My personal observations about prayer & its efficacy
Prayer and faith are two sides of a coin, in the realms of the soul…each sustaining & nourishing the other. Questions and experiments are the realm of the physical world, limited by the boundaries of human intellect and causal parameters. Never the twain shall meet…or do they?
What I write below are my observations and experiences about prayer and trying to explain the limitless within my limited vocabulary and limited intellect. My background…raised in a devout Hindu family, initiated into the sacred Guru Mantra at age 16 and trying to live a somewhat spiritual life in the midst of material pursuits.
Into the depths
Human life is often an endless ride through joys and sorrows, small and large and I’m no stranger to these as well. During some of my (and my friends’/relatives’) darkest hours when, will and skill both fell short of solving an issue, I have often resorted to prayers. Sometimes they worked sometimes they didn’t. Chance and coincidence are often the words used by secular minds in such circumstances…but I don’t take pride in calling myself secular. To me there existed patterns and those patterns seemed to have a startling resemblance to interpretations of many of the sacred scriptures I had read and chanted since childhood.
Over the years, I have resorted to several sacred mantras (the Gayatri, Mahamrityunjay, Mahamantra, Shiva Panchaksri, et al), couplets and verse chapters (Hanuman Chalisa, Aditya Hridayam, Narayana Sukta, Ramayan Sundarkand, et al). Every time I went back and analyzed (which I should not have but what to do!…the damn ever unsatisfied monkey mind of a human being) the situation and my attempts to solve it via prayer…I saw an equation for success (or efficacy), yes an equation
Efficacy of Prayer (in producing results conducive to my desperate ask) =
Degree of desperation (of suffering individual we are praying for) X Our own degree of empathy (with the individual we are praying for) X 1/size of the problem X Purity of the individual praying
Degree of desperation:
I noticed this factor very distinctly in situations where the prayer was for myself. I wanted something badly or was in some kind of dire straits and resorted to prayer seeing no resolution through my normal abilities. My prayers were more effective and brought about some degree of relief where the unfulfillment of my prayers would have resulted in either deep physical or psychological injury or would have caused a tragic spiritual dilemma for me. They were totally ineffective where, although I thought my situation was dire…in reality I had another escape option out of the situation that was within the realms of my abilities.
Degree of empathy:
Empathy, that distinct characteristic that enables you to live the pain of the sufferer as if the pain was your own. In most of my prayers for people close to me (or far), this was something that came into play with amazing clarity. About 3-4 years ago, a close relative was in mortal physical danger brought on by certain external factors. As the situation unfolded half way around the world and myself being here unable to do anything, I resorted to one of the most heart-rending marathon prayer sessions I had ever tried in my entire life…lighting a lamp (as is customary in Hindu rituals) and chanting non-stop, the sacred Sundarkand chapter of Ramayan, three times. To keep things in perspective…it used to take me (at that time) about three hours to read it start to end. So 9 hours of non-stop chanting, and by the end of the 3rd time, tears were streaming down my face as I made a last call to the Almighty, for help. Completed the session and then called this individual on phone. She had been miraculously saved.
Size of Problem:
This always seems to have an inverse relationship with efficacy of prayer. I have often prayed, with much hope and fervour for people suffering in wars (be it Syria or Gaza or Iraq) and natural disasters (earthquakes, floods, famine…). Almost always it felt like the needle had moved by just a trifle and positive instantaneous change rarely came. Almost as if my voice was incredibly minute and barely registered in the complaint book of God or as if the strength of the prayer dissipated before the vastness of the tragedy. Whereas if it was an individual the force of the prayer did get focussed and managed to bring about change.
Purity of the individual praying:
In my view, the most important among all factors. My spiritual master was a giant among modern day Hindu saints. A tall lanky figure, Christ like in appearance, he renounced the world at age 20, became a monk of the Saraswati order at age 33 and spent most of his monastic life either personally serving leprosy patients and old sadhus, in Muni-ki-reti town of Uttarakhand or engaging in deep meditation by the banks of holy river Ganga. I have had the immense good fortune to watch his prayers for people and causes, and how sure and quick his prayers yielded results versus my own prayers. A sure sign that purity of thought and action as envisioned in the scriptures (irrespective of religion) is directly proportional to the efficacy of one’s prayers.
In the supreme Advaitic non-dual philosophy of the “Yoga Vasistha” (also called the Maha Ramayan), there is no reality other than the one supreme consciousness or “Brahman” and diversities and Gods and heaven and hell and earths…are all a play of the mind on the surface of the infinite consciousness. From that perspective…there is nothing to pray about, as subject, object and the experience are all one and the same…so who prays for whom?
But the Yoga Vasistha also acknowledges that, in as much as the dream world is real while we are dreaming, this world of duality or multiplicity is real, and given its relative reality, the concomitant necessity of prayers to be able to influence the outcome of situations where we do not have normal physical or mental abilities to affect a change.