spontaneous, expressing both idealistic aspirations and spiritual needs.
Offering prayers to the kind of God whom most people talk about is almost as useful, as helpful, and as rational as offering chocolates to the law of gravitation.
How foolish are those men who try to make their prayers heard on earth, as if God were also a man!
With the departure of superstitions from religion, waste of time in meaningless religious activities will also depart. What is the use of praying to the Source for those things which man himself, by using his natural capacities, can supply? He should turn to prayer only when his own efforts are in vain, an indication that it is time to turn the problem over to the Source, the Overself. How many of his illnesses, for example, come from wrong ways of living, eating, drinking, or thinking? The body has its own laws of hygiene, and the learning of them is as much part of his development during his lives on earth as the learning of spiritual laws.
True prayer is first fellowship, then communion, and ultimately merger. That is, it is a drawing closer and closer to the Overself. Asking for things is not even to attain the first step. Such things are merely the secondary results of prayer. They will surely come, for the Overself knows your needs, your true needs, and will surely take care of them.
The man who prays for material goods is performing a questionable act, but the man who prays for spiritual goods is performing a wiser one. The man who asks to have his troubles taken away is also acting questionably, but the man who asks for the strength and guidance to deal wisely with his troubles is more likely to get them.
The hour of prayer is a time not to beg but to ascend, not to be filled with thoughts of yourself but with thoughts of God. It is not to be concerned with this world but to lift the mind above it.
The more we use prayer for communion and worship, the less we use it for begging and petition, the more will our prayers be answered. God has given us both intelligence and will: we have the business of using as well as developing them. Prayer is not to be used as an alibi to save us from these duties.
Too many people do not know how to pray, or try to use meditation to satisfy their selfishness. The first group comes to prayer with the attitude "My will be done." The second group comes to meditation with worldly desires as the object of their worship. Both are doing wrong.
The belief many people have that they can call out in prayer to the higher power for their needs without fulfilling their obligations to that power is illogical. They ought not to be so naïve. They ought to enquire first how far, through ignorance, they are disobeying the higher laws and how far, through negligence, they are departing from the hygienic laws. The first concerns their fortunes, the second their health.
True prayer is not a devotional act which is done only when we happen to be frightened. It is not a temporary reaction to fear but a constant expression of faith.
If people pray only when they have something to ask for, if they think of God only in crises, they have only themselves to blame for their infantile spiritual growth.
Before you venture into the prayer of petition ask yourself first, is it really as wise to get what you seek as it seems to be; second, are you deserving of it; and third, what will you do to justify its bestowal.
Just as the animal cries out when in fear and the child when in need, so the adult man when in grave stress silently calls out to God for help--unless a one-sided education has stupefied his deeper instincts or a brutalized life has crushed them.
What usually passes for prayer seldom gets near the divine presence, remains ego-encircled and useless.
If an attempt is made to inform God what is required from Him by and for us, that would be wrong.
To pray, asking that an exception be made in their favour, is a common enough act with many people.
In return for the favour which they confer on the Higher Power by believing in it, they demand the satisfaction of their personal desires.
The true purpose of prayer is not to keep asking for some benefit each time we engage in it, but rather to express the yearning of the underself for the Overself, the attraction felt by the ego living in darkness for its parent source dwelling in light.
Whimpering is not praying. It is another form of the self's long littleness.
We will begin to get some fruit from prayer and hear less of its many failures when we begin to regard it less as a petition than as a transaction. We have to pay over our arrogant self-reliance and receive in exchange what the infinite wisdom deems best for us.
He may, if he wishes, add a prayer for material help but this should be done only under critical or urgent circumstances. The highest, and therefore most philosophic, use of prayer is not to beseech satisfaction of worldly desires but to beseech light into the darkness spread by those desires and to implore the soul for its strength to enter into him for the fight against animal passions.
The internal ego does them more harm than anything or anyone else, yet how few appeal to the Divine for protection against themselves, how many for protection against merely external evils?
Prayer has value to the extent that it inevitably makes man think of the higher power, but he detracts from that value to the extent that he joins that to the thought of his world by needs, desires, or problems.
It is better not to beg nor to demand in prayer, not even for spiritual things or help. It is more fitting to render homage to the higher power, to think of it worshipfully and reverently and humbly and, above all, lovingly.
When men pray it is mostly the ego praying, and for itself. If this attitude is maintained until the end of the session, God gets very little chance to say anything to the devotee.
