Very often, when all else fails, man resorts to prayer. But instead of using prayer as a spare wheel, if it is used as the primary force, it reaps rich rewards. Harnessing the power in prayer will energise all our activities.
All we have to do is ask.
The Apollo 13 Story: April, 1970
“Houston, we’ve had a problem.” At 55 hours, 54 minutes and 53 seconds into the Apollo 13 mission, this heart-stopping outburst was relayed to Mission Control in Houston by the astronauts 200,000 miles away. It initiated an unbelievable flurry of activity. A coordinated operation to rescue the ailing spacecraft and its jeopardised crew began in earnest.
Having achieved its aim of landing a man on the moon, for NASA, this was to have been a ‘routine’ trip to the moon. Routine, that is, until oxygen tank number two aboard Apollo 13 exploded during a routine check procedure. It was then that technical expertise and divine inspiration worked hand-in-hand to ensure the safe return of the astronauts.
The explosion, which crippled the spacecraft, meant that not only was the moon landing called off, but that emergency measures to bring the craft and crew back to Earth had to be implemented.
No doubt, all the scientists involved in this great escape, displayed exemplary team work and ingenuinity. But there was an unseen force aiding their efforts. It was the divine force of prayer. Prayer has often found a route to a successful outcome, where other measures have failed. In the rescue of Apollo 13, this was also the case.
In an article entitled “What really happened to Apollo 13”, Jerry Woodrill, who worked on the mission as the Alarm System Engineer, recognises the prominent and indispensable part prayer played in the successful rescue of Apollo 13. In it, he says, “Many might regard the rescue as the ‘spiritualising’ of a dramatic event for religion’s sake. I would agree, had I not found a majority of evidence to the contrary.”
He adds, “The New York Times reported special prayer services…. Prayers were said at the Chicago Board of Trade and prayers for the Apollo 13 crew sounded at the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem.” Even the United States government realised the necessity of prayer and so Jerry Woodrill writes, “The US Senate adopted a resolution urging prayers.”
Finally, he says that his wife has a bracelet and medallion which was, “bought at the space centre exchange store shortly after the successful 1970 rescue. The large coin pictured praying hands with the words ‘Apollo 13… And the whole world prayed’.” This is a clear indication of how much NASA, the people with the most to lose, believed in the important contribution of prayer in their successful rescue.
The entire rescue operation was a perfect example of how effort combined with prayer leads to success.
A prayer is a solemn request or thanksgiving to God. Prayer is instinctive to man and no one can do without it, whatever form it may take. To many, prayer is a last-ditch appeal to God to rescue them from their desperate circumstances. But this need not be the case, since, through prayer one can establish a connecting link with God to help us from beginning to end.
Surely, the secret of success lies in tapping the greatest, inexhaustible reservoir of power conceivable. Therefore, direct prayer to God will ensure our success.
God Helps Those Who Help Themselves
Along with prayer comes effort. After all, what do we pray to God for? We pray for the success of our endeavours. In Vach. Gad. II-7, Shriji Maharaj highlights the significance of personal effort. He says that if one who is troubled by his own drawbacks and if he “intensely and selflessly serves a great sadhu… God will shower His mercy upon him … and he will be instantly relieved of his drawbacks.” This is a clear example of how one’s efforts earns the grace of God and thus helps one to fulfil one’s aim. So the necessity of effort alongside with prayer is easily understood.
Preparing For Prayer
For prayer to be successful, certain pre-requisites must be fulfilled, namely:
(1) Faith in God. This is the root cause of success. We must realise the all-encompassing,
all-pervasive powers of God and have faith in His glory.
(2) Surrender to God. If one has true faith, then one will automatically surrender one’s all at the feet of God .
(3) Love for God. Before we ask Him for further favours, we must be grateful to Him for what He has given to us without our asking. We must love and respect His commandments and sincerely observe them.
(4) Purification. Purity of the body and jiva is the most important factor in winning the love and grace of God. To attain this purity, we must repent for our past mistakes, ask for forgiveness, atone for them and abstain from committing mistakes in the future.
What People Pray For
Superbowl XXV. Eight seconds of the match remain. The New York Giants are leading 20-19 against the Buffalo Bills. The Bills’ kicker, Scott Norwood, is about to attempt a relatively easy field goal to win the match and the championship. As he prepares, the Giants’ players are behind the upright, kneeling – their eyes and minds directed heavenwards – appealing in prayer to an even greater giant – God! Seconds later, their prayer is answered. The field goal is missed and the Giants win the Superbowl.
