Just as there is a debate between science and religion, there is a corollary argument that encompasses aspiration versus prayer. Aspiration for growth, development, knowledge, progress, expansion is acceptable to those in the “science” camp. Prayer is relegated by these individuals to the “religion” camp. Similarly, those who believe ardently in the power of prayer do not fully believe in the efficacy of an inner aspiration alone. The relation of these two powers, however, is not so simply delineated, nor can either one be dismissed out of hand. They can, indeed, complement one another.
For those who do not believe in any greater Being in the universe, of course, prayer does not factor into the equation. For those already accepting such a greater Being, Creator or God, prayer is central. For the vast majority of people however, who are somewhere between these two extremes, another viewpoint can harmonize them. Aspiration can be seen as the directing force and impetus for the growth and development of the individual’s powers and the expansion of the individual’s basis of knowledge. Prayer can be seen as the outer body providing concrete form in the external existence to what the aspiration is developing inwardly.
The artist, the writer, the composer all develop their concepts inwardly, but express them in the world, to impact others and have their influence in the world, through the outer form they give to these concepts. Similarly, prayer provides such an outer framework to embody the aspiration and bring it to life in the world.
The Mother notes: “So the more intellectual people admit aspiration and say that prayer is something inferior. The mystics tell you that aspiration is all very well but if you want to be really heard and want the Divine to listen to you, you must pray, and pray with the simplicity of a child, a perfect candour, that is, a perfect trust: ‘I need this or that (whether it be a moral need or a physical or material need), well, I ask You for it, give it to me.’ … To aspire it is not necessary to direct the aspiration to someone, towards someone. One has an aspiration for a certain state of being, for knowledge, for a realisation, a state of consciousness; one aspires for something, but it is not necessarily a prayer; prayer is something additional.”
Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, Growing Within: The Psychology of Inner Development, Chapter III Growth of Consciousness Basic Requisites, pp. 37-38