A Few Thoughts About Prayers in Hinduism
Question: How to pray effectively? Is there any guidance or are there any rules about praying in Hinduism?
Find here a few thoughts about the art of praying in Hinduism, prayer rules, and how prayers can be used for peace, prosperity and happiness.
In Hinduism prayers and mantras are mostly in Sanskrit. Many people do not know the language. Hence, people often chant them without knowing what they mean. It is a challenge to keep the mind focused and experience devotional fervor when you do not know the meaning of your prayer.
However, India is rich in cultural and linguistic diversity. Numerous prayers are available in native languages also. Since many people are familiar with more than one language, in religious congregations you will often hear them praying together in multiple languages. It is a great example to show that God and prayers bring diverse groups of people together and promote social cultural and religious harmony. Some Hindus are so tolerant that they participate in the prayer sessions of other religions.
The Vedic prayers are the oldest living prayers in the world today. Some of the earliest Rigvedic prayers are probably 6000-7000 years old. They are also the earliest, complex prayer compositions known for their poetic value, metrical purity, imagination, and deep symbolism that speak highly of the mental brilliance of the people who conceived them and used them in their ritual and spiritual practices.
Vedic prayers are also complex and couched in deep symbolism. Since they are ritual prayers, they are mostly chanted by qualified Vedic priests during sacrificial ceremonies and in temple rituals. However, many people also use them in domestic rituals (puja) and on festive occasions to worship the deities at homes or in public places. Many may have never studied Sanskrit as a language. Yet, they can utter lengthy Sanskrit prayers during worship, which may last for hours. It is another example that language is not a barrier in devotional worship.
Prayers in Hinduism
The art of praying has been perfected in India for centuries. The lives of devout Hindu revolve around prayers. Typically, they are expected to pray to the Sun and other gods in the morning, in the noon, in the evening and before going to bed. They pray before eating food as they offer it to gods, or before they begin any journey or commence a new project. They also pray for divine help to achieve success, peace and happiness, or on important occasions such as conception, birth, marriage, pregnancy, etc.
Hindus pray both individually and in groups. Group prayers are generally meant for the welfare of the family, the community or to appease the gods who play an important role in ensuring the orderly progression of the world, good harvest, peace and prosperity. People also pray in groups on festive occasions, when there are difficulties and natural calamities or when there are no rains or food.
In the past, it was common for warriors to perform rituals or pray to God before going to war, seeking victory and the destruction of the enemy. Prayers are also used in Hinduism for divine intervention to cure diseases, ward off evil, attack enemies, discourage or weaken the rivals in love affairs, punish adulterers, seek protection against sorcery, bewitch the opposite sex, increase luck, and so on.
The early notions of prayers
The Vedic people gave a lot of importance to the art of praying. They put a lot of emphasis upon the study of the Vedas by heart, correct pronunciation, purity of the mind and heart, the right choice of the prayers and deities, sanctity of the time and place to pray, a structural or systematic approach to praying, and adherence to righteous conduct in the use of prayers and mantras. They believed that each prayer had a hidden deity who propelled that prayer to reach gods when it was correctly chanted.
Brahman provided the power that enabled the deity to carry the sounds of that prayer to the heaven and prompted them to visit the ritual place to accept the offerings. Brahman was the silent witness and participant in all prayers. He was the object, the subject, the offerer, the recipient and the facilitator, although the prayers were never addressed to him directly but to gods who were but his aspects and personifications. The tradition still continues in Hinduism with some modifications and modern adaptations.
The dynamics of Hindu prayers
Truly speaking, the most important requirement to perfect the art of prayer in Hinduism is sincerity or purity. Your prayer must be sincere. Your purpose must be pure. It is much better, if it is selfless and meant for the welfare of the world or others. In Hinduism, the priests rarely pray for themselves. They pray for others and beseech the gods on behalf of the devotees. This is a noble concept, which is sometimes lost when the priests act with greed, or when people focus upon the costs, the gifts and the fees paid to them for their services.
It is not required that you should only use standard prayers, which are found in the scriptures or used in the rituals. There are advantages in using them, but you can create your own. You can pour out your heart to your personal God in any language and in any manner. A prayer in Hinduism is a personal communication, as in any other tradition. It is a bridge that connects the devotee’s heart and mind to the transcendental world or to the heart of God, which is beyond all names, forms, words and languages. God does not need worlds to known your heart. Therefore, even the use of reverential silence with prayerful attitude and clarity of purpose can be as powerful and effective as any Vedic prayer. Besides, you can create your own prayers in any language in which you are comfortable.
There are advantages in using Sanskrit prayers, especially when you perform traditional rituals since they have to performed according to a well-established procedure and specific purpose. On such occasions, it is better to become acquainted with their true meaning, even if you are not chanting the mantras. You should also remain attentive and focus your mind upon the chants and utterances of the priests so that you will allow the vibrations to reach your mind and purify it. Fortunately, we can now access on the Internet numerous translations of Hindu prayers, which were originally composed in Sanskrit or other languages which you do not know. It is worth studying them so that when you pray or the Brahmanas pray, you know what you are praying for, and what your prayers mean.
Emotions play an important role in the devotional worship and prayers of Hinduism. The ideal is that when you pray, you must put all your emotions in it, and pray with your heart and soul. Only then, your prayers will be effective, and you will be able to establish a deeper connection with the deity you worship. If your prayers come only from your lips, they will not travel far into the wider spaces of Brahman and touch the hearts of the deities you worship
Whatever approach you may follow in your prayers, let your prayers be spontaneous, according to your needs, aspirations, goals, desires, and circumstances. Let them arise from your heart and be infused with love and devotion for the deity you worship. Those prayers are the best, in which you pour out your emotions and establish a deeper connection with the deity in your subtle mind.
