How to pray

A collection of helpful talks on how to find guidance, strength and peace of mind through prayer.
A beautiful shrine to Lord Ganesh with flowers and lamps

Swami Suryananda Satsang – New Years Day 2021.

  1. Learn to articulate your prayer
  2. Be consistent
  3. Should I talk naturally, or use formal prayers?
  4. Align your thoughts, speech & intentions
  5. Gaining acceptance
  6. When do I stop praying?
  7. Use initiative, take action, seek guidance
  8. Be willing to change
  9. Total honesty is essential

Question: I’m thinking about prayers and whether God listens to our prayers or not. When will the answer come? Maybe God listens to some people and doesn’t listen to other people?

Swami Suryananda: The first thing we would say is a quote from Guru ‘Not a leaf falls from the tree without the Lord knowing it.’ The consciousness of the Lord is everywhere, so yes, even the tiniest vibration is registered.

1. Learn to articulate your prayer

Guru used to say ‘when you pray, pray with all your heart, with all your mind and with all your strength.’ It’s important to be able to articulate yourself clearly in that act of prayer, so that the mind, the voice and the intention go straight to the Lord.

My experience of praying is, very often, there are things in the forefront of the mind which agitate you or which, at that particular moment are important to you, and everything else sort of drops away.

Say you are stirred up emotionally about something, and you don’t quite know why… you may find it difficult to express that in an articulate way through prayer to the Lord.

But you have to start somewhere. You say ‘I feel like this emotional wreck, I don’t quite know why I feel like this, I don’t quite know what the answer is, please help me, please give me a degree of clarity.’

So as you begin to repeat that prayer, seeking clarity, the question, or how you frame that question, starts to change… without you even thinking about it. You start to actually gain a little bit of clarity and articulation in how you’re phrasing it. You then get to the point where it actually becomes very clear.

What is happening in that process is that the divinity that is embodied within you (that actually knows actually the answer) is slowly finding a way, through that repetition and through that focus.

In effect, you’re spending time with yourself in that act of prayer. That’s what you’re doing in reality. Ok, you may be expressing it to an external God but in that act of expressing it, you’re actually vocalising what’s deep within the core of your being, that’s coming from your Divine Nature, and so slowly you begin to gain a degree of clarity. And the answers, if the answers are meant to come, they will come – through that.

A stone murthi of Ganesha with fire lamp

2. Be consistent

Sometimes it takes persistence. I’ve had the same prayer for years about various things that may have been important in whatever I’ve been doing in my life. Literally… I’ve said, I’ve sought, I’ve offered the same thing every single day for years until something is resolved.

Other people say ‘Well ok, once you’ve offered it are you not trusting in God if you don’t leave it and just let the Divine deal with it?’

Well, different people have different approaches. My approach is to nag and nag and nag and nag until I get to that point… because that’s just my approach. Other people have different approaches, but that’s what I do – I just nag.

And I just focus on only a few things. It’s probably down to personality, but some people may feel ‘I’ve got this to pray for, that to pray for…’ a massive a big pile, list of things to do. But I prefer to just focus on a few things at a time.

A murthi of Ganesha at Skanda Vale

3. Do I talk naturally or use formal prayers?

I used to have very interesting experiences doing the puja on Guru’s shrine. It was Guru who taught me how to pray. Guru didn’t need to do pujas, Guru didn’t need to do any of this, but he did it to show us, through the example of his life, how to connect to God and how to gain that experience of God.

The way he used to structure his puja was he’d have his shrine with all the murtis and pictures on. He would then start chanting to the different aspects of the Divine; Ganesha, Lord Shiva… and then when he got to Mother, he would chant to Her, then stop and just talk to Her.

So he would pray in English, he’d say ‘this is happening, that’s happening, please help this person…’ a whole pile of stuff – he would just talk to Mother. And then after he talked to Mother he would then chant to all the other different aspects of the Divine. At the end of the puja, he would just sit there.

And, so that was the format that Guru taught me. Through his example, I learned how to do my own personal worship – so that’s what I practised.

