Peace Through Dialog 2007 - Pujya Shri Atmanandji : Prayer And Its Power

Posted: 18.01.2008
Updated on: 09.01.2009

Jaina Convention
Federation of Jain Associations In North America

 

Prayer And Its Power


Pujya Shri Atmanandji
 

Pujya Shri Atmanandji was formerly known as Dr. Soneji. He is a  well respected spiritual leader and this article is a piece from his research work on the Power of Prayer.

A prayer may be defined as the universally accepted mode of communication between the devotee and the Divine, practiced in all religious traditions.

PREVALENCE OF PRAYERS:

Regarding its prevalence, we find prayer to be universal and international because no elaborate preparations, either in the form of materials or in the form of its method of implementation, are required. The Almighty will always listen to me even if I were illiterate or a pauper or ugly or otherwise downtrodden. He has no distinction among His devotees regarding race, religion, nationality, caste, creed, color or any other external criteria. The only real instrument required to approach Him is divine love, untainted by selfish motive or falsehood. In its pure spiritual form, it is the pouring out of our hearts before God. An important point to note here is that all great men of the world pray to God. Even those saints who have attained a very high spiritual state also pray to Him and spend decades of their lives in the eulogy of the Divine. This is the case of the great sage Maharshi Vyas in the Hindu tradition who wrote Shrimad Bhagvata, and Acharya Jinsen-I & Acharya Hemchandra who wrote respectively Mahapurana and Vitrag-Stava, in the Jain tradition.

FORMS OF PRAYERS:

The three main ways to approach the Divine are physical, vocal and mental prayers.

  1. Physical Prayer:
    This is in the form of adoration, bowing before the image and performing the ritual called Pooja with various materials such as water, flowers, sandalwood, incense burning, waving of lights before the deity and so on. Other non-verbal forms of prayers include dance, food-offering, etc.
  2. Vocal Prayer:
    This is the main form of prayer. It may be in the form of prose or poetry; very short in the aphoristic form of Mantra, medium in the form of Stotra (psalm or hymn) or quite elaborate as in Pooja. In all these forms, the devotee invokes purer thoughts in his mind through the medium of sound. These thoughts have close cause and effect relation with sublime emotional feelings in the human mind.
  3. Mental Prayer:
    This is the highest form of prayer from the spiritual point of view; and is usually carried out silently along with the different forms of meditation and contemplation. The practice of this form is possible for an advanced aspirant who is well versed in right spiritual tenets, and has good control over his mind and senses. Normally, when the prayer begins, it is vocal in nature and subsequently, when the mind of the aspirant becomes steady, the vocal aspect ends and the silent prayer takes over.

TYPES AND CONTENTS OF PRAYERS:

There are many types of prayers with differing contents. The four main types are praising, dedicating, confessing and community prayers.

  1. Praise-Dominated Prayer: Here, the purpose is to glorify God's superhuman virtues and belittle oneself. This practice helps in eliminating one's ego, the main barrier to Self-Realization. It also intensifies one's devotion for the Divine by repeatedly singing, eulogizing and remembering the supreme qualifications of God, higher than anything else in the universe.

    The devotee may praise the external form or inner virtues of God. How Saint Tulsidas describes Lord Rama is an example of praising God in external form. The devotee may glorify and concentrate on the inner virtues of God like infinite knowledge and bliss, as Pujya Gnanvimalsuriji describes the internal glory of Lord Adinath (Rushabhdev).

    In accordance with one's spiritual development, the approach to the Divine may be monotheistic or polytheistic and the external object may be in the form of a photograph, painting, carving, idol or scripture and is only a means of support and inspiration. Intense love for divine virtues burns away the shortcomings and worldly passions of the devotee. It makes him pure so that the Divine Grace descends more readily upon him. These are considered as positive prayers and are usually joyous and uplifting. With advanced spiritual experience, all the differences of personal, impersonal, formless and incarnate disappear. Then at last, the worship, the worshipper and the worshipped all merge into one divine, ineffable mystic experience which represents the summum bonum of achievements in spiritual life
  2. Dedicating and Petition Prayer: The path of Self-Realization is a long one with several stumbling blocks. Many a time the devotee finds himself helpless in making any advancement. He realizes that his efforts are in- sufficient to overcome the obstacles and worldly passions. It is at this juncture that he feels the intense need for the Divine Grace, which he prays in the form of petition, while depicting his innermost feeling of complete dedication. Here, he expresses that none else but God alone can be his true Savior. He frankly admits before God that in absence of His guidance and merciful blessings, he will lose the battle. It is here that a true devotee makes an open minded revelation of his total, unilateral and unconditional surrender at the lotus feet of the Master and becomes free from all worries. Such dedicated and emotionally-charged prayers are well documented by devotees of great repute all over the world. The author of this paper himself had passed through such a stage and had the occasions of the spiritual survival by Divine Grace. Therefore, this is neither a conjecture nor a proposed theory, but a hard fact of realism and true experience in spiritual life. One of the most authentic, inspiring and historically recorded prayers is Bhaktamar Stotra by Shri Mantungacharya.
  3. Confession Prayer: This type of prayer is quite popular and the devotee open-heartedly takes refuge at the lotus feet of God. With immense inner repentance, he narrates all the negative qualities of his personality like faults, vices, shortcomings, defects and sins. He even states, "O Lord! All sins which I may have committed knowingly or unknowingly may be forgiven. I abide by my vow of not committing them again." In real repentance with total dedication, the sins are burnt like dry grass in a fire.

    An example of this type of prayer is Kshamapana (asking forgiveness) in the 56th lesson of Mokshamala by Shrimad Rajchandra, the spiritual guide of Mahatma Gandhi. A partial translation is given here."Oh God! I forgot, wandered aimlessly, rambled here & there and I am caught in the snare of transmigratory worldly life. I am sinful, intoxicated with pride and my soul is defiled with the dust of my Karmas. I am always engrossed in the machinations of worldly life and I have been blinded by ignorance. I have no discretionary power, and so I am foolish."
  4. Community or Mass Prayer: Like many religious practices, mass prayers are also conducted in several traditions. Sunday, Saturday and Friday are the usual days fixed for mass prayer by the followers of Christian, Jewish and Muslim religions, respectively. The main significance of these prayers is social, ritual and cultural. They are conducted in an appropriate dress, at proper timings, with directional orientation, and sequential body movements such as, standing, prostrating, bowing in a particular posture and so forth. In order to have true spiritual value added to it, it is essential that the participants, at times, also perform individual prayers. Any prayer which does not evoke inward awareness, that is awareness of God's presence in one's own heart, can't be regarded as truly spiritual. Thus community prayers and individual prayers should be considered as complementary to each other for spiritual progress.

SUMMARY:

The purpose of prayer may be summarized as the most universally accepted form of worship for one's own spiritual benefit, as well as a vehicle for goodwill, harmony, peace and universal well-being of mankind. It contributes towards peaceful coexistence among nations and between peoples. It was, is, and will remain one of the most prevalent instruments for self-improvement and for the betterment of society. While uplifting spiritually, the power of prayer spreads peace on earth and goodwill towards all.

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