Prayer and Contemplation
By Swami Rama
There are four approaches to attaining the purpose of life: the school of prayer, the school of contemplation, the school of meditation, and that of selfless action. I will systematically explain these schools so that you understand the differences between them and, according to your own choice and capacity, you can follow one of the schools and finally attain the goal of life. Let us first try to understand prayer and contemplation.
I’ve seen that prayer can solve that which cannot be solved in any other way. Prayer means closeness to the Almighty, to the absolute truth, to the source of energy, to the source of strength. When you pray whole-heartedly, your mind and heart run one-pointedly to the source. During that time you become an instrument of that power, you become a channel of that power. If your prayer is genuine, it helps. If your prayer is egocentric, it does not help. These are the two sides of prayer. If your prayer is genuine, if you are very selfless, anything that comes out of your mouth helps. If you are not genuine, if you are not selfless, your prayer, no matter how many times you bless others, is useless.
Prayer is always answered provided it is done correctly. There are two types of prayer, egocentric prayer and God-centered prayer. Egocentric prayer, is called sakama prarthana, sakama upasana, sakama bhakti, that is desire-filled prayer, desire-filled practices and desire-filled devotion. Egocentric prayer makes you very poor and petty and you cannot go beyond that. “O Lord, give me this. O Lord, give me that.” All the time you are begging. It makes you a beggar, it never improves your life because you’re feeding your ego all the time. It is not considered to be a great prayer. Sometimes it is answered and sometimes it is not, because it is just to feed your ego. Otherwise all prayers are answered, answers which you do not receive from any other quarter, from anyone else, because life itself is a big question mark. No matter how much one explains, yet there is a question.
Every individual has a question and that individual wants that question to be answered by someone higher, greater, one you call God. You pray to God, but that prayer should be God-centered prayer. Do not ask anything from God because God already knows your needs. There is difference between need, want, wish, and desire. Our days are laden with wants and nights with desires. Thus we remain disturbed all the time and put the blame on God and say, “I suffer thus, because of the Lord. It’s He who makes me suffer.”
Just as karma is a law, prayer is also a law. Prayer can help you by strengthening your determination, so that you do not perform those karmas which create barriers for you. When you start establishing proprietorship of the worldly things that you own, that you think are yours, you create problems for yourself. You then pray, “God help me.” How God can help you, I don’t understand. This prayer is of no use because we are constantly creating a whirlpool for ourselves and then praying to God, “God liberate us.” This kind of prayer is called egocentric prayer. Such prayer does not help.
The school of prayer is unique and wonderful but it should be God-centered prayer. The right prayer is not a prayer that goes, “Father, give me this, give me that. Father, I want a good car. Father, I want a good wife. I want this, I want that.” Prayer that makes you aware of the reality within you is the right type of prayer. To become aware of the reality, go to the deeper aspects of your being, to the source from where you get energy, from where you get strength.
How to conduct God-centered prayer? Lead me from the unreal to the real. Lead me from darkness to light. Lead me from mortality to immortality. Asatoma sada gamaya, tamasoma jyotir gamaya, mrtyorma amritam gamaya. Three desires are expressed in the prayer. Lead me from untruth to the truth. Untruth, means this apparent reality which seems to be real but is not. It’s not absolute, not real. Lead me from this to the ultimate truth. Lead me from darkness to light. Dispel all the ignorance that is created by our karma, our mind, our action, our speech. Lead me from mortality to immortality. So far we are aware of the mortal aspect of life. A human being dies and then you do not know anything about what happens after that. He is born, he grows, becomes a youth, grows old and then he dies. There is another aspect of life and that is called immortality. Lead me from mortality to immortality, my Lord.