Many prayers are dictated not by reverence, but by fear. This is as true of those emanating from the clergy as of those from the lay people.
The farther the aspirant is advanced in this Quest, the less he is likely to ask for worldly things in his prayer. In any case, all such petitioning should be strictly limited. Whoever enters a sanctuary to ask for worldly things should beware how far he goes in this direction, and how often he goes there.
When prayer is not selfish commerce but holy communion, when it is not worldly minded but spiritually minded, when it seeks the inner Ideal rather than the outer Actual, it has the chance of becoming effectually realized.
"If thou canst do what He enjoins on thee, He will do what thou dost ask assuredly," said Awhadi, a medieval Persian mystic. This is the key to prayer. Failure results from ignorance of this key.
It is a human and pardonable urge of the devout believer to bring forward specific requests, however trivial, as the main thought in prayer, and to do so repeatedly. This is the little ego petitioning God as a big Ego. It shows faith; it is a part of religion at that level, which is a low one. Personal prayers ought to be the exception, not the rule, and limited to graver matters. Later they may be limited to spiritual matters, and, in the end, left out altogether.
It is a great temptation to pray for named persons or for particular things.
This begging for personal favours through religious prayer may be a waste of time, especially where it demands divine intervention to escape the consequences of its own acts. But it may also be a prompting to acknowledge the existence of a higher power, a humbling of the ego.
Immeasurably better than begging God for things is to beg him for himself.
Human petition, divine response
Self-purification is the best prayer, self-correction is the most effectual one.
It is good and necessary to practise confession in one's prayer at all times but especially so in distressful times. If one is praying for deliverance, it is not enough merely to ask for it--indeed, that would be egocentric, childish, and useless. One should also ask in what way one is responsible for, or has contributed toward, the making of the trouble from which escape is sought. Nothing should be hidden that can help to bare this guilt. The natural inclination to blame others or protect one's self-esteem should be resisted. Nor should one confess only moral sins; it may be that the cause lies in intellectual incapacity, poor discrimination, or lack of balance.
It is common to pray for help to overcome our shortcomings, and this is right; it is even more common to pray to escape the painful results of our shortcomings, but this is not right. Their results are needed for our development and if God took them away from us we would be robbed of a chance to make this development.
Man does not always know what is good for him, let alone what is best for him. Moreover, his mistakes may involve others and bring them suffering too.
When faced with problems which seem beyond adequate solution by reason or experience or counsel, take it as an indication that you are to put them to divine intervention. Ask during the time of prayer or meditation for the illuminating idea.
Too many believe in their own weakness, and in prayer implore or request a higher being to bestow upon them a personal power, virtue, or capacity felt to be lacking in themselves. Yet they, too, have latent inner resources, untapped and awaiting exploitation.
The stresses and strains have been increasing in intensity. In our time, life is like climbing a steep rocky path. It does not permit us to rest. It calls us to overcome internal struggle and external opposition. One of the Indian Emperor Akbar's spiritual guides was the Jain master Myoe Syonin. When a friend asked him to offer a prayer on his behalf, Syonin answered: "I pray every morning and every evening for the sake of all beings, and I am sure that you are also included among them."
He who can kneel down in utter humility and spontaneously pray to his higher self out of a genuine desire to elevate his character, will not pray in vain.
If the confession of sins and faults is an indispensable part of philosophic prayer, striving to forsake those sins and faults must be made an active part of the daily life after prayer.
Beware what you pray for. Do not ask for the truth unless you know what it means and all that it implies and nevertheless are still willing to accept it. For if it is granted to you, it will not only purge the evil out of you but later purify the egoism from your mind. Will you be able to endure this loss, which is unlikely to be a painless one?
It is better to pray to be led into truth, for then, as Jesus knew and remarked, "All these [other] things shall be added unto you."
If anyone claims to have enough faith to pray, let him have a little more faith and act out his prayer in conduct. This is the way to get an answer!
Everyone seeks in prayer forgiveness of the consequences of sin, but few seek freedom from the sin itself. That entails hard personal effort, but success in it could bring forgiveness also.
The aspirant who finds himself separated, either by force of circumstances or by deliberate desertion, from someone he cares for, may follow the conventional way of praying that the other person should come back to him, or he may follow the philosophic way of praying that he shall come to truth and peace and strength.
The kind of prayer which tries to coax God into bestowing something which he wants but cannot get by his own effort presupposes that the thing is for his benefit.
A particular problem should be carried into prayer again and again until the solution is found.
