Why are some prayers not answered? - A theory
Statement of Problem:
As a student in Swami’s (Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba’s) school and college, I have always considered Him as my Lord and God. All my prayers have been directed towards Him. And when I look back at the prayers I have made, some of them have been fulfilled, some have remained unfulfilled while some others have been fulfilled in a manner that I did not expect. I can quote examples for all of them. I have written about instantly materializing prayers under the heading Satyameva Jayate and The Shivarathri of my Life. I have written about prayers which have materialized after a delay in God’s delays are not His denials. And those prayers which are still pending, well am waiting for their fruition to write about them!
I have tried hard to do a study on what sort of prayer always has a ‘will be granted’ status and what prayer always has a ‘will be declined’ status. And finally, I also tried to see if there is a time-frame within which a particular prayer would get answered. For a long time, I did not meet with success. I could never pinpoint and say,
“If I make this kind of prayer, it will be fulfilled.”
“If I make this kind of prayer, it will surely not be fulfilled.”
Today, however, I feel that by God’s grace and His love, some understanding has dawned. And before I share that understanding, I would share an experience which has enhanced that understanding for me.
Having stated this "problem", I shall present the theory in the standard format - Experimentation, Hypothesis and Formulation of Theory.
Presentation of Evidence - an experiential experiment
I turn back the clock to more than a decade ago. It was in the summer of 2001 - 10th of June to be exact. I got a strong urge to write a letter to Swami. But what did I want to write? I had nothing in mind for everything was going on fine. But still, I wanted to write and give a letter to Him. So, I wrote a letter, the gist of which was this:
“Dearest Swami! By your Love and Grace, everything is going on well. There is no reason for this letter. I am writing this letter to you sheerly for the joy I get when I give you a letter.”
That was the Truth - nothing else. I had this letter with me when I went for Darshan. Swami was in His Bangalore ashram, Brindavan (Whitefield). And I was studying my second year in the Bio-Sciences undergraduate course. I sat along the central carpet in the hall through which Swami would invariably walk everyday during Darshan. I was feeling that the prayer enshrined in the letter was one which had no ‘materialistic’ desires and so there was a high probability of Swami accepting it.
As I said earlier, I was in this process of formulating a theory of prayers! In my experience, most of the letters which sought something worldly - a good academic rank, a friendship with another person, the extra-curricular activities’ championship, better health for myself - were rejected. Letters which were prayers for others (health, career, relationships) or for my spiritual uplift (better sense-control, calmness of mind, strength of character) mostly were accepted. I felt that Swami was chiseling us to automatically pray only for the ‘right’ things. And even if at times the ‘other’ kind of letters were accepted, they too seemed to make the letter-giver turn more spiritual. It was the fruition of what Swami says,
“I give you what you ask for so that one day you will ask me for what I have come to give.”
So, I felt that since my letter was seeking the joy of His proximity, it had a great chance of being accepted. (Not that seeking His proximity is the most selfless prayer but it is relatively selfless compared to the other prayers I have made!)
That day, Swami came walking in the exact same path as I had foreseen. He blessed a couple of students who were sitting beside me. But when He came to me, He just smiled at me and motioned with His hand for me to keep the letter with me. And then He moved on. I was a bit disappointed. I was thinking as to what was wrong in my letter. I thought,
“If Swami had not come near me, then it would be fine. It is selfish for me to think that He will come near me specially to take this letter. But then, He came so close. It was so easy for Him to take my letter. Then, why did He tell me to keep it? Why?”
Asking “Why” of God is a very tricky thing. As my teacher had once said, we ask “Why” of God only because we feel things are going wrong. And if we feel that things are going wrong, it means one of these two things:
1. My God does not love me enough to prevent ‘bad’ things from happening to me.
2. My God loves me, but does not have the power to stop ‘bad’ things from happening to me.
If I have the faith that my God loves me and is the strongest, then I will never feel that something which is happening is bad for me. I will know that God chose something specially to happen to me and that is for my good. That is the principle of surrender too according to Swami.