So there are three prayers. The first prayer is to be led from apparent reality or untruth to absolute reality, absolute truth. Second, darkness to light. Here darkness is symbolic. Darkness means ignorance. We suffer on account of ignorance. Buddha said avidya, ignorance, is the mother of all problems. Let us be free from this ignorance. Who created this ignorance? It’s not created by God. It’s created by our own actions, by our own thinking, by our own understanding. The third prayer is for total spiritual wisdom, leading from mortality to immortality. Lord, lift me from this physical awareness, this worldly awareness, to the highest awareness that is called spiritual awareness.
Prayer is not conducted in Sanskrit or Arabic or English or Latin or any other language. Prayer should be conducted in your own language. Which is your language? It’s the same language in which a newborn baby speaks to her mother. It’s the language of love. You see how a newborn baby communicates with the mother. Speak in any language, the child will have nothing to do with it. But when the mother says na, na, na, na, na, chu, chu, chu, chu, chu, she communicates well with the child. Which is that language? The language of love. When our mind, our thoughts, our emotions, our whole being is integrated, when our mind and emotions go together, when we become one-pointed and with that feeling we pray, that prayer never goes in vain!
Prayer gives you strength. The highest of strength is received from that source which is already within you, through prayer. When you pray, whom are you going to pray to? The God Almighty who is everywhere? No. The Lord who is within you, seated deep down, beyond your body, breath and mind, in the innermost chamber of your being. Your prayers are always answered, when you pray in your own language, with mind and emotion joined together, with a one-pointed mind. You can pray at any time, but you should learn to discipline yourself. Morning and evening hours are considered best for prayer. But as I told you, pray directly to the Lord of life who’s seated within you. Gently close your eyes and with all your feelings and thoughts ask the Lord of life to give you wisdom and there you will find strength.
There are two balls; the ball of clay is flattened when it falls but the ball of plastic bounces up again. Those who pray have strength. Those who do not pray, have little strength, they are weak people. You see people who live for a cause are fearless because they have a cause, they have a goal in front of them. They don’t know what fear is. They have an aim in life and they pray to the Lord. They believe in the Lord who witnesses all our actions, speech, and thinking.
You should always learn to forgive yourself. Prayer and repentance purify the way of the soul. Self-realization leads you to your goal. Sit down and if you think that you have done something bad, which you shouldn’t have done, don’t repeat it and you are free. Don’t condemn yourself. “I am bad, I am bad, I am bad.” This self-suggestion will strengthen guilt which is not healthy for you. The sense of guilt is strengthened when you go on repeating the same mistake and then accept your helplessness, that you cannot help yourself. “So what if I committed a mistake? I am not going to commit that same mistake again.” Then at that moment you are free. No matter what happens, don’t accept defeat. Don’t do what is not to be done and you are free.
Do not condemn yourself and say, “I am so bad, I am so dirty. I don’t have the capacity to pray.” This type of self-condemnation leads to sickness and you lose self-confidence. Learn to forgive yourself when you commit mistakes. Now the scriptures prescribe a beautiful way to be free from the stains of the impressions within us called prayashchitta. It’s very simple. Prayashchitta means repentance, means a determination not to repeat your mistakes. Then you are free. But instead, you go on repeating those mistakes and then go to a church or to a temple pleading, “Lord forgive me.” And then, you again commit the same mistake and again plead, “Lord forgive me.” You may commit the same mistake many times. You need strength, inner strength. O man! you need strength. O human being, you need strength! And that strength is not external strength but strength from within. Prayer gives you that strength. Then you can easily go through this procession of life smiling, not harming, hurting or injuring anyone. You can march, jump with joy all the time. The school of prayer is valid.
What is faith? You bought an apple orchard with the expectation that you will get fruits. You paid for the land and paid for the fruits. But after you had paid for the land and fruits, did you pay for the shade you are enjoying there? You take the apple in your hand and start eating, sitting under the shade of the trees. No you have not paid for the shade. When you talk of faith, faith in what? I have a body, I have this faith. What do you mean by faith? Faith does wonders, reasoned faith does wonders, that faith which is not challenged by the mind is a great faith, faith in which mind and heart should become one. Heart is the center of emotion, mind is the center of thinking. When mind and heart, emotion and reason, are put together, trained together, then that faith is unchallenged, nobody can challenge it. But faith without reason is very dangerous, it’s blind, it’s not a safe crutch. It may help but it does not lead.
