Many years back I read a book titled, ‘The Energy of Prayer’, by spiritual leader Thich Nhat Hanh. The book starts so perfectly with, “urge to pray is universal. We know of no culture, past or present, in which prayer does not occur… ” The book managed to start a frantic inquiry in my mind.
Without meaning any disrespect to the book or to the prayer, I would like to put my own thoughts on this point, meaning importance of prayer. My religion allows me to have my own intellectual interpretation of religious rules or tweak the religion according to my own analysis, intelligence and needs. Well, I feel sometimes prayers work and sometimes they don’t. There are no rules that it will surely work, just like no one can claim that it will never work. But millions of people pray in different religious ways. Some people quietly drop loads on money, gold and precious jewels into the temple donation-boxes. For them this too may be a prayer. Getting rid of hard cash keeps them safe from robbers and income tax. But also their prayers are answered with more cash and even more diamonds in return. So are their prayers working? Most people in this world do remember God, mostly as a natural instinct. When I yawn I migth say ‘ooooh god’. I don’t mean to remember god, it is just a reaction. For people of all faiths, speaking out the name of their God has been a habit, part of psyche, and genetics for centuries. In my opinion prayers too fall in the same genetic habit category.
The book tells a story of a young kid losing his pet white mouse, who has walked into a hole. Kid prays for 2 hours, but the mouse does not emerge. Kid is upset. He derives prayers do not work. Later the moral of the story is revealed, ‘since the kid was not praying for the wellbeing of the mouse; but was being selfish to get his friend back and that is why his prayers did not work’. Well isn’t everyone attached to various things and people around them and pray for the welfare of those. There would be no reason for anyone to pray unless there is something to pray for. But as soon as you have something to pray for it becomes a selfish motive. Asking God for upturn in your fortune, good health of a friend, getting a son, getting admission in IIM… is asking God to run errands for you. Praying with benefits in mind is reducing God’s value…
Let me analyze my own life as a sample case. I do not pray to anyone or any God. I am not a praying type, period. I believe in science and logic and thus do not find prayers logical. Praying is no way to get results in life. I cannot depend on prayers for success. In my younger days I too wished, prayed hard and worked hard to get so many things, but whatever I wanted never came to me. On the other side whatever I have got in my life has fallen in my lap on its own. So, prayers did not come in the picture. It is a simple law; ‘you get some, you don’t get some’. As the Urdu couplet goes, ‘har kisi ko muqammal jahan nahin milta, kabhi zameen to kabhi aasman nahin milta’ (people’s wishes do not get fulfilled entirely, sometimes the earth and sometimes the sky is missing)
So if you want something in life, use all the faculties God has already blessed you with like intelligence, strength, cunning, will power, smartness… and what have you. Just use these and get your piece of cake in life. You don’t need to pray for anything. Getting results on your own merit makes you more content and happy, than struggling on your knees and then getting it. People always have more respect for things they earned the hard way. If you have received a gold medal in a field, you would value it much more than all the expensive gifts that family receives every X’mas or Diwali. No one will ever part with any medal; but all the easy coming gifts are hauled away into a dark loft, to be lovingly gifted to other praying mantis, later on.
In recent times there has been only one occasion when I prayed desperately hard to get a certain result. It was because the nothing was in my hand, neither the action nor the result, only prayer was. But I did not pray to any usual, run of the mill known, but unseen and unfelt God. I chose to involve real entities like mountains, rivers, sun, moon, rain, sea, wind etc. I asked for their strength. Well, the result did go in my favor. If I want I can easily call it as my victory; but I don’t want to. It could have gone the other way too. It was only a matter of chance. Logically I doubt the effectiveness and dependability of prayers. For example ‘if you prayed for something and you got it, can be one part. But there is no proof that if you didn’t pray for it, you will not get it!’ For this you have to repeat the scene with same and not similar situation. It is not even a take 2. Take for example a Sikh couple in Punjab prays hard for years, to get a son as their first child; and they get it. Now to complete the experiment there has to be another but same situation. Same couple has to be used to determine the sex of their first child, but this time without prayers. It is impossible to do it. And that is a lacuna. There is no way to check both sides of the story; unless of course we ask the superman to turn the earth around in reverse direction and take the couple back in time, before the wife conceived for the first time. Prayers are a way to keep oneself content and happy, especially if things do go wrong. We can say, ‘we did pray hard for this but hard luck.’
Here I will narrate an incidence that happened in my family. Long ago an astrologer told my aunt that her son, Suresh (name changed) had a fatal confluence of planets in his birth chart. Obviously everyone at home got worried. Astrologer recommended a full course of ‘Maha Mrutunjay Yagna’. It was sincerely performed at the earliest available date. Years passed, after his education Suresh joined Indian Air Force. He used to enjoy flying and he was good at it. Soon he got married and had a daughter. In due course he was promoted to the rank of Squadron Leader. One day he was taking his wife and the baby girl for an outing on his motor cycle, when a speeding truck driven by a drunk driver smashed into them. Sunil died on the spot and other two thankfully survived. If I take astrologer’s true reading as a ‘constant’- which means that the accident has to happen.
The lesson that I learn from this story is that if ‘Maha Mrutunjay Yagna’ (prayer) was not performed and same accident would still happen; then the entire family, especially the parents would have never forgiven themselves till eternity. But performing it, kept them away from the guilt and scare of the eventuality, until the very day, it happened. And even after the accident, they would not feel guilty; since they did, what was in their power to do.
With every passing day this planet will go on becoming harsher and less inhabitable. Day to day survival will depend on your own strength, alertness and reflexes. You may find this statement entirely nonsensical, since today no one is ready to think this way. All the religious blabber has been so ‘politically correct’ for centuries. But after a century we will say, ‘who needs God, I have to do it myself ’, or ‘you can sit on your bottom and pray; but I am going out and getting it done.’
Obviously the world will grow less dependent on prayers, gods and religion; until a day will come when the ‘Word’ would have lost its significance… and forgotten. (Collection 2008)