“In a prayer, it is better to have a heart without words than words without a heart.”
- Mahatma Gandhi
Prayer is not a matter of accident, or character, or sentiment, or habit. It is absolutely global and co-extensive with mankind. In every form of religion, prayer is one of the most prominent practices. Wherever there is human life, there is religion and wherever there is religion, there is prayer. Prayer induces a dynamic state of mind in which the soul’s powers are keyed up to the limit of their possibilities. In fact, it serves to convert the soul’s potential energy into actual miracle working power.
The practice of prayer has negative as well as positive psychological effects depending on the extent of frankness put into the prayer. Prayer, which is a characteristic instrumentation of God for one’s own needs seems to be instinctive in man. It is the cry of a heart for help, for deliverance from danger or distress or for fulfillment of some desire. It can be verbal or a silent longing of the heart, but it is almost universal. To know any religion, cognisizing the importance of this phenomenon is quintessential because if religion is an integral part of man’s life than prayer is the core of every religion.
Prayer in many ways is like meditation. It influences our state of mind, which in turn influences our “state of body”. In fact, it reduces the experience of anxiety, elevates us from a depressed mood, lowers blood pressure, stabilizes sleep patterns and impacts autonomic functions like digestion and breathing. Further, in influencing our state of body-mind, prayer and meditation also influence our thinking. This prompts a shift in the habits of the mind and subsequently, our behavior. These changes, in turn and over time, induce changes in the brain, further influencing our subjective and objective experience of the world and how we participate in it.
Very often we see that even the most improbable things happen due to prayers. They have the power to do miracles. But only if we place faith in them. “Prayer is a natural expression of faith as breathing is of life”, said Jonathan Edwards. Prayers can be of different forms – words or songs or hymns or silence or any form that an individual is comfortable with.
But the major question that arises is what is it in prayers that most of the world believes in? How do miracles happen through prayers and prayers solely? I remember reading a true story of a woman in the UK who had her cancer cured by not taking any medicine but by prayers. How does such a thing happen?
Prayers for different people mean different things. If we analyze the psychology behind them, we come to the conclusion that man has always found himself helpless and dependent upon superhuman powers. Momentary or habitual and permanent emotional state of high intensity such as fear, anxiety, wrath, hatred, sorrow and worry are the psychic experiences resulting from such situations that act as motive for prayer. The feeling of absolute dependence on higher powers is operative in every religion. These are the basic three motives that has led a man to pray and also the aforementioned woman.
Another motive is to gain materialistic happiness. “Give him an inch and he’ll take a mile”. It happens even in our day-to-day life. Man by nature itself is selfish. It is often said, “Necessity is mother of all invention.” However, it is also said, “Necessity is also the reason for a man’s prayers”. Man is a greedy animal. He is never satisfied with materialistic things. His wants too, are never satisfied. Hence, he prays to gain materialistic happiness.
The third motive is the most interesting and has been very much a part of life. Along with fear and material gains, there is another important thing that motivates prayers – forgiveness for sinful acts. Man is never without sin. Sin is not the negation of ethical values and standards, but infact the unrestrained indulgence in the natural emotions and impulses. According to Buddhists, thirst for life is also a sin. If we analyze our daily actions we shall come to the conclusion that whatever we do to satisfy our ego is a sin.
The real prayer which is beyond all other worldly desires is directed towards the harmony with one beyond. A French psychologist defined prayer as a means to satisfy a psychical need. But this discovery of the deepest root of prayer does not disclose its peculiar essence. In order to get to the bottom of this, we should not ask for the psychological motive of prayer. We must rather make clear the religious ideas and must grasp our inner attitude and spiritual aim.
All visible things on Earth, which are loveable and desirable – riches, glory, wife, children, everything in this world that is beautiful and attractive, belong not to the soul but only to the body which is temporary and thus, will pass away as quickly as a shadow.
To conclude, we can say that in the hearts of men of all races and in all ages there has been a deep-seated desire to come into union with the unseen Deity. The attempt to satisfy this desire takes a great variety of forms and prayer is one of the most spontaneous outcome of this desire.
“When you face difficulty in life, the peace and stability in you depends on the amount of faith you have. Not having faith is misery; faith gives instant comfort. While reasons keep you sane and grounded, no miracle can happen without faith. It takes you beyond limitations. In faith, you can transcend the laws of nature, but it is giving the Divine a chance to act.”