Letter # 16 - How to Pray

There are countless ways to pray. One could argue that each act of prayer is unique to the person who performs it. The various orthodox religious traditions provide specific techniques appropriate to a whole range of individual capacities and needs. As to what we should choose, -- like imperturbable but irresistible water that trickles down to the lowest point, 1-- we do find with gentle persistence that course of action which is suited to us. Life has the propensity to reveal to us what is suitable for our well-being. It is a question of catching the moment when a hint is offered, often out of seemingly nowhere, as to what one should do. From the depths of our unconscious, circumstances are created that answer our dilemma. We must be alert enough to catch them.

The recognition that there must be something better is the first requirement if one wants prayer to be effective. When I first came to Arunachala, I did not know what to do or say. The startling newness of the environment paralysed my sense of initiative in the face of the flood of new impressions. I knew there was something special here, but I did not know where to start — time seemed to stand still. I was bewildered and bored in consecutive measure. As if an old skin was being shed and a new unfamiliar layer was revealed, and though it felt uncomfortable it was so close to my sense of awareness that I slowly began to identify with it. This was the beginning of a new kind of prayer, a silent one that enveloped me in a cloud of unknowing. Prayer is an attitude of mind as much as an action.

There is the pronouncement in the New Testament: “Ask, and it will be given to you. Knock and the door shall open.” 2

The crux of this admonition is how sincere is the seeking and how determined is one to knock on what seems to be an impenetrable door.

There is the familiar story of the drowning man as related by Ramakrishna Paramahamsa.

“You know that story of the man who asked his guru how God could be realized. The guru said to him: “Come with me. I shall show you how one can realize God.” Saying this, he took the disciple to a lake and held his head under the water. After a short time, he released the disciple and asked him, “How did you feel?” “I was dying for a breath of air!” said the disciple.