I told you prayer is very good but egocentric prayer is not healthy. God-centered prayer is definitely healthy. It makes you aware of the reality within yourself. I once met a minister of the church. She was a woman, a very famous woman in the United States. She invited me for tea. By chance the remote control for her garage did not work, so the garage door would not open. She said, “Jesus, please help me open the garage.” Jesus did not open the garage. I said, “Is Jesus your servant who will open the garage door?” She said, “I am going to open the garage. I’ll show you a miracle.” I said, “Perhaps you have another remote control.” She said, “You don’t know my powers.” I said, “I want to see.” She could not open the garage. “Jesus, you are angry with me.” I said, “Why is poor Jesus being dragged into such a mundane thing?”
What do we do? We pray, “O Lord, give me a car. Hey Lord, give me a good girlfriend so that I can get married. O Lord, give me a good husband.” O Lord! Everything you want is mundane. And He says, “Ok, I’ll give you this candy, I give you this candy, I give you this candy.” And you are bribed with these candies and you cannot go beyond. If a child cries, the mother says come on take this candy. But if the child throws the candy away, finally what does the mother do? She’ll pick up the child. There is no other way. Therefore, there is something great in tyaga, sacrifice. “I don’t like this, I don’t want this, I am not satisfied with this. I want the best, I want you mother, I don’t want anything else.” With this determination, we can attain the goal of life here and now.
Why is japa done? Just to see that there is no space between thoughts. Your mind has three conditionings: time, space, and causation. Now see the space between these fingers. If there is no space between them, there is only one. If there is no space, there will be no time, there will be no causation. If you are constantly aware of the truth, there is no space between your thoughts. Many thoughts will come and go, but beneath there is only one consciousness. That is the easiest way to use the mind. Otherwise, the mind is such a small scale with which you are trying to measure the whole universe, it’s not possible. Now you can go beyond.
There is something beyond that which you consider sanity. You call it insanity, but there is definitely something in insanity. I was at the University of Allahabad, writing a book, doing research on a particular book which is considered to be the most difficult and terse book of Vedanta. You cannot pronounce its name, even after hearing it three times. It’s called Khandanakhandakhadyam. Very difficult name. I found out that the Vice Chancellor, Mr. Jha, considered to be a great, learned man of the country, had not written a single original line. He drew one line from here, one sentence from there, one paragraph from somewhere else and made a book. I was very sad. I went to him. I said, “Sir, may I ask you a question?” He said, “Yes?” He was sitting in a revolving chair, big chair. I said, “Why are you cheating people?” He said, “What’s the matter?” I said, “You have taken one paragraph from here, another paragraph from there, and you have become learned. This is theft. There is no originality in it.” Do you know what he said? He said, “Son, originality is only found in an asylum.” So I kept quiet.