Returning from my brief detour in thoughts to the story, I kept these thoughts to myself and sat as the Darshan went on. Swami seemed to be in a hurry and His car came out of His residence. We got the information that Swami was going to the Sathya Sai General Hospital to bless everyone there during the hospital’s silver jubilee celebrations.
“Ah! He is in a hurry and that is why He did not take my letter”, I consoled myself. And He was indeed walking very briskly. He took a complete round and briskly walked back towards the stage. Just before reaching the stage, He stopped at a distance of about 12 meters from me. He stood there, swaying to the rhythm of the bhajans going on. And for a moment, His eyes met mine. In a flash, Swami had taken a detour.
He quickly walked across the 12 meters and came straight in front of me. He again smiled at me, took the letter from my hand and then quickly ascended the stage. Joy welled and burst into raptures within my heart. I was simply thrilled by this.
That was not all. He went to His chair on the stage and sat only for 2 minutes before asking for the Aarthi (ceremonial waving of the camphor at the end of a session) to be taken. He got up from the chair and walked towards the car. All the letters He had collected during Darshan were neatly packed in bags which would go into His residence - all the letters except one. My letter was in His hand and He carried it with Him in the car too! My happiness knew no bounds and tears of joy flowed down my cheeks.
And then it hit me. My prayer was:
“I am writing this letter to you sheerly for the joy I get when I give you a letter.”
His response had simply maximized my joy. He had answered my prayer in a manner that perfectly satisfied the prayer. My temporary disappointment was only because I did not know this beforehand! But then, just imagine, had I known the outcome beforehand, though the disappointment would not be there, would the joy be there? And so, I was thrilled and I told myself,
“Swami knows the best for me and He gives it to me.”
Here is my hypothesis:
We feel that prayers are 'answered' only if the outcome is exactly as we see it. This is stating that we know things better than God.
Let me return to the point where Swami came all the way for me and took my letter. Had Swami simply ‘rejected’ my letter and left, would I still have been able to say,
“Swami knows the best for me and He gives it to me”?
The answer is no! When things go my way, I appreciate God’s wisdom and love but when they don’t, I ask why God is doing this to me! If He fulfills prayers, it is for my good but when He doesn’t, he is ruining me or testing me. Talk about double standards!
The truth is that out of a million possible things that can happen to me, God is handpicking the best possible option for me all the while. It is up to me to have faith and fortitude. Shraddha and Saburi were the two qualities that Shirdi Baba sought from the devotees. That is the same He seeks in the Sathya Sai Baba avatar too!
The Theory (finally)!
And it is here that I formulated my theory of prayer. Irrespective of what we pray, God always plans and executes what is best for us. At times, when I have prayed selflessly and have been in sync with God’s plan, I have experienced Him answering my prayers. At other times, when my prayers have not been in sync with the divine plan, I have experienced Him denying my prayers.
And so, if I want my prayers to be answered always, I have to always be in sync with His plan right. And His plan is the Masterplan. How can I always be in sync with God’s plan till I become God myself?
There is that answer, only when I rise to the level of God, my true Self, will all my prayers be answered for at that time, all my prayers are completely in harmony with what is best!
Practically, this theory means that whenever I tend towards Godhood, the likelihood of my prayers getting fulfilled increases. And tending towards Godhood means being more loving, more compassionate, more firm, more strong and positive. The corollary is that whenever my prayer tends away from Godhood - attachments, materialism, lack of faith, greed etc. - the likelihood of my prayers getting fulfilled decreases. Interesting theory right?
The only possible proof for this theory is experience...
And so, if in the same village a farmer prays for rains to water his crops and the landlord prays for a bright sunny day to conduct the marriage of his daughter, whose prayer will be answered?
Whomsoever is in sync with God will seem to get the prayer 'answered'! :)
Along similar lines, I found another very interesting article by a Sai Student about prayers being answered based on what Swami told him in an interview. That should also be a thought-provoking read.
A quick question
Do you agree that being selfless in prayers increases the likelihood of prayers being answered?
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© 2012 Aravind Balasubramanya