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PHILOSOPHY > THE MIND OF MAHATMA GANDHI > Prayer The Food of My Soul
Prayer The Food Of My Soul
I CLAIM to be a man of faith and prayer, and even if I were cut to pieces, I trust God would give me the strength not to deny Him and to assert that He is. (YI, 8-12-1927, p413)
No act of mine is done without prayer. Man is a fallible being. He can never be sure of his steps. What he may regard as answer to prayer may be an echo of his pride. For infallible guidance man has to have a perfectly innocent heart incapable of evil. I can lay no such claim. Mine is a struggling, striving, erring, imperfect soul. (YI, 25-9-1924, p313)
Even if I am killed, I will not give up repeating the names of Rama and Rahim, which mean to me the same God. With these names on my lips, I will die cheerfully. (H, 20-4-1947, p118)
Safeguard in Trial
But in all my trials-of a spiritual nature, as a lawyer, in conducting institutions, and in politics-I can say that God saved me. When every hope is gone, 'when helpers fail and comforts flee', I experience that help arrives somehow, from I know not where.
Prayer has been the saving of my life. Without it I should have been a lunatic long ago. My autobiography will tell you that I have had my fair share of the bitterest public and private experiences. They threw me into temporary despair, but if I was able to get rid of it, it was because of prayer.
Now I may tell you that prayer has not been part of my life in the sense that truth has been. It came out of sheer necessity, as I found myself in a plight when I could not possibly be happy without it. And the more my faith in God increased, the more irresistible became the yearning for prayer. Life seemed to be dull and vacant without it.
I had attended the Christian service in South Africa, but it had failed to grip me. I could not join them in prayer. They supplicated God, but I could not do so, I failed egregiously. I started with disbelief in God and prayer, and, until at a late stage in life, I did not feel anything like a void in life. But at that stage I felt that, as food was indispensable for the body, so was prayer indispensable for the soul. In fact, food for the body is not so necessary as prayer for the soul. For starvation is often necessary in order to keep the body in health, but there is no such thing as prayer-starvation....
In spite of despair staring me in the face on the political horizon, I have never lost my peace. In fact, I have found people who envy my peace. That peace, I tell you, comes from prayer; I am not a man of learning, but I humbly claim to be a man of prayer. I am indifferent as to the form. Every one is a law unto himself in that respect. But there are some well-marked roads, and it is safe to walk along the beaten tracks, trod by the ancient teachers.
...I have given my personal testimony. Let every one try and find that, as a result of daily prayer, he adds something new to his life, something with which nothing can be compared. (YI, 24-4-1931, p274)
If you would ask Him to help you, you would go to Him in all your nakedness, approach Him without reservations, also without fear or doubts as to how He can help a fallen being like you. He who has helped millions who have approached Him, is He going to desert you? He makes no exceptions whatsoever and you will find that every one of your prayers will be answered. I am telling this out of my personal experience. I have gone through the purgatory. Seek first the Kingdom of Heaven and everything will be added unto you. (YI, 4-4-1929, p111)
I have never found Him lacking in response. I have found Him nearest at hand when the horizon seemed darkest-in my ordeals in jails when it was not at all smooth sailing for me. I cannot recall a moment in my life when I had a sense of desertion by God. (H, 24-12-1938, p395)
Character of Prayer
Such worship or prayer is no flight of eloquence; it is no lip-homage. It springs from the heart. If, therefore, we achieve that purity of the heart when it is 'emptied of all but love', if we keep all the chords in proper tune, they 'trembling pass in music out of sight'.
Prayer needs no speech. It is in itself independent of any sensuous effort. I have not the slightest doubt that prayer is an unfailing means of cleansing the heart of passions. But it must be combined with the utmost humility. (A, pp51-52)
It is better in prayer to have a heart without words than words without a heart. (YI, 23-1-1930, p25)
We go to the temple to worship not the stone or the metal image, but God who resides in it. The image becomes what man makes of it. It has no power independently of the sanctity with which it is invested by the worshipper. Therefore everyone, including children, should observe perfect silence at the time of prayer. (H, 28-4-1946, p112)
Prayer is an impossibility without a living faith in the presence of God within. (YI, 20-12-1928, p420)
Prayer is the first and the last lesson in learning the noble and brave art of sacrificing self in the various walks of life, culminating in the defense of one's nation's liberty and honour. Undoubtedly, prayer requires a living faith in God. (H, 14-4-1946, p80)
Man often repeats the name of God parrot-wise and expects fruit from so doing. The true seeker must have that living faith which will not only dispel the untruth of parrot-wise repetition from within him, but also from the hearts of others. (H, 5-5-1956, p113)
Need for Prayer
There are many who, whether from mental laziness or from having fallen into a bad habit, believe that God is and will help us unasked. Why, then, is it necessary to recite His name? It is true that if God is, He is irrespective of our belief. But realization of God is infinitely more than mere belief. That can come only by constant practice. This is true of all science. How much more true of the science of all sciences?
