Poojyasri Swami Paripoornananda Saraswati, a saint, scholar, visionary and mentor of Advaita Philosophy, answers questions related to the act of praying.
Why do we pray to God?
Prayer is the surrendering of oneself to God. It helps a person grow out of his own limitations, helplessness and the sense of insecurity. We surrender ourselves to the feet of the Lord realizing that it is the only way to touch the universal Consciousness.
What is the purpose of prayer?
The purpose of prayer is not to demand or beg from God. It is not meant to materialize what is not material - I don’t have a job, so I want a job or I don’t have a child, so I want a child.
Hence, we should guide our children not to demand or beg from God. Teach them to first thank the Lord for all that they have – loving family, food, clothing etc. Demanding or begging to fulfill one’s wants and desires will definitely limit our human efforts. It slowly leads to lethargy and dependency by making one feel that effort is not necessary and all that one needs to do is to pray to God to fulfill one’s desires.
Once, a young boy who had lost the use of both his legs literally dragged himself on the floor and prostrated before me. I was sympathetic towards him and said, “This is most unfortunate as you will be limited in your ability to go around and explore the world.” To this he replied, “Swamiji, I may not have legs, but God has blessed me with two hands which I use to create paintings. Now, I don’t need to go anywhere. Instead people from far away come to see me and appreciate my works. For this gift, I am thankful to the Lord.” He did not ask God for the use of his legs, he just asked God to bless his efforts as an artist!
Encourage your children to pray to the Almighty to bless them so that they may achieve success in all their efforts.
How to Pray?
Prayer involves three elements: the person, God (unto whom we pray), and the Prayer itself.
God is not someone sitting somewhere far away from us. God manifests right in front of us in the form of this meaningful Creation. God is everywhere, in every form. In fact, everything is God.
Our culture introduces a simple and ideal form of idol worship that helps a person to connect with the Almighty, All-abiding Consciousness. I invoke this Universal Consciousness by visualizing an idol. But the idol is not my target. Through the idol I see the all-pervasive Almighty.
For example, if I touch the tip of a person’s little finger, his entire body responds to the feeling of touch. Similarly, by worshipping even a small part of this creation, I am connecting with the all-pervasive God.
Please explain the various forms of Hindu worship. In the Hindu Dharma, there are five forms of worship:
Puja: When performing a puja, we worship an idol with flowers and akshata (turmeric covered rice). The idol is made of stone that has its origins in the earth. The flowers and rice are products of this earth. So, Puja is symbolic of our worship of the earth.
Abhishekam: When we do abhishekam, we pour milk, water, honey, curds and other liquids onto the idol. Abhishekam is symbolic of our worship of water.
Homam: While performing homam, we offer oblations to the fire as part of various rituals. Homam is symbolic of our worship of fire.
Japam: When we do japam, we chant mantras by turning the beads of a mala. Sound is involved. Sound is the nature of air. So japam is symbolic of our worship of air.
Dhyanam:Dhyanam or meditation is an internal prayer, a mental focus. There is no sound and no physical part is involved. In this form of prayer the object of meditation and the meditator are united as one. Dhyanam is symbolic of our worship of space.
The five basic elements of creation are earth (solid), water (liquid), air (gas), fire (temperature), and space. Hence the five forms of worship are symbolic of the worship of every element of creation, which is but a manifestation of the eternal almighty Iswara, God. When we touch any form of creation, we are touching God.
We invoke Iswara in the form of the 5 elements of creation and pray by chanting mantras and slokas.
What is a mantra?
Mantra is a group of syllables or a group of words that together forms a shakthi, an energy. These were revealed by our rishis. Let us take the mantra ‘OM’, It consists of 3 syllables ‘A (Ah)’, ‘U (Oo), ‘M (Mm)’. Each of these three syllables creates its own energy. When the syllables combine to form the mantra ‘OM’ a total energy (shakthi) is attained.
I am a part of this creation. I need to draw on the energy of the whole creation. When you chant a single syllable you draw the Universal Energy into a capsule. Hence chanting a particular mantra is very powerful since you are reaching out and touching the Universal Energy.
To better understand this concept, let us take this example. There is a pool of water. You drop a small pebble in the center of the pool. Ripples are formed, originating as small circles around the stone. These ripples continue to expand and travel to the edges of the pool. Similarly when you chant a mantra, the energy that you create expands, expands, expands and it touches the universe.
Should mantras be chanted aloud or in the mind?
There are two ways of chanting; one is to create a sound and the other is to chant internally, and both have different results.
When you pray for universal benefit, you chant the mantra loud, thus creating vibrations that travel out. When it is to purify yourself it has to be within; you take the energy inside. Our Rishis or Seers, first purified themselves and realized themselves. Then they reached out to purify the society. So the purpose of prayer is to first purify oneself and then whatever the purified self sends out purifies society.
Why do we chant the slokas (Sanskrit prayers)?
Sloka is a poetic form of prayer. Sloka is also a type of Mantra. A sloka remains a sloka until you believe in it and you chant it with faith and commitment. It then becomes a mantra. Just like an egg remains an egg, until the hen sits on it to hatch it, so also a sloka remains a sloka until you put in the effort to convert it to a mantra. A mantra or sloka when chanted in a temple or shrine is always more effective.
Why do I need to go to a temple to pray?
We have specifically designated the temple to be a place of worship. So when we enter a temple we are able to leave behind our worries and other worldly thoughts. We are able to completely surrender ourselves to the Almighty.
However if you grow to understand the all-pervasive nature of God then God is wherever you are and not merely restricted to a temple.
Here is a story: In a little village there was a vacant plot where children used to play every day. One day the head of the village decided to build a Shiva Temple on that plot of land, and soon a temple was consecrated. Every day this gentleman did pradhakshina (circumambulate) around the temple.
One day a young boy approached him and asked, “Previously, I was running around and playing on the grounds of this temple. Now you have kept a Shiva Linga and you are going around it. What is the difference between what I did then and what you are doing now?” The gentleman replied, “This is Bhagawan (God) and I am going around it”. The boy replied, “If you expand your Bhagawan to be your entire village, will you go around the entire village? What if you expand God to the entire country, to the entire earth, to the entire universe?”
Now if you expand God to be the entire Universe, then wherever you are, you are one with God. By restricting God in your mind, you are restricting yourself. The Almighty is all-pervasive. Each and every form is an expression of the Almighty. Whatever you see, whatever you feel, if everything is God, then you will enjoy God in every moment of your life.