What is prayer?
Deva Tatva, prayer is one of the indefinables, because prayer is the fragrance of love.
Even love is indefinable. Love is a flower, tangible, you can see it, you can touch it, you can smell it, you can feel it. You can close your eyes and you can touch the texture of the flower, the softness of it, you can see the beauty of it; it is visible. But prayer is the fragrance released to the winds, offered to the sky. It becomes even more indefinable because you cannot see it, you cannot touch it.
You can only have a very subtle relationship with it, not one of words, not one of philosophy, not one of theology—only the silence of your heart, the utter silence of your heart, can have a little glimpse of it, of what it is.
What goes on in the name of prayer is not prayer; it is desire disguised. You go to the temple or to the church and you pray to God; your God is part of your imagination. Your God is not true God; it is a Christian God, it is a Hindu God, it is a Mohammedan God. And how can God be Christian, Hindu or Mohammedan? It is a God that you have created, or your priests on behalf of you. It is a toy, it is not true.
Bowing down before a statue made by man, manufactured by man — and you think you are in prayer? You are simply being stupid, you are simply showing utter ignorance. This statue has been purchased in the marketplace, and God is not a commodity and God cannot be made. It is God who has made us—how can we make God? But we are worshipping, praying to man-made Gods.
And what are your prayers? They are also your desires. You want this, you want that; you are trying to use God as a means. You have been told certain prayers from your very childhood and you have crammed it all; you have been forced to cram it. It has become a habit, a mechanical routine; you go on repeating it but your heart is not in it. Your prayer is a corpse, it breathes no more.
Yes, when Jesus called God ‘Abba’ he meant it. When you call God ‘Father’ you don’t mean anything. And between ‘Abba’ and ‘Father’ there is a great difference. ‘Father’ is an institution, legal, social; ‘Abba’ is a heart-to-heart relationship. Jesus looked at existence as the source of our life.
A disciple asks Jesus, “What is prayer?” Jesus falls on his knees and starts praying. The disciple says, “I am asking what prayer is, I am not asking you to pray!” And Jesus says, “There is no other way. I can pray, you can participate. I INVITE you to be a part of my prayer. I cannot say what prayer is, but I can go into prayer – because prayer is a state of being, not something that you do.”
Leo Tolstoy has written a beautiful story:
Three men became very famous saints in Russia.
The highest priest of the country was very much disturbed—obviously, because people were not coming to him, people were going to those three saints, and he had not even heard their names. And how could they be saints?—Because in Christianity a saint is a saint only when the church recognizes him as a saint. The English word ‘saint’ comes from ‘sanction’; when the church sanctions somebody as a saint, then he is a saint. What nonsense! that a saint has to be certified by the church, by the organized religion, by the priests—as if it has nothing to do with inner growth but some outer recognition; as if it is a title given by a government, or a degree, an honorary degree, conferred by a university.
The high priest was certainly very angry. He took a boat because those three saints used to live on the far side of a lake. He went in the boat. Those three saints were sitting under a tree. They were very simple people, peasants, uneducated. They touched the feet of the highest priest, and the priest was very happy. He thought, “Now I will put them right—these are not very dangerous people. I was thinking they would be rebels or something.”
He asked them, “How did you become saints?”
They said, “We don’t know! We don’t know that we are saints either. People have started calling us saints and we go on trying to convince them that we are not, we are very simple people, but they don’t listen. The more we argue that we are not, the more they worship us! And we are not very good at arguing either.”
The priest was very happy. He said, “What is your prayer? Do you know how to pray?”
They looked at each other. The first said to the second, “You say.” The second said to the third, “You say, please.”
The priest said, “Say what your prayer is! Are you saying Our Lord’s Prayer or not?”
They said, “To be frank with you, we don’t know any prayer. We have invented a prayer of our own and we are very embarrassed—how to say it? But if you ask we have to say it. We have heard that God is a trinity: the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost. We are three and he is also three, so we have made a small prayer of our own: ‘You are three, we are three: Have mercy on us!’ ”
The priest said, “What nonsense! Is this prayer? You fools, I will teach you the right prayer.” And he recited The Lord’s Prayer.
And those three poor people said, “Please repeat it once more, because we are uneducated, we may forget.”
He repeated it and they asked, “Once more—we are three, repeat it at least three times.”
So he repeated it again, and then very happy, satisfied, he went back in his boat.
Just in the middle of the lake he was surprised, his boatman was surprised: those three poor people were coming running on the water! And they said, “Wait! Please one more time—we have forgotten the prayer!”
Now it was the turn of the priest to touch their feet, and he said, “Forget what I have said to you. Your prayer has been heard, my prayer has not been heard yet. You continue as you are continuing. I was utterly wrong to say anything to you. Forgive me!”
Prayer is a state of simplicity. It is NOT of words but of silence.
Martin Buber, the great Jewish philosopher, has said that prayer is an I/thou relationship.
It is not. He does not know anything about prayer. An I/thou relationship? In prayer there is no I and in prayer there is no thou. A prayer is not a dialogue between I and thou; a prayer is a merger. The I disappears into the thou, the thou disappears into the I. There is nobody to say anything and there is nobody to say anything to.
The river disappearing into the ocean is prayer. The dewdrop slipping from the lotus leaf into the lake is prayer. Seeing the early morning sun and you are silent, and something starts rising in you too—that is prayer. A bird on the wing, and YOU are on the wing; you forget that you are separate—THAT is prayer. Wherever separation disappears, prayer appears. When you become one with the whole of existence, that is prayer.
Ego is a state of no-prayer: egolessness is a state of prayer. It is not a dialogue, it is not even a monologue. It has nothing to do with words; it is wordless silence. It is an open, silent sky; with no clouds, no thoughts. In prayer you are not Hindu or Christian or Mohammedan. In prayer you are not: in prayer God is.
From Be Still and Know, Discourse #4
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