Why always importune God to answer your prayers? Try sometimes to answer them yourself.
It is one sign of progress when we stop informing the higher power of our need, which It must already know. It is another sign of progress when we stop expecting from It some boon which we ought to set about getting for ourselves.
If a man will not contribute towards his own welfare by at least attempting to improve himself, what is the use of his constant prayers to God for it?
To ask God to do for us what we should be capable or willing to do for ourselves is to show laziness and express dishonesty. We have no right to do this and such prayers consequently are futile.
Meditation in a solitary place remote from the world may help others who are still in the world, but only under certain conditions. It must, for example, be deliberately directed towards named individuals. If it floats away into the general atmosphere without any thought of others, it is only a self-absorption, barren to others if profitable to oneself. It can be turned toward the spiritual assistance of anyone the practiser loves or wishes to befriend. But it should not be so turned prematurely. Before he can render real service, he must first acquire the power to do so. Before he can fruitfully pray for persons, he must first be able to draw strength from that which is above all persons. The capacity to serve must first be got before the attempt to serve is made. Therefore he should resist the temptation to plunge straightaway into prayer or meditation on behalf of others. Instead he should wait until his worship or communion attains its highest level of being. Then--and then only--should he begin to draw from it the power and help and light to be directed altruistically towards others. Once he has developed the capacity to enter easily into the deeply absorbed state, he may then use it to help others also. Let him take the names and images of these people with him after he has passed into the state and let him hold them there for a while in the divine atmosphere.
It is a commonly used religious formula to say "God will take care of him," or "May God bless him," or "May God forgive him." To utter such words, even mechanically and automatically, is better than to utter words burning with resentment and antagonism against someone who has injured us, or tingling with nervousness and fear for someone who is meeting with trouble. But most often they have no positive value, especially where they have become almost meaningless and empty through excessive familiarity and frequent repetition.
That would not be the case if immediately after speaking these words the person sat down and considered deeply, earnestly, and adequately their full semantic meaning and connections. There would then be a creative building up of the correct mental attitude towards the other man, which would keep away negative thoughts about him, generate a happier feeling about the situation concerning him, or assist to bring about a better relationship with him.
Such a procedure is excellent. But it is mainly an intellectual operation. For those who are travellers upon the Quest of the Overself there is a still higher one available which would use spiritual forces and which is much more effective in making the blessing come literally true.
This they can do by temporarily dismissing from the mind the problem connected with the other person and then calmly taking as a subject of meditation the metaphysical nature of the Overself, how impersonal it is, and how glorious are its attributes. Then they should bring ardent aspiration into the meditation and try to lift themselves into that pure, beautiful atmosphere. When they feel that, to some extent anyway, they have succeeded in doing so, they should stay there for a while and let themselves be thoroughly bathed in its large impersonal peace. Finally, it is at this point only, and not earlier, that, before descending and returning to ordinary life, they may take up afresh the thought of the other person and of the situation connected with him. They should commend him to the care and ministration of this beneficent Spirit. Here is the real way to make the words of these all-too-familiar blessings come true.
The best kind of prayer which we can make for another person is uttered without words--that is, by leading him to the stillness; the lesser kind is to beg for him by voiced sound.
He is neither to pity nor to despise those whose weaknesses are very pronounced, but he is to wish to help them. If actual aid seems beyond his capacity, he can at least turn them over during the peak period of his meditation hour to the care of the higher power. In this way he makes some kind of a mental link for them with this power.
If he will mentally release the relative or friend from his personal fears and anxieties concerning her, she will benefit. She will be helped by his telepathic and auric radiation mentally supporting her by this positive thinking. Mental possessiveness must be abandoned and the girl turned over to God's care in his mind.
If you seek to invoke the divine grace to meet a genuine and desperate physical need or human result, seek first to find the sacred presence within yourself and only after you have found it, or at least only after you have attained the deepest point of contemplation possible to you, should you name the thing or result sought. For then you will not only be guided whether it be right to continue the request or not, but you will also put yourself in the most favourable position for securing grace.
The highest help we can give another person is not physical but spiritual. And in giving it we benefit ourselves too. For the lofty mood, the loving thought, the peaceful feeling, the full confidence in higher power that we seek to transmit in prayer or meditation to him, must be first created within ourselves. From that creation, we benefit as well as he. Yes, we may introduce the remembrance of other persons, toward the close of our meditation, and pray silently on their behalf. The wonder is that this remembrance, this prayer, this meditation for another may have some effect, although we may be in Canada and the other in Africa. Like a radio broadcast, it reaches out to him.
