Thursday, January 12, 2006

Make every breath a prayer

Makarand Paranjape DNA Saturday, November 19, 2005
It is better to pray than to write about prayer — unless writing itself becomes prayer. As Sri Aurobindo put it: “It is far better to become than to worship.” Worship that results in no inner change is futile; it is far better to become, to realise, to transform ourselves, than to pay lip service to some ideal. The Upanishads declare that the knower of Brahma is Brahman. Thus, there is an identity between being and knowing. The Gita tells us to use the Self to uplift ourselves. Then what, after all, is a prayer? It is, to go by its etymology, an earnest request, entreaty or supplication. It is a humble or sincere request, an utterance in praise or thanks, a confession. It may also be a set formula, ritual, petition to someone or something more powerful.
So, there is a prayer that one utters in deep need or desperation, there is a prayer of thanksgiving, there is also the ritual prayer, part of a daily routine, and there is the praying that is continuous and unconscious, as Mahatma Gandhi called it. All these make up our praying self. This self, who, if scientists like Vilayanaur Ramachandran, the director of the Centre for Brain and Cognition, University of California, are to be believed, is part of the ‘God module’ installed in our brains.
Like many other adolescents, at that impressionable age, I too had turned an atheist, or at least, an agnostic. Natural laws and rational means to understand them were all we had. But, over the years, I have become more and more of a believer, though my sceptical temperament hasn’t quite changed. I do pray both ritually and unconsciously. I pray to connect, to be in harmony, to gather my scattered mind. I also pray to express thanks, to ask for help, to confess my inadequacy. Before eating, I like to pray to consecrate the food.
Prayer reminds me that I am nothing without that higher consciousness, call it God, or call it by another name. Prayer is the recognition of this inter-connectedness. When I feel cut off or bereft, I find my prayers are the most abject and heartfelt. The prayer of thanksgiving accompanies the return of self-acceptance. It’s a sigh of relief at the knowledge that one is loved and wanted by the Beloved.
In the ultimate analysis, my faith is strong in the certainty that every breath of mine — or for that matter of any living being’s — is really a prayer. I may not be aware or conscious of this all the time. Indeed, I may be forgetful in my self-denials and delusions. But the Beloved can never forget me, even for a moment. This is the knowledge and realisation in which my praying self finds its succour and satisfaction. (The writer is a professor of English at the Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi)

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