SELECTED WORKS OF MAHATMA GANDHI >  VOL. IV - SELECTED LETTERS > SECTION TWO : EXTRACTS FROM LETTERS > Value of Prayer
03. Value of Prayer
One cannot pray to God for help in a spirit of pride but only if one confesses oneself as helpless. As I lie in bed, every day I realize how insignificant we are, how very full of attachments and aversions, and what evil desires sway us. Often I am filled with shame by unworthiness of my mind. Many a time I fall into despair because of the attention my body craves and wishes that it should perish. From my condition, I can very well judge that of others.
The Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi -Vol. XV p. 65, 26-11-1918

Do you read something or other regularly? Do you pray as you get up from bed? If you don't, allow me to remind you about it, for I am certain that prayer does us a world of good. You will realize its value in times of trouble, and even from day to day if you offer it thoughtfully. Prayer is food for the soul. As the body languishes for want of nourishment, even so does the soul wither away without her appropriate food.
Selected Letters-II, p. 19, 2-6-1919

Do attend the prayer meetings even if your mind is inclined to wander. We offer prayers to concentrate our minds on the one thing needful. One who has achieved this concentration may or may not attend prayer meetings; it is all the same to him. All that we can do is not deliberately to allow the mind to wander. Striving in this way we may hope one day to be conscious at all times of the presence of God even as the poet-saint Tulsidas was.
Selected Letters-II, p. 9

Those of you who have promised to attend the prayer daily should make it a point to be present except in circumstances beyond your control.
Selected Letters-I, p. 4, 6-12-1926

We may miss many things in life but not prayer, which implies our co-operation with God and with one another. Prayer should be bath of purification for the spirit of man. Physical health suffers if we do not wash our bodies; similarly the spirit becomes unclean if the heart is not washed with prayer. Please therefore never be negligent in prayer.
Selected Letters-I, p. 5, 31-12-1926

Devotion to duty is itself prayer. We go and pray in order to be qualified for doing actual service. But when one is engaged in actual practice of duty, prayer is merged with the execution of duty. If someone who is engaged in deeper prayer, hears the cry of another who is stung by a scorpion, she is bound to leave the prayer and run to help him. Prayer finds fulfillment in the service of the distressed.
Bapu's Letters to Ashram Sisters, p. 79, 23-9-1929

And now here is the first verse of the morning prayer:
"Early in the morning, I call to mind that Being which is felt in the heart, which is sat (the eternal), chit (knowledge), sukham (bliss), which is the state reached by perfect men and which is the superstate. I am that immaculate Brahma which ever notes the states of dream, wakefulness and deep sleep, not this body, the compound made of the elements (earth, water, space, light and air)!" You will be interested to know that the first verse was commenced on the 6th last.
I am sorry that the very first verse needed correct¬ing. The more I think, the more clearly I see the meaning. And then I do not mind how often I cut about the translation. Formerly I used to shudder to utter this verse thinking that the claim made therein was arro¬gant. But when I saw the meaning more clearly, I perceived at once that it was the very best thought with which to commence the day. It is a solemn declaration that we are not the changeful bodies which require sleep, etc., but deep down, we are the Being, the witness pervading the countless bodies. The first part is the recalling to mind the presence of the vital principle and the second part is the affirmation that we are that vital principle. The description of the Being, the Brahma is also quite apposite. It is, nothing else is {sat), it is all knowledge or light (chit), and naturally, therefore, it is all bliss (sukham) or the word generally used is (anand).
Bapu's Letters to Mira, p. 143, 20-12-1930

"In the early morning I worship Him who is beyond the reach of thought and speech and yet by whose grace „ all speech is possible, I worship Him whom the Vedas describe as neti neti (not this, not this). Him they (the sages) have called God of gods, the unborn, the unfallen, the source of all."
Bapu's Letters to Mira, p. 145, 30-12-1930

"In the early morning I bow to him who is beyond darkness, who is like the sun, who is perfect, ancient, called Purushottam! (the best among man) and in whom (through the veil of darkness) we fancy the whole universe as appearing even as (in darkness) we imagine a rope to be a snake."
The idea is that the universe is not real in the sense of being permanent, it is neither a thing to be hankered after nor feared because it is supposed to be God's creation. As a matter of fact, it is a creation of our imagination even as the snake in the rope is. The real universe like the real rope is there. We perceive either when the veil is lifted and darkness is gone—compare, "And with the morn, those angel faces smile which I have loved long since and lost a while." The three verses go together and I think are Shankar's composition.
Bapu's Letters to Mira, p. 146, 3-1-1931

"O Goddess Earth, with the ocean for thy garment, mountains for thy breasts, thou consort of Vishnu (Preserver) 1 bow to thee; forgive the touch of my feet."
Bowing to the earth we learn or ought to learn to be humble even as the earth is humble. She supports the beings that tread upon her. She is therefore rightly the consort of Vishnu. This conception, in my opinion, does no violence to truth. On the contrary, it is beautiful and is wholly consistent with the idea that God is everywhere. There is nothing inanimate for Him. We are of the earth earthy. If earth is not, we are not. I feel nearer God by feeling Him through the Earth. In bowing to the Earth, I at once realize my indebtedness to Him and if I am a worthy child of that Mother, I shall at once reduce myself to dust and rejoice in establishing kinship with not only the lowliest of human beings, but also with lowest forms of creation whose fate—reduction to dust—I have to share with them. And if considered as mere life without the earthy tabernacle, I regard myself as imperishable; the lowest form of creation is just as imperishable as my soul is.
Bapu's Letters to Mira p. 147, 12-1-1931

