“In this endeavor there is no loss or diminution, and a little advancement on this path can protect one from the most dangerous type of fear.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 2.40)
It’s what really distinguishes the humans from the rest of the community of living things. Not the ability to do calculus. Not the ability to put together a complicated machine. Certainly the animals can’t do those things, but compassion, cleanliness, austerity and honesty are what make the real difference. These four come directly from religion. Even the atheistic person possessing these traits derives the benefit originally from religious practices.
It is good to be cultured. It is good to pray on a regular basis. The sober-minded person understands that there is a higher power involved. Everything came together from a bang of chemicals, so the theory says. Then there was evolution. But what instigated that? Can you generate a chemical explosion that then results in a smartphone or laptop computer? Even if you could do this, there is still a lack of randomness. You are the catalyst; there is intentional action and subsequent reaction. And something is behind the action.
Vedic culture teaches that the more you learn about God, the more you are benefitted. Since He is unlimited, ananta, He is impossible to know completely. Still, just a little understanding, some progress along the path, protects a person from the greatest fear.
One way to stay connected to the Divine is prayer. Pray regularly. Keep a routine. From reviewing some of the common prayers, there is a way to make them better. The improvement is connected to the increase in knowledge about the attributes of the Divine.
1. God, give us our daily bread
It is better to ask God for bread than the atheistic government. This was the tactic of the classic communist regimes. Tell the people to pray for bread. When it doesn’t arrive due to the limitations on farming and enterprise amongst the oppressed citizens, ask them to pray again, but this time to the government. With the government providing the bread, hopefully the people will be fooled into ignoring worship of the Divine.
“If one offers Me with love and devotion a leaf, a flower, fruit, or water, I will accept it.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 9.26)
A slight alteration to the common prayer goes something like this:
“God, please accept this offering. I know that you are atmarama, and thus in need of nothing. Still, the offering is with love, as much as I think I have, which is very little. Still, I know that you are merciful to the surrendered souls. I promise to try to bring the same offerings to you on a daily basis. Whatever you leave behind I will honor.”
2. Come through for me this one time and I’ll never bother you again
This is the prayer made in desperation. Having not gone to God recently, this dire situation requires extra help. A miracle. Something great. The person offering the prayer understands that they’ve neglected spiritual life. Hopefully, the man upstairs doesn’t hold a grudge. From getting this one benediction, all problems will be solved.
Make a slight alteration and the nature of the prayer changes, becoming much better in the process:
“God, I offer this prayer to you simply to maintain your association. You can do as you like. Put me in a dog’s body in the next life. Send me to hell. Promote me to heaven and make available so many material amenities. It doesn’t matter. I will still remain devoted to you, to the best of my ability. I ask to have this opportunity, life after life.”
Maharishi Valmiki makes mention of a certain group of people who make such prayers. He says that whether in heaven or hell, they always see Shri Rama, standing with His bow and arrow. Rama is their Divine form of choice, understanding that the one source can appear in different ways.
3. Praying for others
It’s compassion. You want others to do well. You want your loved ones to be safe. You don’t want harm to befall them. “Let me take their suffering and pain. I can handle it. Please spare them.”
Two alterations make this prayer so much more powerful. First, expand the definition of “loved ones” to include the entire human race. Second, pray that they get more than just immunity from pain:
“God, please let them find the shelter of your lotus feet. Let them taste the nectar of devotion. Let them swim in that ocean, which Shrila Rupa Gosvami refers to as bhakti-rasamrita-sindhu. Indeed, if they simply read the book of his with that title, they will benefit so much. I know that bhakti is about desire and that you can’t force someone to follow devotion, but at least give them the opportunity to hear about your glories. Help me to spread the message of Divine love so that it touches so many hearts.”
These prayers will only be made if there is an understanding of the form, personality, names, and pastimes of the Divine. If the picture remains foggy, then prayers won’t be to the highest standard. It is something like approaching the king of the land and asking him to fix your leaky faucet. The king can do so much more. The greatest gift offered by God is His constant presence. That gift is already available in the form of the Supersoul residing within the heart, but without proper knowledge the connection remains down.
Supreme Lord in heart right now found,
But lacking knowledge connection down.
With understanding of His nature taking,
Improved the common prayers making.
More than just for daily bread to ask,
With love offer food as routine task.
More than safety, their spirits to alight,
By giving mankind the Divine light.
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