This is the sort of material gain people pray for. Though there is nothing wrong with that, it is when these prayers appear to go unanswered that people raise doubts in God. But, as William Shakespeare tells us, we fail to realise that whatever happens is for our benefit:
“We ignorant of ourselves,
Beg often our own harms, which the wise powers
Deny us for our good; so find we profit
By losing of our prayers.”
All along, we pray for sensual pleasures and gains, while we ignore life beyond the senses – the spiritual life.
It is this issue – prayer for spiritual gains – that is addressed by Shriji Maharaj in the Vachanamrutam.
What Should We Pray For
Through our shortsightedness and narrow-mindedness, we ask for all the riches of the world, but they fail to give us permanent happiness. So, we must realise our spiritual objective and pray for success in that direction – for it is this spiritual peace and happiness which is permanent.
As people grow older, their prayers to God change. As children, they pray for good grades, a bicycle and such other things. As adults they pray for a good job, a loving partner and a good home. But, all throughout life, prayers for spiritual progress must accompany these prayers for material gains.
Learning From Our Predecessors
Even after Prahlad had been rescued from the fury and torture of his father, Hiranyakashipu, by Lord Nrusinh, Prahlad realised that this protection was just temporary. He knew that real protection would be to save him from his spiritual enemies. Shriji Maharaj narrates Prahlad’s ensuing prayer, in Vach. Loya-3: “O Lord! I am not frightened by this (terrible) form of yours and I do not accept this rescue as a real rescue. Only when you protect me from my enemies in the form of my indriyas (senses), will I believe it as protection.”
But, this is God’s mission on Earth – to rescue people from materialistic temptations. To help us, Shriji Maharaj guides us in what to pray for in Vach. Panchala-3: “O Lord! It is the fault of the indriyas (senses) and antahkaran (mind). I am separate from them and they are my enemies. Please protect me from them.” Since our senses are our link with the outside world, it is important that they do not lead us away from God. By prayer, and by our sincere observance of God’s commandments, our senses will not be drawn towards material temptations.
Shriji Maharaj realises the importance of company on the spiritual path. So, in Vach. Gad. I-48, He asks us to pray for protection against bad company: “O Lord! Please protect me from kusang (bad company). This kusang is of four types – one, Kudapanthi; Two, Shaktipanthi; three, Shushka Vedantis and four, Nastik. By the company of Kudapanthis, I may default from my vow of celibacy; by the company of Shaktipanthis, they will make me eat meat and drink alcohol and so make me disobey my own dharma; by the company of Shuska Vedantis, they will negate the divine form of God, the murtis of His incarnations and His abode and lead me astray from devotion and faith to God; by the company of Nastiks, they will attribute everything to karma and eliminate the role of God and lead me away from the path prescribed by the scriptures. Hence, please never give me the company of these four kinds of people.”
Thus, bearing in mind the nature and type of people likely to deflect us from our spiritual goal, we should steer clear of them and associate only with good company.
In addition to external kusang in the form of bad company, we must also avoid kusang in the form of fault-finding. Shriji Maharaj knows of the fatal spiritual consequence resulting from such fault-finding. So He leads by example in Vach. Gad. II-40. In this Vachanamrut, the paramhansas observe that Shriji Maharaj has performed one extra dandvat to His normal, routine number. When they enquire into the reason for this, Shriji Maharaj says:
“There is no greater cause of a jiva’s misery than to insult a devotee of God, knowingly or unknowingly, by mind, speech or body.” Shriji Maharaj then says that everyone should daily perform one extra dandvat, accompanied by a prayer asking for forgiveness from the sin of having insulted or pained any of God’s devotees, knowingly or unknowingly, by body, mind or speech. Then, one must not take this as a licence to commit further mistakes but must positively aim to avoid such mistakes.
All these prayers are for our spiritual progress. This is what Shriji Maharaj considers as real and permanent progress.
The Ultimate Objective
In many Vachanamruts – Gad. I-23, Gad. II-30, Gad. II-45, Loya-7, Amdavad 2, Amdavad-3 and others, Shriji Maharaj defines our life’s goal as: “To become brahmarup and worship Purushottam.”
All the above prayers help us on this path. Even in Vach. Gad. III-39, delivered just ten months before Shriji Maharaj returned to Akshardham, Shriji Maharaj tells us to pray for this goal. He says: “Please protect me from the maya of I and mine and help me to develop love towards You. Please help me to develop love and attachment towards a sadhu who has overcome maya and has love for You.”
So, we see, nowhere has Shriji Maharaj guided us towards materialistic pleasures. He knows their temporary nature. He wants to share with us the permanent and all-encompassing spiritual bliss He enjoys. So, He has guided us on how, through prayer, effort and the company of a satpurush we can attain this happiness.