Stages of prayer
What is prayer?
This is a very subjective question. The answer varies from individual to individual. Complete works of literature can be made on prayer alone and prayer has inspired hundreds of parables and stories. Just go around and ask ten people on what they think is prayer and you will surely get varied answers. I remember a short and powerful story that I read.
A man goes to a master and asks,
“What is life?”
The master responds,
“Life is the sweet scent of the dewdrop as it falls gently on to the ground from the petal of a jasmine flower.”
“But master”, the man continues, “I am confused.”
“Why my child?”, asks the master.
“I had been to another master and he said that life was the painful prick of a sharp needle whose steel has been tempered in the hottest of furnaces.”
“That’s his life”, the bemused master remarked and retired into silence.
“What is prayer?” is a question with as varied answers as the question “What is life?”
I have also heard of a story where a child repeats the 26 alphabets in English and says,
“God! I have given you all the letters. Make up your favorite prayer from them and bless me!”
In an attempt to gather more feelings and opinions, I threw this question open on Facebook. The answers that came up were both beautiful and interesting. I share them with you.
“Prayer is conversation with God”
“Any combination of the 26 letters that results in the melting of the divine heart”
“It's a real world chat with god. For me, when I pray, I just converse with Swami about my day, other people, everything - a kind of divine gossiping where we will share everything.”
“Prayer to me is requesting the higher self within to lead from untruth to truth;darkness to light;death to immortality. “
"A request to God to fulfill one's wishes"
“In connection with God every moment we breathe.”
“It's a monologue, where the supreme being eavesdrops and responds!”
So, I shall not try to define prayer here. What I want to share is something that I read on the facets of prayer. This was titled as the four stages of prayer. What struck me was that each stage of prayer depicted a stage in Swami’s Avatarhood. The stages spiral upwards just as the Avataric mission gained steam and moved ahead in full thrust.
Without further ado, here are the four stages.
The first stage:
"Prayer is when the devotee speaks and God listens."
Travel back to 1940. It was the year when our dear Swami declared His avatarhood. He declared, “I am Sai Baba” and then sang the song immortal - Manasa Bhajare Guru Charanam. A little enquiry will reveal the ‘trigger’ for this historic moment.
Swami walked into His home from school. He opened the door and threw away the books. This was in Uravakonda where He was staying with His brother and sister-in-law, Mr. and Mrs. Seshama Raju. The loud thud that the books made as they crashed to the floor brought the brother and sister-in-law rushing to the spot. He declared,
“Maya (delusion) has left. I am not your Sathya. I belong to the world and I am leaving.”
What made Him say such a thing out of the blue? He answered this question then and there:
“My devotees are calling me!”
That was the beginning of the life of the Godman, the Avatar, the Social Reformer, the Lord - as different people in the world know it.
Ah! That was the first stage of prayer - when the devotee speaks and God listens.
The second stage:
"Prayer is when God speaks and the devotee listens."
Once again, we travel back in history. By 1950, the Prasanthi Nilayam ashram came up. The time for leelas (divine sport) was done and the upadesh (discoursing)began. It was now that people would gather informally in hundreds and Swami would speak to them. These gatherings grew in size to thousands. The informality changed into one of a more formal nature. Thus it was that the different festival days and occasions were slotted when Swami would speak.
These discourses have been compiled as Sathya Sai Speaks.
Again, the second part of Swami’s life seems to be perfectly in sync with the second stage of prayer.
The third stage:
"Prayer is when both (God and devotee) speak and both listen."
For this, we need not travel much into history. The last decade stands testimony to this fact. Prasanthi Nilayam witnessed ever-increasing crowds and a growing number of cultural programmes that were put up in Swami’s physical presence. What made these programmes popular for all participants and viewers alike was the interaction between Swami and the devotees. Thousands have fond memories of their interactions with Swami after they had performed in His presence. This memory takes a physical shape today as a photograph, video-clip, a momento or a simple souvenir. Every student, every devotee, every curious person who made it regularly to Prasanthi got some chance for an interaction with Him and he/she remembers that ‘dialogue’.
Indeed, both God and devotee spoke and both listened!
The fourth stage:
"Prayer is when neither (God and devotee) speak and both listen."
Ah! This is a stage that needs no explanation. Today, we find ourselves in this stage. We just cannot ‘speak’ to Him nor can ‘He’ speak to us the way we are used to. But yes! He does listen to us. But can we hear Him?
The answer forms from within. If we ‘listen’ to Him (His words and teachings), we can ‘hear’ Him! It is simple understanding that Swami has moved to the fourth stage but we haven’t. Each one of us are stuck at the various stages of prayer without moving to the fourth stage.
Personally, I am stuck a bit in the third stage and a bit in the second stage I feel...Again, different people will have different thoughts about their own stages. What I am trying to get to is that the way ahead for us devotees, is to reach the fourth stage!
So, how do we listen to Him? Swami has said,
“It is only in the depths of silence that the voice of God is heard.”
WE NEED SILENCE. And not the silence of the vocal chords... We need the true silence.
I will quote another Facebook message here:
"LISTEN & SILENT are two words with the same alphabets.
Only a true friend can listen to you, when you are silent..."
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© 2012 Aravind Balasubramanya