Once, I wanted to know how people live in an asylum. I went to visit the asylum in Agra. The previous day, Mr. Nehru, the Prime Minister of India at that time, had also visited the same asylum. I found the people of the asylum in a world of their own, amazing. So I started talking to them. One said, “Who are you?” I said, “Just a swami.” He said, “Swami or slave?” And I wondered how sometimes wisdom comes from such people. I said, “I heard that Nehru came here yesterday.” He said, “Oh, anyone who comes over here calls himself Nehru.” I said, “No, no, he really was Nehru.” He replied, “Who cares who comes and who goes, we are here. That’s all.” I asked them, “Do you believe in God?” Some said yes, some said no. You know what one of them said? He beckoned to me and said, “Hey, here, wait. Whether you believe in me or not, I’m still here.” But one of them said something very remarkable. He was a lawyer and he was not at all crazy. His brothers had him committed because they were afraid of him, that he might create problems with division of property as they were very rich people. He said, “Do you do japa?” I said, “Yes.” He said, “That’s not needed.” I said, “Why?” He said, “God is your father, right?” I said, “Yes.” “Ok,” he said, “suppose you keep calling out to your father, ‘father, father, father, father, father, father, father, father, father, father,’ from morning till evening, what will your father think of you? He’ll be annoyed, fed up with you. He’ll think you are crazy. Do you think God is happy with your japa? Doing japa is of no use,” he said. That gave me food for thought. “If you don’t listen to what your father says, and you don’t act according to his instructions, but keep saying all the time, ‘father, father, father, father, father, father,’ as you keep doing japa all the time, are you not crazy, swami?” I said, “I have to think about it. Thank you, thank you for your teachings.”
Why do you do japa? Why are you repeating the same thing again and again? With japa, that mind which normally wanders into the external world with the help of the agents called the senses, becomes one-pointed and then inward. But if one remains limited to only japa, then really, one remains crazy. To expand your consciousness you have to learn to meditate and it’s an art. It’s not part of any religion. If you want to know yourself, which religion is it? It’s called religion of man. You have to know yourself, you are introducing yourself to yourself. Normally, you behave in a false manner, a fake manner. Husband says, “I love you honey.” Honey responds, “I love you too.” All fake things. Because if someone asks, “Who are you?” You reply, “I don’t know.” Therefore, to understand oneself on all levels is very healthy and that’s our birthright. Understanding ourselves on all levels is called meditation. That’s the point. And there is a system for it.
There is another school called contemplation, shravana manana nidhidhyasana. What is contemplation? Contemplation is to discover what truth is. I am in search of truth. I listen to the sayings of great sages and to the scriptures taught by competent teachers. This is shravana. I think deeply about these sayings and teachings. This is manana. I systematically go on searching and finally, I know truth and integrate it into my life. This is nidhidhyasana. And I cannot describe it to anyone.
Be nice, be kind, be gentle, be loving. What is new about what you are studying, tell me? Have you read anything new anywhere? You have learned ten words for one word, is that improvement in your knowledge? Then what is that knowledge which we are trying to explore and understand today? My whole life, my mother, my father, grandfather, my teachers, everyone says, “Speak the truth,” and I do not know how to. That’s a very serious problem. I would like to speak the truth, everyone wants to speak the truth but nobody teaches you how. You see at home, children are spanked by their parents when the children lie. But after ten minutes, the child finds that Mommy is lying to Daddy, and Daddy is lying to Mommy. The child is confused, “Is it a rule for me not to lie?” So the child tells her brother, “We are not allowed to lie. They are grownup, they can lie.” We don’t find good examples in our childhood. All aspects of education are given by the institutions of the world, except one education called exemplary education, where you learn through example. We suffer on account of this lack of exemplary education.
Now, what is happening in your families? No matter how many lies you speak from morning till evening, you spank your children, saying, “Always speak the truth.” No matter how great a liar you are, you don’t want your children to lie. The father constantly lies, mother constantly lies, and child is confused. He thinks that my parents have a license to lie, but I’m just a kid, I don’t have that license. This is true. So he’s confused. How to practice truth? No mother or father ever teaches the children that. You don’t teach them how to speak the truth. This is the point because you do not know yourself. So, for ages there is this myth, “Speak the truth, speak the truth, speak the truth.” This is all nonsense, it’s a principle, it’s not practice. It happened with me. I was confused in my childhood. My Master never spanked me, but others spanked me and everybody said, “Hey, speak the truth.” I said, “Look, I am not what you think, don’t touch me.” But I was a kid. I said, “Tell me what is that truth.” Nobody ever told me that.
