There is a story called “The City of Everywhere”. One cold winter morning a man arrived in the city. As he got off the train, he found that the railway platform was like any other railway platform with noisy crowds and commuters pushing each other in their anxiety to board their respective trains. He was surprised to find that all of them were barefooted. Not one of them wore shoes. He came out of the platform and entered a cab: he found that the cab driver wore no shoes.
“Pardon me,” he asked the driver. “What is the reason that you and so many other people in the city do not wear shoes? Don’t you believe in shoes?”
“Sure we do,” answered the driver. “Then why don’t you wear them?” the man asked.”Ah, that’s the question, why don’t we wear shoes? Why don’t we?” answered the driver. The conditions at the hotel were similar. The manager, the cashier, the bearers, the waiters were all barefooted. To one of them he said: “I find you are not wearing shoes. Don’t you know about shoes?”
“Of course, I know about shoes!” “Then why don’t you wear them?” “Ah, that’s the question,” was the answer. “Why don’t I?”
After some time, he came out of the hotel and walked on the street. Here too, every person he saw was barefooted. To one of them, he said, “Don’t you know that shoes protect the feet from cold?” “Of course I do,” the man answered. “Do you see that building yonder? It is a shoe factory. We are proud of it, and every Sunday we gather there to hear the man in charge tell all about shoes and how wonderful they are.”
“Then why don’t you wear shoes?” The man replied, “Ah, that’s the question, Why don’t we wear shoes? Why don’t we?”
We all believe in prayer. We repeat the words of the poet: “More things are wrought by prayer than the world dreams of.” We are aware that prayer can perform miracles. We know that prayer can change us, change our lives, make us new. We are aware of the magical power of prayer. Yet, we do not pray. Why? Ah! That’s the question, why don’t we pray? Why don’t we?
Pray; it’s easy
Prayer is not a complicated thing. It is something very, very simple—like speaking to a friend. Suppose a friend were to come to us. It would be so natural for us to share with him the secrets of the heart, to speak to him of our dreams and desires, our aspirations and ambitions, our plans and programmes, and ask him to help us.
God is our Friend, the Friend of all friends, the one Constant, Unchanging Friend. He is available to us all 24 hours. He is ever ready to help us. How many of us seek His help?
To pray to God we do not need to go to a temple or a church. It is always good to go to those places for they are filled with pure, holy, strong vibrations. But to be able to pray to God we do not need to go to particular places. God is with us everywhere, and at all times. All we need to do is to close our eyes, shut out the world, think of Him, and there He is!
Yearn for God
Prayer begins with talking to God. A stage comes when we are silent and he speaks to us. Until we have listened to the Voice of God, we have not proceeded far on the path of prayer.
In the beginning we do hear His Voice: but let us be sure that He hears us. We do not see Him: but let us be sure that He sees us. A stage comes in the life of every seeker when he sees God and hears His Voice. God can be seen. He can be touched and felt. His voice can be heard. He is more real than all things, which we perceive with the senses. But to be able to see Him, labour is needed.
And this labour is to awaken deep longing, yearning for God, which may touch our eyes with tears. The great saint Sri Ramakrishna Paramahansa had said, “Yearn for God even as a miser yearns for gold, as a lover yearns for his beloved, as a drowning person yearns for a breath of air.”
Feel it inside
It is not necessary that we offer set prayers. Prayers should flow spontaneously out of a love-filled heart. One look of the eye, one cry of exclamation may be more acceptable to the Lord than hundreds of set prayers that are offered day after day, many of them in a mechanical way. Feeling is needed: emotion is needed. Far more important than the words we utter is the vibration of love which they carry.
A labourer used to attend evening worship [aarti] at the temple, every day. One evening, he was detained at the factory, where he worked, and when the aarti time approached, he rushed to the temple so that he might not miss his daily appointment with the Lord. As he arrived at the temple, he found the pujari [priest] coming out of the gate. Is the aarati over?” he asked.
“Yes,” answered the pujari, “It just got over!” “Ah!” exclaimed the labourer with deep sadness of the heart. The pujari said to him: “Will you give me your exclamation in exchange for the merit of the evening worship?”
“Gladly,” answered the labourer, for he had never wished to miss the evening worship.That night, he had a dream. In it Lord Sri Krishna said to him, “You struck a bad bargain this evening. Your simple exclamation was more precious than all the aaratis put together performed by the pujari during his entire life!”
Transcend the ‘asking’ stage
Art is not needed. Music is not needed. Scriptural lore is not needed, rituals are not needed. Ceremonies are not needed. What is needed is a heart contrite and lowly, pure and holy—a loving heart eager to wait upon God.
Prayer is waiting upon God, in love and longing. Without this, repetition of set prayers becomes vain. So often, prayers are read from books; they do good in so far as they draw attention to God. Mere mechanical repetition is waste of time.
The prayers of most of us are entreaties before God, imploring Him to do something for us or to give us something of which we think we are in need.
It is well to place our needs before God, but only in the elementary stage. As we grow in the spirit of prayer, we realise that our deepest need is not material things, the “goods” which the earth gives and the earth takes, but the Good of all “goods”—God Himself.
Someone once asked me, “Which is the best time for prayer? And the best place?” The best time for prayer is now, and that best place is here, I said.
A woman-saint was found uttering, again and again, the words: I would like to. I would like to.People asked her, “What would you like to? Would you like to build temples or open satsang or found ashrams?”
“I would like to climb the highest mountain on earth and ask God to give me a voice that might reach the very ends of the earth,” she said.
“Now we understand; you would wish to deliver a sermon,” they said. “Yes,” she answered. “I would deliver a sermon and the sermon would be of one word: Pray! Pray! Pray!
May this one word, “Pray, Pray! Pray,” ring in our hearts like a temple bell. May it awaken us to a life of true, unceasing prayer. In the measure in which we pray, in that measure we are purified, ennobled, strengthened to face the difficulties and dangers of life and to serve the poor and broken ones in the right spirit.
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