Something strange occurs at the mandir in Amdavad during the months of April and May; hundreds of school kids from the neighbourhood schools are seen climbing the mandir steps, jostling their way up to the main shrine. Every year this scene repeats itself. Why? Because it is Exam Time! The children come to pray for better results, and though they are hardly seen throughout the whole year afterwards, they somehow appear in wholesale bunches just about every time the exams arrive!
One may be tempted to brand such time-bound prayers as 'plastic' or 'hypocritical' where God is called upon in a 'use and throw' manner. However, from a broader viewpoint, it is the insecurity of possible failure that prods the youngsters to reach out for help from a higher force.
In reality, what makes the kids pray, often makes the elders pray.
On the surface the problems may differ; they may not be of passing exams or pining for toys and trips, but they may be of getting jobs or wanting a fatter pay packet. Whatever the case or condition, the basic observation remains unchallengably true that most human prayers spring from a common feeling of insecurity, helplessness or hopelessness.
Prayers, a last resort?
When human strength sags and our confidence in ourselves and in things around us begin to betray us, we often turn to God. God is used like a sparewheel, never as the driving wheel. In emergencies, and impossible situations God is given a hot line for help; but not otherwise. The tense moment of a hospital repeats and re-repeats itself countless times: The group of surgeons give a final heave, pull down their masks, remove their gloves, drop their heads in silence and say to the anxious relatives of a patient in a critical condition - "Just PRAY, we can do no more."
It was the same during the devastating earthquake that made Mexico City look like a cardboard city, tearing it apart from end to end. Thousands of residents were seen praying day and night for weeks following the catastrophe. God had been called upon to ease the misery!
The three year long drought and famine that scared the land and lives of people in Gujarat in 1986, 1987 and 1988 did much to polish up the religious faith of millions. Prayers were resorted to as the last hope for rains; obviously, after all attempts of artificial rains and other human devices had failed miserably.
Though human prayers may remain self-centred, God is too compassionate to turn His back and ignore them. Though we may lack sincere faith in God, it is comforting to know, God has sincere faith in us. He helps us despite our follies in faith.
The Story of 'Gajendra Moksha'
The Puranic story of 'Gajendra Moksha' sensitively tells of the narrow nature of human beings against the measure tape of God's magnanimity.
In the early stages of the story, Gajendra, the elephant, dallies in a lake. Midway, his front foot is caught by a crocodile. A battle ensues. The mighty Gajendra works all his strength to go ashore but water is the homeground of the crocodile; its power is beyond match with Gajendra's foot as a rope locked in the vice-like jaws of a reptile. The scriptures say that the fight lasts for a thousand years; both warriors not budging an inch either way. But then, Gajendra feels his strength fading and the crocodile swooshes across the water surface in gaining victory. The water level rises furiously as the elephant begins to sink deeper and deeper. Just then, Gajendra sees a loose lotus flower floating astray in the lake water. He picks it up, turns it skywards and offers it to God in the form of a prayer for help. No sooner done, God leaves His throne in the heavens above and rushes to the scene and liberates Gajendra. The story of 'Gajendra Moksha' (Liberation of the King of elephants) is startling in the sense that it draws a sharp, clear focus on human nature. Man, stubbornly, tries to solve all his problems without the help of God or prayer but sooner or later confronts a series of stalemates, where he exhausts himself; it is under such conditions that he turns to God. Realizing that nothing and no one in this world can come to help, like Gajendra, man turns his wishes towards God. He makes a plea for higher help. This means prayer.
Prayer, a necessity for all
Victor Hugo has neatly embroidered this truth in silken words:
"There are times in a man's life when regardless of the attitude of the body, the soul is on its knees in prayer." The most amazing of human achievers have admitted this attitude of secret prayer.
Mahatma Gandhi, the man who led India to freedom confessed, "I would have been a lunatic without prayer."
Lincoln, probably the most respected President of America was seen many times quietly praying on the battlefield during the Civil War.
Dwight D. Eisenhower, America's hero of the Second World War and later President declared, "Personal prayer, it seems to me, is one of the simplest necessities of life, as basic to the individual as suntans, food and water - and at times, of course, more so."
We also know the case of Arjuna - Narottamah; best amongst all humans. He was intelligent, of unsurpassed wisdom, handsome, a great warrior and a person who had conquered sleep. Even he, the valiant Arjuna was confused during the battle of Kurukshetra and finally surrendered to the Lord's feet praying, "Guide me, O Lord!"
How does a prayer help?
A not so distant example should suffice here. Dr.Robert White, (M.D., Ph.D.) a professor and co-chairman of neurosurgery at the Medical University in Cleveland, Ohio, and the Director of Neurosurgery at the Cleveland Metropolitan General Hospital was reputed as one of the top surgeons of the U.S. It became a common phrase that Dr.White never operated, 'his confidence did the job'. Such was the man's confidence in the operating theatre. Yet he disclosed in an interview in the Readers' Digest, Oct.1978 U.K. Edition, "I pray a great deal, especially before and after surgery. I find prayer satisfying. I feel there are immense resources behind me when I pray, resources I need and want."
Charles Steinmetz, the mathematical wizard of America seconds this view when he says, " I think the greatest discoveries will be made along spiritual lines. Some day people will learn that material things do not bring happiness and are of little use in making men and women powerful. Then the scientists of the world will turn their laboratories over to the study of God and prayer and the spiritual forces which as yet have been hardly scratched. When that day comes the world will see more advancement in one generation than it has seen in the last four."
In conclusion, we must consider that though all prayers reach God and are powerful enough to give us strength in our day to day duties, there are also those special prayers which have been said without a speck of selfishness. As humans we are likely to pray for our own progress and peace, for the benefit of our relatives and friends or for something centered on ourselves. We are likely to remain handcuffed to the pillar of self centredness, but we can, nevertheless, still fix our visions on the great masters who have prayed in a divine manner; who have prayed never for themselves; who have prayed for the whole world.
After Pramukh Swami Maharaj was operated upon, in 1986, for a large but harmless tumor in the upper right thigh, he was shown a video recording of his own operation. Overall, the operation looked a painful experience and seeing it on the screen Swamishri, at once folded his hands and prayed, 'Oh God! May no one else undergo such misery!"
Before or after the operation Swami only prayed to protect others from such pains, not himself. Such prayers are the finest forms of communication with God. Swamishri always says, "Every sincere prayer is heard and answered!" God not only hears and answers our prayers, but rather as John Masefield emotionally put it, "God warms his hands at a man's heart when he prays."