One day I was very upset and I told my Master, “You have ruined my life.” He looked at me and said, “I brought you up, I educated you, I gave you so much love. I don’t want to hear such a thing from you. Do you ever find me selfish?” I said, “It’s not a question of being selfish or not being selfish. My life has been ruined by you.” He said, “Why? What have I done to you?” I said, “I am still ignorant and a fool.” He said, “I tried my best to teach you, but you have not been able to learn.” I said, “What you are teaching me today, ‘Do this, do that, do this, do that,’ that’s the same thing that all mothers at home teach their children.”
I told my Master, “I know that I should speak the truth but I don’t know how to. Will you please teach me? Show me how to speak the truth.” He taught me that the simple way of speaking the truth is by not lying. If you do not lie, you are speaking the truth. But if you are trying to speak the truth and you do not know what truth is, then you are making your own truth. You say my truth is my truth and I am speaking the truth and you should listen to me. That is confusion. Do not lie. By not lying, you practice speaking the truth. Do not do what is not to be done according to your conscience. By not doing what is not to be done, you start doing what is right.
Practice is different from the principle. It’s easy to say, “Don’t do this, don’t do that.” Learn to practice. Don’t give up your practice. If you are defeated by others, it doesn’t matter; but if you are defeated by yourself, that’s a very bad thing. Then you are helpless. No one can cure you. There are diseases which cannot be cured by anyone when you become helpless. “No medicine is helping me, nothing is happening to me, I am going to die. The world is so gloomy.” When you become totally negative, you cripple your willpower. Don’t allow that to happen.
In the school of contemplation you learn what is truth. Now you want to contemplate on that teaching. Truth in the world is different from absolute truth. If I go to a shop, what does the shopkeeper say? “I speak the truth, that this costs $12.” You buy it. Actually it doesn’t cost $12, it costs only $6. He’s selling it in the name of truth and you are buying it in the name of truth.
Avidya or mithya means falsehood, yes, untruth. Untruth, in which context? Untruth in the social context or untruth in the absolute context? There is nothing like untruth as far as absolute truth is concerned because absolute truth is everywhere. Idam sarvam khalvidham Brahma. This is all, everywhere there is truth so there is no place for untruth. Once Mother Theresa was asked, “Do you believe in evil?” She answered, “I do not have time to think about evil. So, sorry I cannot answer your question. How can I believe in evil when I think of the Lord all the time with mind, action, and speech?” There is no mithya as far as absolute truth is concerned.
The teacher explains that scriptures say that you should learn to speak the truth, you should learn to do truthful deeds, you should learn to be truthful in your mind. Is it a new teaching? We are so swayed by our culture and each others’ suggestions that we have completely lost our individuality. We hardly get time to think, to understand, and to act according to our thinking. Even if you want to speak the truth, you cannot. Others will not allow you to speak the truth. Yes, it happened with me. When I started doing experiments in the United States everybody was very happy, all the scientists, even the religionists. One day they found out what we have done. They thought, “He’s injuring our religion. His work is getting so much importance. That’s very bad.” Then they started attacking me. They wanted to undo what I had done, but it was scientific work. We are so full of prejudices. After the second world war, Americans did not want to do research with Germans whom they had defeated.
Therefore, the great wisdom that is deeply buried in the great scriptures teach vidhi and nishedha, what to do and what not to do. By not doing something you start doing that. My Master taught me, “Don’t go around telling people to speak the truth and don’t claim that you speak the truth, don’t say that. Simply, don’t lie.” By not lying you are speaking the truth. Now I found that you cannot lie. Please tell me one lie and I will tell you that you cannot lie. You say, “Swami Rama is a donkey.” This is not a lie. Donkey is something, Swami Rama is something else. You are simply a fool in saying that Swami Rama is a donkey. A human being possibly cannot lie, he’s merely not relating with the facts. From the very beginning teach your children to relate with the facts, to be very practical and not lie. Don’t try to prove that this chair is a table. With argument you can. Don’t do that. Learn to relate with the subject. This way our society can become a poem, a song. I’m not talking about one individual. I am talking about the whole society.
