From the early ages man has offered prayers, rightly or wrongly, according to his notions of God and religion. Those materialistically inclined, who do not believe in God or religion, in the immortality of their own souls, do not care to pray. Their be-all and end-all is simply material existence. Those who pray hardly ever ask where to pray, to whom to pray, why to pray, what to pray and how to pray. These are important questions needing reflection. The great Sages have left illuminating instructions on the subject, but these have not been heeded; and so man continues to live in a wrong fashion, whether he believes or disbelieves in prayer.
One prays to gain something for oneself; another prays to bring about the downfall and destruction of another. Both are led by selfish motives. This is as true of nations as of individuals. During the two World Wars, most of the nations concerned were so-called Christian nations (not true fallowers of the teachings of Jesus), and prayed to the same almighty God to protect their own country, to save them from dangers, to make them victorious, and to defeat and destroy the "enemy" country. Madame Blavatsky has stated in Isis Unveiled: "There has never been a religion in the annals of the world with such a bloody record as Christianity." Would this be so if individuals or nations had the correct concept of God and religion? Would people indulge in human slaughter if it was recognized that the spark of Light Divine which each human being is, emanated from one and the same Flame? Would people perform ceremonies through hired priests for their dear departed ones to absolve them from their sins? Then what about the law of Cause and Effect? As a man soweth, so shall he reap, is the common adage. The Voice of the Silence states: "In the 'Great Journey,' causes sown each hour bear each its harvest of effects, for rigid Justice rules the World." Then how can hired priests help the dead in any way? Would people flock to churches, temples and mosques, and make all kinds of offerings to their respective priests or gods if they were aware of the dangers of such malpractices? There is profound truth contained in this statement from Isis Unveiled:
The world needs no sectarian church, whether of Buddha, Jesus, Mahomet, Swedenborg, Calvin, or any other. There being but ONE Truth, Man requires but one church—the Temple of God within us, walled in by matter but penetrable by anyone who can find the way; the pure in heart see God. (II, 635)
This answers the question: Where should one pray? It points to the fact that there is only One Truth which can be realized in the Temple of God within; so there is no need for outside houses of prayer. Though the Inner Temple is covered over with the dust and dirt of material existence, these can be cleared through self-purification, and that is the way to self-realization. Vast amounts of money are spent in building temples and churches, and still more in sustaining the priesthood, when all that is necessary is to turn within and pray to the Divine Father.
This leads us to an understanding of who to pray to. Not to an outside god or any other being, but to the Spirit within. Does not Krishna, in the Tenth Discourse of the Gita, enumerating his Divine Excellences, mention at the outset: "I am the Ego which is seated in the hearts of all beings"? And in the Ninth Discourse he states: "Those who devote themselves to the gods go to the gods; the worshippers of the pitris go to the pitris; those who worship the evil spirits go to them, and my worshippers come to me." What greater assurance than these words of Krishna for the final reunion! Jesus gave the same instruction in the Sermon on the Mount: "When thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut the door, pray to thy Father which is in secret." People are turned outside all the time, are attracted to the things of the objective world, and therefore it becomes difficult for them to turn within for inner communion, which is true prayer.
True prayer is the song of the heart sung in utmost gratitude for all the blessings of Life. It is the communion of the human soul with the Divine Father, a means of union with the whole of Nature, a humble submission to the Law. For however brief a period, the mind becomes liberated from the fetters of earthly existence and becomes one with the Infinite. Buddhi and Manas are united through true prayer and the strength and the power of the divine radiates through the personality. In The Key to Theosophy it is stated:
Meditation is silent and unuttered prayer, or, as Plato expressed it, "the ardent turning of the soul toward the divine; not to ask any particular good (as in the common meaning of prayer), but for good itself—for the universal Supreme Good" of which we are a part on earth, and out of the essence of which we have emerged.
How different this kind of prayer is from ordinary muttering done in a haphazard way, without understanding! Prayer has to become purposeful till it becomes will-prayer. The higher aspects of Will can thus be developed, bringing about a truer realization of the Self and a profounder conviction of Universal Brotherhood. Instead, how much time, money and energy are frittered away in useless prayer! It has been taught by Lord Buddha:
Pray not! the Darkness will not brighten! Ask
People appeal to the gods, with offerings and sacrifices, for favours of one kind or another, but to no avail, because the gods also are bound by the Law of their own plane and are therefore helpless. Each one has constructed his own prison; by demolishing it he can breathe the free atmosphere of the higher altitude. It is wiser to seek for deliverance within oneself, through right prayer. Such prayer is essential for the soul of man as food is for the body. The body is fed at regular intervals; why not the Soul? Loving deeds are another form of prayer. As the English poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge says:
He prayeth well, who loveth well
If the constitution of the material frame is mathematical, it is not merely so. If the mind, in its capacity of formal reasoning, obeys, whether consciously or unconsciously, mathematical laws, it claims through its other capacities of sentiment and action, through its deep springs of emotion and affection, to hold relation to a different order of things. There is, moreover, a breadth of intellectual vision, a power of sympathy with truth in all its forms and manifestations, which is not measured by the force and sublety of a dialectic faculty. Even the revelation of the material universe in its boundless magnitude, and pervading order, and constancy of law, is not necessarily the most fully apprehended by him who has traced with minutest accuracy the steps of the great demonstration. And if we embrace in our survey the interests and duties of life, how little do any processes of mere ratiocination enable us to comprehend the weightier questions which they present! As truly, therefore, as the cultivation of the mathematical or deductive faculty is a part of intellectual discipline, so truly is it only a part. The prejudice which would either banish or make supreme any one department of knowledge, or faculty of mind, betrays not only error of judgement, but a defect of that intellectual modesty which is inseparable from a pure devotion to truth.