"May the Goddess Saraswati (of learning), the Destroyer completely of black ignorance, protect me, she who is white as the mogra flower, the moon, and a garland of snow, who has worn white robes, whose hands are adorned with the beautiful bamboo of her veena (a kind of violin), who is seated on a white lotus and who is always adored by Brahma, Vishnu, Shiva and other gods."
To me the thought here is very beautiful. Learning of course means wisdom. The emphasis on threefold whiteness—that of snow, moon, flower and the white dress and white seat is intended to show that uttermost purity is an indispensable part of wisdom or learning. As you explore the deeper meaning of these and kindred verses, you will find every virtue personified and made a living reality instead of a dead dictionary word. These imaginary gods are most real than the so-called real things we perceive with our five senses. When I recite this verse, for instance, I never think that I am addressing an imaginary picture. The recitation is a mystical act. That when I analyse the act intellectually, I know that the goddess is an imaginary being, does not in any way affect the value of this recitation at prayer time.
Bapu's Letters to Mira, p, 151, 14-1-1931

"Guru (teacher) is Brahma, he is Vishnu, he is Mahadeo, he is the great Brahman itself. I bow to that guru"
This refers of course to the spiritual teacher; this is not a mechanical or artificial relationship. The teacher is not all this in reality, but he is all that to the disciple who finds his full satisfaction in him and imputes perfection to him, who gave him a living faith in a living God. Such a guru is a rarity at least nowadays. The best thing, therefore, is to think of God Himself as one's guru or await the Light in faith.
Bapu's Letters to Mira, p. 153, 25-1-1931

There is really only one prayer that we may offer: "Thy will be done." Someone will ask where is the sense in offering such a prayer. The answer is: Prayer should not be understood in a gross sense. We are aware of the presence of God in our heart, and in order to shake off attachment, we for the moment think of God as different from ourselves and pray to Him. That is to say, we do not wish to go where our wayward will may lead us but, where the Lord takes us. We do not know whether it is good to live or to die. Therefore we should not take delight in living, nor should we tremble at the thought of death. We should be equiminded towards both. This is the ideal. It may be long before we reach it, and only a few of us can attain it. Even then we must keep it constantly in view, and the more difficult it seems of attainment, the greater should be the effort we put forth.
The Diary of Mahadeu Desai, Vol. I, pp. 118-19, 19-5-1932

I do not forbid the use of images in prayer. I only prefer the worship of the Formless. This preference is perhaps improper. One thing suits one man; another thing will suit another man, and no comparison can fairly be made between the two. You are not right about Shankara and Ramanuja. Spiritual experience has greater influence than environment. The seeker of truth should not be affected by his surroundings but rise above them. Views based on the environment are often found to be wrong. For instance take the case of body and soul. The soul being at present in close contact with the body, we cannot at once realize her as distinct from her physical vesture. Therefore it was a very great man indeed who rose above his environment and said, "It (the soul) is not this (the body)." The language of saints like Tukaram should not be taken in literal sense. I suggest that you read his abhang—kela maticha pashupati1, etc. The moral is that we must realize the idea which underlies the words of holy men. It is quite possible that they worshipped the Formless even while they pictured God in a particular form. This is impossible for ordinary mortals like ourselves, and therefore we would be in a sorry plight if we did not penetrate a little deeper into the implications of their statements.
The Diary of Mahadev Desai, Vol. I, pp. 168-69, 17-6-1932

There can be no manner of doubt that this universe of sentient being is governed by a Law. If you can think of Law without its Giver, I would say that the Law is the Law-giver, that is God. When we pray to the Law we simply yearn after knowing the Law and obeying it. We become what we yearn after. Hence the necessity for prayer. Though our present life is governed by our past, our future must by that very Law of cause and effect be affected by what we do now. To the extent therefore that we feel the choice between two or more courses we must make that choice.
The Diary of Mahadev Desai, Vol. I, p. 227, 13-7-1932

A person must shed all spiritual dirt at prayer time. As he is ashamed of doing anything immoral while other people are looking on, so should he be in the presence, of God. But God knows our every act and every thought. There is not a single moment when we can think any thought or do any act unknown to Him. He who thus prays from the bottom of his heart will in time be filled with the spirit of God and become sinless.
The Diary of Mahadev Desai, Vol. I, p. 232, 17-7-1932

A prayer can be offered in connection with some person or thing, and may even be granted. But if it is offered without any such specific end in view, it will confer a greater benefit on the world as well as ourselves. Prayer exerts an influence over ourselves; our soul becomes more vigilant, and the greater its vigilance, the wider the sphere of its influence. Prayer is a function of the heart. We speak aloud in order to wake it up. The Power that pervades' the universe is also present in the human heart. The body does not offer it any obstruction. The obstruction is something of our own making, and is removed by prayer. We can never know if a prayer has or has not yielded the desired result.... Prayer is never fruitless, but we cannot know that the fruit of it. Nor should we imagine that it is a good thing if it yields the desired result. Here too the Gita doctrine has to be practised. We may pray for something and yet remain free from attachment. We may pray for some one's mukti (salvation) but should not worry whether he gets or does not get what we want for him. Even if the result is just the opposite of what we had asked for, that is no reason for the conclusion that the prayer has been fruitless.
The Diary of Mahadev Desai, Vol. I, p. 233 17-7-1932

Absence of food is an indispensable but not the largest part of it. The largest part is the prayer-communion with God. It more than adequately replaces physical food.
Bapu's Letters to Mira, p. 263, 8-5-1933

1 The image of God is made of clay.