He has no right to bring other persons into his meditation or prayer unless they are aware and willing that he should do so or unless his own motives are absolutely pure and his own knowledge of what he is doing is absolutely true. Much less does he have the right to draw them to the performance of his desires at the expense of their own integrity as individuals.
In the exercise of intercessory prayer, first seek to make contact with the higher power by aspiring to it and dwelling upon its nature and attributes. Then, when you feel the presence of this power--and it is ineffectual to do so before--think of it as protective. Next, think of the person whose protection you seek and place him in the presence and hold him there.
All those who remember instances of successful prayer bringing large sums of money, as George Miller's and Saint Francis' prayers for the institutions they founded, ought also remember that these were ego-free prayers for the welfare of others: they were not for personal benefit.
A person who has not yet found the peace and power of the Overself is in no position to give blessings to other persons.
If the attempt at intercession--be it healing, helping, or blessing--is successful, he will feel exultant as the sensation of power flows through him.
If petitionary prayer, whether for self or others, is possible at a certain stage of meditation, it is impossible at a deeper stage.
He cannot be aware of any individual human while he is deeply enfolded by that state, but shortly before entering it, or shortly after emerging from it, he may be. This makes intercessory prayer and meditation a real possibility.
When he is able to bring himself to practise this bestowal of silent blessing upon all others, and to practise it both lovingly and universally, he will find it a quick cure for the trouble of nervous self-consciousness. Instead of feeling uneasy in the presence of certain persons or of a crowd, he will feel poised. Why is this so? Because he is drawing Grace down to himself. This secret was seen by Oscar Wilde when he said: "One cannot search for love. It comes to us unbidden, when we give love to others."
The counsel that you are not promiscuously to interfere with other persons in order to improve them, or unwisely to involve yourself in their lives in order to help them spiritually, does not mean that you are to do nothing at all for them. You may, if you wish, take them beneficently into your prayer or meditation to bestow blessing.
Those who write a blessing at the end of a letter but who lack the spiritual power to make it real, waste their time. Those who read the feeble words may feel pleasantly hopeful but are the victims of their own imaginations.
He feels infinity with others and that is enough reason to include them in the circle embraced by his meditation. He needs no other reason.
He who is a follower of this Path may help another by holding a mental picture of him in his own thought at the end of meditation, and by invoking the protective blessing of the Overself upon his name in prayer.
The quick recovery of a loved one prayed for in the silence is a remarkable illustration of the power of the spirit. Before such a circumstance he must indeed humble himself. While he was going through great agony, all the time his Higher Self was present in him. It gave him the chance to react in a higher way than the conventionally egoistic one. By rising to the occasion, he too could benefit as well as the one whom he loved.
There was the case of a man who lost his leg in the war. What could a student do for his friend? The thing he could do would be to hold him, when finishing a prayer or a meditation, in the thought of the Infinite Power--to hold the belief that he is completely taken care of by that Power and that all is well with him because it enfolds him. He should not attempt to work out any details such as wishing that his friend's second leg should be saved. He should leave all the results to the Power, and not introduce his personal ideas about the matter.
He should hold the person, the friend, or relative about whom he is troubled in this helpful and healing presence that he has found in the stillness. In this way he may employ the mystical art of intercession for another's benefit.
Do not give any "suggestion." All that is necessary is to pray to be used in whatever way best for the other person's spiritual benefit.
Intercessory meditation may be practised for the benefit of others, the illumination of others, and the healing of others. But these intercessions should never precede communion with the source; they should always follow it. All petitions are best presented at the end of a prayer, never at its beginning.
Both prayer and receptivity are needed. First we pray fervently and feelingly to the Overself to draw us closer to it, then we lapse into emotional quietness and patiently wait to let the inner self unfold to us. There is no need to discard prayer because we take up meditation. The one makes a fit prelude to the other. The real need is to purify prayer and uplift its objectives.
Whereas prayer is a one-way conversation with the higher power, you being the talker, meditation is a reversal of this situation, for you become the listener. The praying devotee expresses what is in his own mind but the silent meditator is impressed by ideas from a diviner mind. In prayer man brings himself to the attention of God but in meditation God brings himself to the attention of man.
It is true that I have written almost nothing about prayer in my published books. This is because I thought that such an enormous amount of literature on the subject already existed. The philosophical approach to prayer, and conception of it, is somewhat different from the traditional one. It should act as a preface to meditation and as a help to prepare one to enter meditation.
