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Category: prayer

Stark extremes

Here’s how my LinkedIn feed looks like over the last few weeks

  1. Please help me find a job. I have been laid off since Covid struck in March 2020. I am the sole breadwinner. Unable to make ends meet. Please at least like my post and comment in order to maximise reach.
  2. Just got promoted to Senior Partner. All my hard work has finally paid off. Thanks to my family, boss, colleagues, God, dog etc.
  3. My dearest friend of 40 years is no more. He didn’t get oxygen when he most needed it. Alas. What a tragedy. He is survived by his wife and two toddlers.
  4. Here’s my photo of me and my son. He’s growing up fast. Hope I’m able to leave him a good legacy.
  5. Been in financial markets for 30/40/50 years. Never seen a more screwed up situation – economy down, market up, liquidity through the roof.
  6. Here’s baby S. She lost both her parents and both her grandparents to Covid. We are setting up a trust fund for her so that she may complete her education. Please contribute in any way possible.
  7. The last 4 weeks of my life were the worst. Oh the ordeal of Covid – what a disaster. But at least I’m alive and back home from the hospital. My priorities in life have been changed forever.
  8. Just graduated from IIM/Harvard/Stanford/etc. and have received my dream job. Onward and upward.

And on and on it goes. The extremes couldn’t be more stark. Not much one can do, except pray – not just for the sick but also for the brave and selfless front-liners.

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Getting belted

An interesting dichotomy plays out in India, on the roads. Traffic will suddenly slow down as one nears a place of religious worship like a temple. Why? Because the drivers will attempt to steal a glance at the presiding deity and mutter a quick prayer, in the hope of averting any mishaps on the road. A similar prayer is often told even at the very start of the journey, just as the car is being powered up.

So what is the dichotomy? You will expect that such people would improve their chances of mishaps being averted, and hence wear seatbelts. But nope. You will still see most people not wearing seatbelts. Even if the driver is wearing one, the co-passenger will not wear it. Often you will see a toddler perched up on the co-passenger, also completely unsecured. The same is true for bikers, who just do not wear helmets. A common sight involves these helmets hanging from the handlebars of the bike, as if to protect said bike in the event of a crash.

All of this, despite scientific proof that wearing seatbelts and helmets can significantly reduce injuries and save lives.

This reminds me of the gulf between prayer and karma. Just because one prays, it is not enough to ensure bad things wont happen. There are many things the Lord has empowered us with. A seat belt is one such thing, as are other things like our mind (if used well), intellect (to distinguish between right and wrong) etc. Prayer is a supplement, like the icing on the cake. We cannot replace our stupidity or laziness with prayer.

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In which language must we pray?

Sanskrit is one of the most beautiful languages in the world. There are some brilliant compositions, unlikely to be possible in any other language. For instance, in a poem called RamaKrishna Viloma Kavyam from the 14th century, when read from beginning to end, is about the Ramayana, while when read from back to front, is about the Mahabharata!

Sadly, Sanskrit is also a dead language. Hardly anyone speaks it today. And although there are some enthusiasts and some scholars, these are few and far between.

However, the language is also one of prayer. Most chants, mantras, shlokas etc. have all been composed in Sanskrit. Many people memorise these verses and chant them regularly. But given that the language itself is not understood, what then is the point of praying in such a language? Should one pray in their mother tongue instead? Is this a sensible argument? Surely translation from our language to His, is no challenge for a God?

Imagine we come across a beggar. He wears tattered clothes, his face and hands are dirty, he is frail and gaunt, and there is no doubt he has had little to eat in the last few days. Clutching at his stomach, he wails and cries and begs you repeatedly to give him some money. Now imagine another beggar, one dressed well, has a bit of a tummy, comes to you and says “Sir, give me some money.” Chances are, that you would help the first beggar, while doubting the intent, lack of emotion, and authenticity of the second.

Herein lies the key to prayer. Emotion is most essential. If we can figure out whether a person is faking it or not, wouldn’t God know if we are praying with sincerity or not? Without emotion, the most beautiful language cannot make a difference to the prayer. With emotion, even the absence of a language is no barrier.

The most beautiful combination however, would be both emotion and language. And that will take hard work, and intent.

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The prayer was answered

Someone prayed for a beautiful wife. The prayer was answered. The wife was so beautiful that all eyes were on her. Soon the affairs started.

Someone prayed for a million dollars. The prayer was answered. The friends got jealous. Many relationships were lost.

Someone prayed for having kids. The prayer was answered. A baby boy was born. But the mother died in labour.

Someone prayed for their dream job. The prayer was answered. It was unearthed that the company had committed massive fraud. A career was lost.

Someone prayed for that vacation to Hawaii. The prayer was answered. A shark attack and a surfing accident later, a limb was amputated.

We have no clue whatsoever about what the future holds. Therefore let us not pray for things that we believe will make us happy. Let us pray instead, that we always remain happy – no matter the circumstance.

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Effective Prayer

How can prayer be made more effective?

  1. It is the emotion that counts. Not the amount of time spent praying.
  2. The words/mantras/chants may mean nothing to us, but the One who needs to understand, will.
  3. Having a 1-1 conversation with the higher power helps. In the language you are most comfortable in.
  4. Practise, leading to a habit, improves effectiveness – especially when it is most essential.
  5. Pray with family. As is said, “the family that prays together stays together”.
  6. Offer something in return. This is particularly useful for out-sized material wants (money, job, health of a loved one etc.). Promise in advance, that once fulfilled, you will do something meaningful – like feeding a number of homeless children, giving up your favourite food, donating a sizeable amount to a chosen charity etc. Remember, give big, get big (usually bigger!).
  7. Pray for others, significantly more than for yourself. You will find good things happen to others, and great things happen to you.

This is not about religion. We can even just pray in gratitude to the power that sustains life in this universe, and the spark within each of us. This is selfless, and perhaps the best kind of prayer.

We’ve all been in tough spots before, and life being what it is, we may find ourselves in similar positions again. Prayers do work. The proof is in the trying. Prepare to be amazed!

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Just starting to pray

When we just start to pray to get time off for our fourth vacation of the year
Let us pray instead for the front-line healthcare workers that get no time off in a pandemic

When we just start to pray for more time to spend with a loved one
Let us pray instead for the soldiers that keep us safe with no guarantee of a return to their own families

When we just start to pray for a bigger and better house for ourselves
Let us pray instead for the destitute living on the pavement

When we just start to pray for a better education or degree
Let us pray instead for that underpaid teacher in primary school to whom we owe much of our success

When we just start to pray for a promotion or bonus at work
Let us pray instead for the family that lost its sole breadwinner

When we get through all these prayers
We will have forgotten everything we wanted
All our troubles will melt away
And we will be left only with gratitude for everything we have

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