The Basis and Efficacy of Prayer

Prayer is frequently invoked as a means of putting our personal needs or desires before God, so that God can personally respond and answer those prayers. This is in fact a major basis of the religious viewpoint on prayer. This basis is often ridiculed by those who do not accept the idea that there is a personal Judge or Creator God, sitting on a throne in the sky, who listens to and responds individually to prayer.

As long as we look at the situation from the perspective of the human mind, we try to understand prayer from a dualistic viewpoint. Thus, prayer goes up from a separated individual to a separate God who then responds (or not) to the individual putting up the prayer.

Sri Aurobindo takes a somewhat different view of the matter in his explanation as to the basis and true efficacy of prayer. His explanation is based on the inherent unity of all creation and the oneness of the individual soul with the Divine: “It is true that the universal will executes always its aim and cannot be deflected by egoistic propitiation and entreaty, it is true of the Transcendent who expresses himself in the universal order that, being omniscient, his larger knowledge must foresee the thing to be done and it does not need direction or stimulation by human thought and that the individual’s desires are not and cannot be in any world-order the true determining factor. But neither is that order or the execution of the universal will altogether effected by mechanical Law, but by powers and forces of which for human life at least, human will, aspiration and faith are not among the least important. Prayer is only a particular form given to that will, aspiration and faith. Its forms are very often crude and not only childlike, which is in itself no defect, but childish; but still it has a real power and significance. Its power and sense is to put the will, aspiration and faith of man into touch with the divine Will as that of a conscious Being with whom we can enter into conscious and living relations. For our will and aspiration can act either by our own strength and endeavour, which can no doubt be made a thing great and effective whether for lower or higher purposes,…, or it can act in dependence upon and with subordination to the divine or the universal Will. And this latter way, again, may either look upon that Will as responsive indeed to our aspiration, but almost mechanically, by a sort of law of energy, or at any rate quite impersonally, or else it may look upon it as responding consciously to the divine aspiration and faith of the human soul and consciously bringing to it the help, the guidance, the protection and fruition demanded….”

Prayer seen in this light represents the action of the Divine Will unfolding itself in the universal manifestation and expressing itself through the individual soul as an expression of that Will.

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Three: The Yoga of Divine Love, Chapter 3, The Godward Emotions, pp. 542-543

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