On 05-02-1993 in the morning after my meditation, I wrote this song.
When we offer our very thoughts
As a prayer
And submit at the
Feet of the Lord
The wandering mind
Will be disciplined
And will reach His feet
By making thoughts as prayer
However we try
The mind cannot be controlled
Prayer is the only means
To control it easily
By merely uttering many words
The mind won’t be controlled
Sit at His feet everyday
The Vedic mantras (here verses in Muktiveda)
Are mere words
If we meditate it
When prayer and Muktiveda
Our mind will take refuge
At His feet
This is a big subject and I know I am not competent to share any of my thoughts other than my experience. The one new thing that we Hindus will find among the Christians is extemporaneous prayer. When I was at Madhubani (1987-89), one college professor, a staunch Vaishnavite often came to see me. We would go to the nearby college ground in the evening to talk without much disturbance. He was very interested in spirituality and liked to talk with me. He heard about me through some of his students who became my shisyas.
One evening after a long talk, suddenly I felt some compulsion to pray for him, as I never prayed with him in our previous occasions. With his permission I prayed. After my prayer he said that he never heard such a prayer for others before that. Then he said, ‘Why don’t you start a new sampradhaya (sect)? Just drop the word Muktinath and instead keep the generic word for God. But integrate all the thoughts from the Muktiveda. Several people like me will follow you.”
I traced my diary entries during my time in Madhubani but I could not found his name. But in response I said, “If I have to drop the Name of the Lord from my bhakti, then I will become an empty vessel.” And after few more visits he stopped coming to see me.
Similarly, in my encounter with many so called high caste people our prayers for them very much influenced them. One time at Rewa, as I had to rush to catch the bus to go to Satna (65 kms away) to catch a train, Shashikant’s father said, “You cannot leave without praying for us.” So I had to pray and then leave.
Of course I know such prayers by Christians for others as I attended Sunday school with my school friend back in 1965-1969 at Vrudhachalam. But when I became a bhakta of the Lord, though I quickly adapted to this practice, yet like many others areas, I struggled a lot here too.
Though I too give importance to prayer, I don’t believe in uttering too many words in prayer. In the early days when we prayed as a group most of the time my prayer would end with very few words. One time in 1981 for one meeting when we gathered to pray for it, one by one we were praying. When my turn came I simply prayed “Lord bless the participants to receive your blessing and also guide us to conduct the meeting properly.” Then I closed with the usual formula of ‘in the name of Muktinath’. (I don’t know from where this formula even came from). Later another person told me that when I pray I should not pray simply making it like a statement but pray more forcefully (வல்லமையா ஜெபிக்கனும்). What he meant was that I should not close prayer with short sentence with few words, as they were not familiar with it.
Similarly it really disturbed me when the prayer is often punctuated with so many words like ‘Lord’, ‘God’ etc. Let me give an example first in Tamil:
பாவியாகிய ஆண்டவரே, நீச பாவியாகிய கர்த்தாவே, இருளில் இருக்கும் தேவனே, அடியேனுக்கு இறங்கும்
Sinful Lord, worst sinful God, (one) dwells in darkness, show mercy to this slave….
What they actually mean to pray is this:
பாவியாகிய, நீச பாவியாகிய, இருளில் இருக்கும், அடியேனுக்கு இறங்கும்
Sinful, worst sinful, I the one who dwells in darkness, …show mercy to this slave (show mercy to this slave who is a worst sinner dwelling in darkness
Another one in Tamil:
இரட்சிக்கப்படாத ஆண்டவரே, இருளில் இருக்கும் கர்த்தாவே, மக்களுக்காக ஸ்வாமி
Unsaved Lord, God (who) dwells in darkness, for people
What they actually mean to pray is this:
இரட்சிக்கப்படாத, இருளில் இருக்கும், மக்களுக்காக ஸ்வாமி
Unsaved, dwelling in darkness for people swami (for the salvation of the people who dwell in darkness)
In such prayers, in the name of confessing our sins and seeking God’s mercy, we make Lord and God as the worst sinners.
Another irritating thing to me is quoting lots of verses that too in verbatim with chapter and verse number in prayer. The reason they give to this is ‘claiming’ the promise of God in prayer. But my response would be ‘you claim all your promise and warning’ in your personal prayer but keep them at the minimum in corporate prayers.
Similarly, instead of praying for a specific point, some will begin to share the gospel also in the prayer. I remember one person. He not only quoted verses and chapters, but shared the gospel, and also taught church/mission history in his prayer. That is why when any one is asked to pray for food, I used to say, of course with a smile, “Pray shortly only for the food before it become too cold.”
One time at Theni in Tamilnadu (back in 1985 or 86), one person often repeated the sentence ‘Lord you know all’ (ஆண்டவரே உமக்குத் தெரியும்). Then I said, “Well, Lord knows all, but we don’t know. So instead of punctuating this formula would you please share your concerns?” There is no point of sharing elaborately and then praying for that again repeating the same thing in prayer. If the person shared the points/concerns elaborately then prayer should be short and to the specifics and not like what we see in TV news where the newsreader and the reporter from the spot will almost say the same point and we have to listen it twice.
Like this I had so many issues with prayer. For me, my wandering thought too is a kind of prayer. When I sit for prayer I will say to myself, “Ok my mind, wander wherever you want. But they are going to be my prayers.” Likewise singing some songs is also prayer for me. In fact several of my poems were written when I sit for prayer. And when I got the inspiration, I will write the poem and then sing it as my prayer and end my prayer time. Somewhere I read that ‘a deep sigh and a falling of tears’ are also prayers.
Of course I agree that when we began to concentrate more on the ‘rationalistic presentation’ of our prayers (as I said above), particularly either to impress or irritate others, then it will spoil the atmosphere of prayer. So when we join with others in prayer, we should help others to join in spirit and not disturb them. For this we have to involve both our brain and heart, which is a sadhana in itself.
Another subject often discussed about which I also read is that ‘we read Muktiveda without prayer but we cannot pray without reading Muktiveda’. Such statement should be viewed as idealistic rather than practical. If we cannot pray without reading (to know God’s will) the Muktiveda, then illiterate people who follow the Lord cannot pray.
For me prayer is nothing but pouring my heart to the Lord. In my personal time I have all my freedom to do what I want to do in my prayer. But when it comes to corporate prayer, going to one extreme of ‘rationalistic formula’ versus free for all is not good.
I know well that I am not perfect when it comes to prayer and repeat the same mistakes which I found in others. Nobody can share anything only when they become perfect in any issue. In a sense what all I shared above is a kind of self-criticism than taking any higher moral ground when it comes to prayer.