Prayer is the key of the morning and the bolt of the evening. (YI, 23-1-1930, p25)
I am giving you a bit of my experience and that of my companions when I say that he who had experienced the magic of prayer may do without food for days together, but not a single moment without prayer. For without prayer there is no inward peace. (ibid)
I agree that, if a man could practice the presence of God all the twenty-four hours, there would be no need for a separate time for prayer. But most people find this impossible. The sordid everyday world is too much with them. For them the practice of complete withdrawal of the mind from all outward things, even though it might be only for a few minutes everyday, will be found to be of infinite use. Silent communion will help them to experience an undisturbed peace in the midst of turmoil, to curb anger and cultivate patience. (H, 28-4-1946, p109)
It should be the general rule that prayers must not be delayed for anybody on earth. God's time never stops. From the very beginning the wheel of His time has gone ceaselessly on. As a matter of fact, there is no beginning for Him or His time....How can anyone afford to miss the time of offering prayers to Him whose watch never stops? (H, 5-5-1946, p113)
In the first shloka of Ishopanishad that is repeated everyday at the beginning of the prayer, one is asked to dedicate everything to God and then use it to the required extent. The principle condition laid down is that one must not covet what belongs to another. These two maxims contain the quintessence of the Hindu religion.
Essence of Prayer
But God does not come down in person to relieve suffering. He works through human agency. Therefore, prayer to God to enable one to relieve the suffering of others must mean a longing and a readiness on one's part to labour for it.
The prayer... is not exclusive. It is not restricted to one's own caste or community. It is all inclusive. It comprehends the whole of humanity. Its realization would thus mean the establishment of the Kingdom of Heaven on earth. (H, 28-4-1946, p111)
True meditation consists in closing the eyes and ears of the mind to all else except the object of one's devotion. Hence the closing of eyes during prayers is a n aid to such concentration. Man's conception of God is naturally limited. Each one has, therefore, to think of Him as best appeals to him, provided that the conception is pure and uplifting. (H, 18-4-1946, p265)
He can truly pray who has the conviction that God is within him. He who has not, need not pray. God will not be offended, but I can say from experience that he who does not pray is certainly a loser.
What matters, then, whether one man worships God as Person and another as Force? Both do right according to their lights. None knows and, perhaps, never will know what is the absolutely proper way to pray. The ideal must always remain the ideal. One need only remember that God is the Force among all the forces. All other forces are material. But God is the vital force or spirit which is all-pervading, all-embracing and, therefore, beyond human ken. (ibid, p267)
Efficacy of Silence
Experience has taught me that silence is a part of the spiritual discipline of a votary of truth. Proneness to exaggerate, to suppress or modify the truth, wittingly or unwittingly, is a natural weakness of man, and silence is necessary in order to surmount it. A man of few words will rarely be thoughtless in his speech; he will measure every word. (A, p45)
Silence of the sewn-up lips is no silence. One may achieve the same result by chopping off one's tongue, but that too would not be silence. He is silent who, having the capacity to speak, utters no idle word.
It [silence] has now become both a physical and spiritual necessity for me. Originally it was taken to relieve the sense of pressure. Then I wanted time for writing. After, however, I had practiced it for some time, I saw the spiritual value of it. It suddenly flashed across my mind that that was the time when I could best hold communion with God. And now I feel as though I was naturally built for silence.
Prayer is for remembering God, and for purifying the heart, and can be offered even when observing silence. (H, 20-4-1947, p118)
As I believe that silent prayer is often a mightier [force] than any overt act, in my helplessness I continuously pray in the faith that the prayer of a pure heart never goes unanswered.
Power of Prayer
Not until we have reduced ourselves to nothingness can we conquer the evil in us. God demands nothing less than complete self-surrender as the price for the only real freedom that is worth having. And when a man thus loses himself, he immediately finds himself in the service of all that lives. It becomes his delight and his recreation. He is a new man, never weary of spending himself in the service of God's creation. (ibid)
There is an eternal struggle raging in man's breast between the powers of darkness and of light, and he who has not the sheet-anchor of prayer to rely upon will be a victim to the powers of darkness. The man of prayer will be at peace with himself and with the whole world; the man who goes about the affairs of the world without a prayerful heart will be miserable and will make the world also miserable....
Prayer is the only means of bringing about orderliness and peace and repose in our daily acts....Take care of the vital thing and other things will take care of themselves. Rectify one angle of a square, and the other angles will be automatically right. (YI, 23-1-1930, p26)
Prayer is not an old woman's idle amusement. Properly understood and applied, it is the most potent instrument of action. (H, 14-4-1946, p80)
When the mind is completely filled with His spirit, one cannot harbour ill-will or hatred towards anyone and, reciprocally, the enemy will shed his enmity and become a friend. It is not my claim that I have succeeded in converting enemies into friends, but in numerous cases it has been my experience that, when the mind is filled with His peace, all hatred ceases. An unbroken succession of world teachers since the beginning of time have borne testimony to the same. I claim to merit for it. I know it is entirely due to God's grace.
One with a wicked heart can never be conscious of the all-purifying presence of God.
God answers prayer in His own way, not ours. His ways are different from the ways of mortals. Hence they are inscrutable. Prayer presupposes faith. No prayer goes in vain. Prayer is like any other action. It bears fruit whether we see it or not, and the fruit of heart prayer is far more potent than action so-called.