The purpose of prayers
Praying is the first step. The purpose of any prayer in Hinduism is to express your gratitude to the gods, make mental offerings to them, and keep your mind filled with divine thoughts. When you fill your mind with the thoughts of gods in prayers, you manifest them in your consciousness, and their qualities and virtues begin to strengthen in you. Prayers awaken your divinity and improve your karma. They are your wings to the worlds of gods. They qualify you to divine grace and mercy (anugraha).
Prayers are also the best means to religiosity, spirituality, mental purity, and virtuous conduct. When you sincerely pray, you make the divine power in you active. Since it is a cleansing and transforming power, you will be immensely benefited when you have an active divine force working in you. Your body is a universe in itself. It is the temple of God. All the deities in the macrocosm are present in it as their physical and mental aspects.
However, since the gods exist in your microcosm also, they are susceptible to the modes, impurities and modifications of your body. When you pray, they get their share of offering from your prayers, become cleansed and energized, and help you to keep yourself mentally and physically pure. In Hinduism, prayers are meant to nourish gods and make offerings. This has been its primary purpose. Since, the same gods are also part of your being, praying is the best way to nourish them and practice your dharma.
Rulers for effective prayers
The following are few important additional aspects of prayers in Hinduism, which are worth mentioning.
1. Prayer with your mind and heart
In Hinduism, you will find both external and internal rituals. Meditation, contemplation and mental worship are internal rituals. Comparatively, they are far more powerful. Hence, prayer as a mental activity is also more powerful than worship as a physical ritual. You can combine the power of your mind with the power of your prayer and use prayer to communicate with God, fulfill your desires, manifest your destiny or cleanse your mind and body. To augment the power of prayer, you can visualize the deity in complete detail and fix your mind upon him or her. Keep your mind free from distractions and feel their presence, as you make mental offerings with love and devotion in your heart.
2. Praise the deity
Praise is an important part of appeasing any deity. It creates rapport and serves as a declaration of faith, loyalty and commitment. Traditional Hindu prayers are mostly encomiums. Therefore, use praise in your prayers and appreciate the qualities, virtues, victories, powers, manifestations and deeds of the deities you worship with love and sincerity. When you remember their greatness, powers and manifestations in your prayers, they will manifest in your consciousness and cleanse you. In Hinduism, we have the tradition of chanting the hundred or thousand names of the deities (Sathanamas or Sahasranamas) during worship. Its helps the mind stabilize in the thoughts of God besides cleansing it.
3. Ask for help and protection
You pray because you are helpless and do not have all the powers or knowledge to control your life or circumstances. It is indeed the primary purpose of prayers in Hinduism. People pray to gods in need. They seek their intervention to rescue from difficulties. We are vulnerable to many problems and threats, and helpless against Nature and the world. Therefore, it makes sense to seek God’s help to protect yourself from the destructive forces of life. It is perfectly justified in Hinduism to seek divine help to fulfill your desires or guard yourself from external or internal threats. The need is even more when you are engaged in spiritual practice and exposed to many invisible forces.
4. Express devotion
Prayers are the best means to express your love and devotion to God. Those prayers are the best when they are expressed with reverence, devotion, and love. They open your mind and body to innumerable possibilities. With devotional prayers, you can establish a deeper, emotional connection with God and feel oneness. The Upanishads state that the soul resides in the heart. When you pray with your heart and mind, you stir your soul and experience intense emotions and powerful vibrations. The Puranas illustrate the significance of devotional prayers. It is said that when a group of righteous people join their minds and simultaneously pray with intense devotion for God’s help and protection, he may even incarnate upon earth to save them.
5. Pray for others
You should pray not only for yourself and your welfare but also for others and their welfare. By that, you will transcend your selfishness and see God in others. Therefore, it is a good practice to pray for healing and helping for others and their welfare. When you pray for others, you represent his duties and become an upholder of Dharma and an aspect of God. You exemplify virtue and righteous conduct, as you serve others as a true devotee of God. By that act, both you and the people you help earn good karma, you by serving God, and they by giving you an opportunity to help them. With prayers, you can also seek divine help to help your community, country and the world. The priests who serve in temples and at religious places enjoy a high regard in Hinduism because they always pray for others.
6. Pray with purity and sincerity
God is a pure being. Therefore, the best way to connect to him is through purity only. Cultivate the predominance of sattva through virtuous conduct. When you pray, keep your mind and intentions pure. Cleanliness is also important. You should pray in clean places or in sacred places which are frequented by gods and divine beings, so that they will have more power. Many Hindus pray in the mornings after taking the bath. They also select a clean place in the house to offer their daily worship. Morning worship and prayers on special occasions are usually done before eating food. Many also avoid eating forbidden food such as meat during prayer rituals to keep their bodies pure.
7. Pray for positive purposes only
Our scriptures contain many prayers and rituals which are destructive in intent and purpose. They are used to harm, hurt, destroy, delude or control others with malicious intent. The Vedas and Tantras contain harmful prayers which are meant to break relationships, cause sickness, death or financial loss, or inflict powerful spells. There are also many prayers in them with which one can invoke the fierce forms of various deities for destructive purposes. Such prayers should never be used, except in self-defense when your life and Wellbeing are endangered, or when you are engaged in a righteous war as the warriors in the epics used to do. With evil prayers, you will not only attract evil powers but also set in motion many karmic ripples in the universe, which will finally return to you and hurt you beyond your imagination.
Suggestions for Further Reading
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- A Few Thoughts About Prayers in Hinduism
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Introduction to Hinduism
The Brihadaranyaka Upanishad
The Chandogya Upanishad