Truth has a great power. It can be practiced by not lying. What is a lie? What does it do? It creates a great, serious division in your heart and mind. You know that this is not a cot, it’s a chair; but you are trying to prove that this is a cot. Your speech is different from your mind. You are hurting yourself, not others.
So yoga science says you are constantly blasting and hurting your inner being by lying. Don’t do that. By speaking a lie you don’t hurt others, you hurt yourself. When you are afraid, you lie. Don’t tell others, “I am a good person.” You don’t have to say that. Let your conscience be the witness. When you start practicing, you’ll find that to speak the truth and do truthful actions will make you strong and healthy, will make you a great man. One can stand as an example, a head of the family, who can be an example. If children know that Daddy lies all the time, they say “Daddy, I love you but you are a liar. Mommy, you lie the whole day but I get a spanking when I lie. That’s not fair!” And after some time, children will not respect parents.
Satyam bhruyat priyam bhruyat na bhruyat satyam apriyam. A blind man is coming by. We both know that he is blind. I cannot say, “Hey, you blind man come over here.” That is apriya. It is truth, but that truth is vulgar because you are hurting somebody. So the yamas or restraints of yoga science are ahimsa, satya, asteya, brahmacharya and aparigraha. First yama is ahimsa, comes before satya, or truth. Ahimsa, ‘a’ means no, ‘himsa’ means harming, hurting, killing, or injuring. First, we should have that understanding that no matter what we speak, what we do, what we think, the basic foundation in our relationship is that we should not hurt, we should not harm, we should not injure, we should not kill. And only then we talk of truth. So, these are expressions of love. Nowhere in the world, no scripture ever explains the way of expressing love. Only yoga manual says that ahimsa is an expression of love. If we are followers of the same path we can get along with this understanding. And if we are not followers of the same path, there is no need for such a compromise. Do not compromise with falsehood. Otherwise you’ll be wasting your whole life.
Don’t hurt, don’t harm, don’t kill and don’t injure. By not doing this you are expressing your love. This is called a negative virtue. By practicing this you are loving. At home, please don’t kill, harm, or injure those whom you love. Start from there. That truth which hurts is not truth. Therefore, don’t say that. Suppose somebody is running this way and the police are chasing him. You have no business to say he is going this way. Why do you want to get involved? “O police, I am telling the truth, the man went that way.” Suppose that man is innocent? This way you should train yourself. Truth means relating with the things of the world. Absolute truth is absolute truth. But truth in the world is entirely different. So don’t hurt others.
A few hints for practice. Don’t speak too much. Those who speak too much speak nonsense most of the time. Speak less, to the point. Reduce, if you are speaking too much. Be conscious that I will not speak much. Second point, “Ok, I will speak whatever I have to speak but I’ll speak strongly and lovingly.” Don’t keep saying “I mean to say, I mean to say, I mean to say.” Many people say, “I mean to say.” It means there is something they mean to say, that they are not saying. Be straight, be gentle when you speak. Your speech will be effective. Those to whom you are speaking will know the language, it will affect their hearts and minds if you speak properly. We have done many experiments. These days it’s a problem to communicate with human beings. It’s easier to communicate with animals. This was the problem in ancient times also. Rishis say, ahimsa pratishthayam tatsannidho vairatyaga, Yoga Sutra. These great seers, rishis, did not believe in violence, they knew only how to love. Even animals abandoned their cruelty, their violence, in front of such people. This is true. Strength lies in love not in violence. Violence is a weakness. May you learn to be strong because strength means love. Do not be weak. That is not love.
Slowly by understanding the great sayings of the sages, you start contemplating the great sayings, “I am atman, Brahman. The atman is within me. I’m not body, not the breath, not the mind, not my individuality but the atman within me is the same Paramatman.” This type of contemplation, constant awareness, is very healthy.
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