In prayer we are trying to speak to God. In meditation we are trying to let God speak to us. There lies one difference.
A further difference between prayer and meditation is that in prayer, when successful, there is felt an intimacy with the Holy but not an identity with it, as is the case in the latter.
When prayer reaches its highest manifestation, it closely resembles meditation.
Every philosophic aspirant should devote a little time to prefacing meditations or studies with a worshipful, devoted, and reverent supplication of the higher self for enlightenment.
The praying devotee regards the object of his worship as being outside himself, whereas the meditating one regards it as being inside himself.
The correct order is to follow prayer with the declaration and to follow them in turn with meditation.
More than four hundred years ago a Dominican monk, Louis of Granada, affirmed: "Contemplation--is the most perfect prayer."
Prayer not only must be used as a suitable preface to meditation, but may also be effectively used as a help to meditation. Where an aspirant is unable to calm his restless thoughts, in addition to the constant daily regular effort to do so--for perseverance is part of the secret of success--he may pray to the higher self to take possession of his mind. Such prayer must be deeply heartfelt, constantly repeated, and animated by a longing to get away from the peaceless ego.
If there is response to prayer, who or what is it that responds? The orthodox religionist believes that it is a personal and interested God with whom he establishes contact in prayer. The philosophical religionist knows that it is his own higher self, his divine soul, that he reaches. All that the first expects in the way of consolation strength and help from his personal God, the second also expects from his own soul. Thus the results in practice are somewhat the same; it is the interpretation of their origin that differs.
Prayer begins to make itself heard and get itself answered when the praying one begins to penetrate his own within-ness, to experience his own spiritual selfhood. For the only God he can reach, and the only one who will help him, is the God in him, the Overself.
From the moment that a man looks for God in himself, his prayers begin to have a chance of being heard. When, before that moment, he looked for God as far off, outside of and unconnected with himself, the prayers were unable to make themselves heard and consequently unable to get answered.
It seems to be a law of the inner life that we have to ask for the inner help that is needed long long before it begins to manifest.
Whether this effective power be deep within the inner self or out beyond in the universe is more of theoretical concern than practical; what matters is that it really does exist and we really can at times enter into active relation with it by an inner act. And that act is expressed through prayer in some cases or meditation in others. If all the conditions created by us are right, the response of the medium of power will be reciprocal and effectual, thus augmenting our own power in connection with our need.
His prayers and longing, his aspirations and yearnings are not in vain. They are all heard, let him be assured of that. But their fulfilment must necessarily come in the Overself's time, not his own. A seed cannot shoot up all at once into a tree. The processes of growth in nature satisfy the criterions of soundness, although they dismay the criterions of sentimentality.
The answer to prayer may come in a wholly unexpected way that we neither desire nor like. It may come as an apparent misfortune, for that may be the real "good" for us just then.
If the response to prayer could set aside universal laws for the sake of those who pray, then the universe would become a chaos.
Even where prayer is correct in form and spirit, it may be followed up by an incorrect attitude. Many are the cases I have observed where this has happened, where half the answer has already come in internal guidance or external contact with some man or book or circumstance but, because the mind had been made up beforehand to a preconceived solution, it was not recognized for what it was, and was either ignored or rejected.
He may carry such problems into his prayers. The answers do not necessarily come at the time of the prayer itself, but may only come some time later, maybe days or even weeks later.
Such is the untouched depth of the human being that when a man prays to God he really prays to himself, his Overself.
The praying ego will have its prayer answered if it gets taken up momentarily by the Overself, and swallowed by it. But although the answer will be the right one, it may not be the desired one.
The Power to whom prayer should be addressed--for Its Grace, Its Self-Revelation and Guidance--is one's own higher self, the Overself.
In praying, the aspirant should direct his prayer to the only God he can know, that is, the God-Principle within himself--his own Divine Soul.
The man who finds God within himself feels no need to pray to a God who is to be sought and addressed outside himself.
Where the response to prayer is so direct definite and unmistakable, it is mostly because the devotee has touched this infinite power through and in his Overself. This does not mean that the Deity has intervened to set laws, decrees, or circumstances aside for this one man's personal benefit. It means rather that he has himself drawn on his own latent godlike capacity. This can happen only when the attitude of prayer becomes so intense and so concentrated that it is really a form of meditation.
If the sincere desire of his heart is echoed by a prayer that expresses humility and requests guidance, it will be heard. Although he may receive no answer for quite a time, sooner or later it will come.