At the end of the puja, when you’ve talked and you’ve finished your chanting, then the whole vibration starts to change. It becomes very subtle. You then get very excited because there’s a tangible change in the power and presence of the Divine that you experience at that moment.

And then it’s like ‘Oh wow! God’s actually listening to me’ so I want to say this, this, this and this and this while God’s here…

4. Align your thoughts, speech & intentions

All of these are different mechanisms that we’re given. These rituals, the chanting, the way of worship… what’s actually happening is that those are helping us to become aligned. They are helping our vibration to become aligned, and when our vibration is aligned it’s very easy to connect to the source, it’s very easy to connect to God – God within us.

These are different tools for that. And for each person they’re different – but singing bhajans, chanting… it changes your aura, it changes your vibration and helps you become aligned.

So that’s why sometimes in a puja someone will say ‘Wow, wasn’t that an amazing puja! and other people ‘That was absolutely… Oh God, it was just like…’ Same puja, the same manifestation of energy and grace but two completely different experiences – because one person was aligned and the other person wasn’t (for whatever reason).

So all of these sadhanas and practices that we do are to help us become aligned so that we are more able to connect with that energy of God.

Going back to your original question – does God listen to us? If you are aligned then you will be able to connect to the Divine. So the question you need to ask yourself is ‘what do I need to do in my life that I become aligned – so that I can more easily connect at any time to the Divine?’

5. Gaining acceptance

Sister Gemma: When you’re saying ‘does God listen?’ It makes me think that perhaps you really mean ‘why isn’t what I’m asking for happening?’

And I know, from personal experience, sometimes you have the feeling like the Lord’s not listening because what I asked for its just… no way it’s happening. There’s still this problem, I’m still not over it. Nothing’s changed.

And actually what really helps is if you let go of the control of what you want to happen. Because actually, you need to offer a situation that maybe you’re not comfortable with. The Divine has amazing ways to solve problems which you can never think of.

Maybe actually it’s more important to ask to be able to surrender and just accept a situation. So you offer a situation, saying ‘I’m not comfortable with this… or I’m worried about this person, please help me do the right thing or help the right outcome happen’

Then you feel like you have been listened to because you’ve not said ‘I want this person to change’.

Sister Ally: It’s about being open and receptive to the answer, isn’t it? Not the answer you want, or you think is right.  Because what the Divine wants for you might be completely different. So it’s actually asking the Divine to give you what She wants to give you, not what you think you need.

6. When do I stop praying?

Question: When do you accept the situation as it is and stop nagging the Lord and live with peace?

Swami Suryananda: Talking from my own experience, there are things that you aspire to, there are things that you long for or desire.

My experience is that the reality of the situation, although it’s all very nice and easy to say ‘Oh, I’ll just accept how it is and that’s how it is, and that’s what I’m meant to have…’ actually, the reality is that it’s just there all the time, nagging you within, to say ‘look at this’ or ‘look for this’ or ‘go in this direction’.

And my experience is that you keep on offering that, you keep on nagging the Lord… because it’s nagging you. And at some point, the circumstances will change and bring peace.

So peace will come either through a situation being resolved, something unfolding, something different happening in your life – or the Lord can find solutions that you won’t remotely have dreamed of.

So you don’t really have to get involved with thinking ‘well how is it gonna happen? It can’t happen like that…’ You know the practicalities or mechanics of the situation, and the Lord all of a sudden can provide an opportunity for you in a way that you wouldn’t remotely have thought of, which will bring about a transformation.

If these things are very important for you because they’re agitating you all the time, then if they’re not resolved and they’re not fulfilled, at some point they’ll need to be fulfilled or resolved. Whether it’s this lifetime or the next lifetime or the lifetime afterwards. You have an aspiration to fulfil something, to complete something. Because that’s what karma is.

No one is a lesser being or a greater being. Everyone has their own karma to fulfil and express; everyone is unique in that respect, uniquely individual. No one is better or worse than anybody else, or greater or lesser than anybody else. We all are divine beings thrown into this big soup, making the best of it as we can. But we all have different things that we need to experience and express in this life.

Something is putting that thought within you ‘I long for something… I long for something more, I long for a deeper fulfilment in my life, and this is how my mind currently perceives it and so I offer that to the Lord, and I’ve been nagging the Lord about it again and again and again and nothing has happened, nothing has changed’.

Again there is time and timing. It will only happen when it’s meant to happen. But I would keep on nagging. That’s what I’d do.

Don't ever give up. It may take many, many years, but don't give up. Maybe the Lord's just saying 'Do you really want this? Do you really want this?

7. Use initiative, take action, seek guidance

Sometimes you have to look at what you’re asking. Look at asking it in a slightly different way, or take the first step – start doing the thing that you want to happen, and ask for support.

You put it out there, but you have to be open to the opportunity that the Divine gives you. The Divine gives you intelligence, gives you wisdom, gives you resources, gives you opportunities.

Now, imagine the drama; you’re there in intense prayer, ‘Please let this happen’ and the Lord’s saying ‘Well hang on a minute, I’ve given you this, this, and this and this, but you’re not doing anything about it. So what else do you want me to do? Do you want me to actually put a big sign up in front saying ‘This is what you do next? Stage one, stage two, stage three, stage four?’

Maybe rephrase it – ‘Give me eyes to see the opportunity.’ The Shaktis of Mother; Iccha Shakti, Kriya Shakti, Jnana Shakti – the will to enact change is Iccha Shakti. ‘Give me the will to change’.

8. Be willing to change

One of the most difficult things for a human being to do is to change their habit of being.

A habit of being is, you know, you have your lifestyle, you have what you do, what you’re familiar with, what you’re comfortable with, what you feel safe with. To break out of that habit of being is very, very difficult. Especially the older you get, the more secure you feel surrounded by the habits of your lifestyle.

And that’s something that Guru would always do – he would rock the boat within the Community. If anyone felt comfortable, secure, safe, he would just pull the rug from under your feet.

Because it’s only when you feel insecure, uncomfortable and incredibly vulnerable that you actually change. Generally, it requires an immense effort of will to let go of what’s safe, secure and familiar, into uncharted waters.

If something's really important to you, everything else goes out the window. You just take the plunge. And you trust implicitly that somehow it'll work out. Because you absolutely know within yourself 'that's what I've longed for, that's what I really want to do. So I'm going to do it, and whatever will be, will be

9. Total honesty is essential in prayer

Swami Narayana: One problem with prayer is that you are aware that you’re not being entirely honest. So you might say to God ‘I want to be liberated today!’

And then it’ll dawn on you that in fact, that would entail a lot of discomfort. So you don’t really want to get involved, and you think ‘OK, well, maybe tomorrow.’

And you’re confronted with ‘Are you being honest about this?’ As soon as you really start to pray to the Lord, ask yourself, is this something that’s really true? Or are you saying it just to make yourself feel better?

I remember I puzzled over this one quite a lot at one time. I really prayed that I want to become one with God. You know, am I being honest about that? I mean I don’t even know what it really means, being one with God.

And as I said, it probably involves a lot of unpleasant things happening to you, in order to pay off your karma or to change. So I worked out a formula to make this prayer, but in a very honest way. And in fact, it’s already out in one of Guru’s prayers – what I prayed for was the desire to come close to God.

I can do that with total honesty. If you just have that desire, and that motivation, you can pray for that, because once you’ve got that, if you are given that grace to really, really want to be with God, what can stop you? Nothing can stop you, because God is God, God is Absolute.

So that’s why I say that you have to be very honest. This may not apply to you at all, but I used to have this problem with prayer. I’d be confronted with the question of whether I really meant it. Or whether I meant something else, or I was trying to sidestep something, or can I really say that genuinely?

So you have to ask what can you say genuinely? You can focus on that to your heart’s content, once you know what that really is. And as I say, in my case I was asking only have the desire to be close to God. Really, really, want to become close to God. Then you’ve got no problems if you get that.

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