In the previous extract from her talks to London students, Swāminī Ātmaprakāśānanda, laid out a more liberating vision of Íśvara – liberating in the sense that it gets away from the old man in the sky image or some force-field etc. From the perspective of traditional advaita vedānta Íśvara is seen as the sum total of the universal natural law and order.
“Every natural law is Īśvara. The law ordaining grace is Īśvara. Action is Īśvara. The results of actionis Īśvara. Merit is Īśvara. Demerit is Īśvara. Pain is Īśvara. Pleasure is Īśvara. Right and wrong action is Īśvara. Punishment for the wrong action is Īśvara. Good is Īśvara. Evil is Īśvara – don’t say that evil is not God. Everything is Īśvara.”
The universal law and order is what determines the fruits of actions. You can’t see this with physical eyes, but you can understand the laws being manifest. Anything done, knowingly, unknowingly, intentionally, unintentionally – however it is done – any action has to result in a reaction, has to cause some effect.
If this be the case, what is the role of prayer or worship? With simple logic and reason Swaminiji once more breaks down resistance to these activities…
As human beings we have free will to distinguish between what is right and what is wrong. If you don’t want pain don’t do wrong; if you want only pleasure do what is right. We have been blessed with will power and knowledge of values: you can always choose. Man creates his own destiny by exercising his choice as a human being. No other creature needs to worry about right action and wrong action, because no other being has this choice. A lion can happily go and kill a deer – it does not attract merit or demerit, there is no self-consciousness. All these problems are only with us human beings. That is why will power and the knowledge of values are given to us.
When actions are governed by universal values, then you have discretion in action – this is called karma yoga. Self-knowledge, knowledge of the Reality, knowledge of the Lord, is a lifetime project. This mind has to discover its own truth – it’s no simple thing. For this, the mind needs a body, which has its own properties and other biological, physical and emotional requirements that are natural and cannot be undone. You can’t go against nature, you have to go along with the current. That’s why action has to be done and all these things taken care of.
The law of action is something that exists: it is backed by manifest knowledge, which is nothing but pure Knowledge. This is not a blabbering idea, it is a fact! Everything is backed by manifest knowledge, which itself is a manifestation of the pure Knowledge that is already there. Any law that is discovered now and in the future is not outside this universal structure of law and order. Īśvara is the name for this universal, natural law and order. Pure Awareness, pure Existence, backs this natural universal order, which is in the form of the law of action, which is linked with all the laws that exist.
What does that law of action say? No action is wasted: every action definitely produces a result. Prayer is an action. We never pray for something we already have, we always pray for something we do not have or that we don’t have enough of. Since prayer is an action it must produce a result. We never need to doubt the efficacy of prayer.
Who am I praying to? You are praying to the Lord. (If you say I am praying to something else then it is a problem). We have now understood that everything is Īśvara, there is nothing other than Īśvara, there is no second reality.
How can I pray to Īśvara? You, and the one you are praying to, are Īśvara. The act of praying is Īśvara. The fruit of the prayer also is Īśvara. And the law that determines the fruit of any action, including that of prayer, is Īśvara. The one you are praying to is Īśvara. That means prayer is will-involved, auto suggestion. You are praying to the Self, the self of everything from which you are not distinct. Prayer is an action, therefore it produces a result. Any action, being time-bound, produces a result that is also time-bound. Prayer can get you security, pleasures, an ethical outlook everything,all of which are time bound.
What action cannot do is give mokṣa. Mokṣa cannot be the result of action.
But you can do one thing intelligently, you can pray for knowledge – you can’t pray for the Reality, you are already the Reality. Bhagavān cannot bless you with Reality, you already are it – you can pray for knowledge of the Reality, which you are already. The one who prays for knowledge of the Reality is the real devotee. That is not to say that others are not devotees, not at all. If you pray for only security and pleasure, you are a religious person. If you pray for security and pleasure and also for knowledge you are a spiritual person.
As long as you pray for anything other than knowledge of the Reality, the result of prayer will be time-bound, binding the Self. When you pray for knowledge of the Reality intensely, fervently, knowing the value of knowledge, knowing the efficacy of prayer, pursuing security and pleasure in conformity with universal values, and also fervently pray for knowledge, you will be blessed.
Merely praying for knowledge will not give it to you directly – but you will stumble across a teacher, your mind will become inclined for knowledge, all obstacles will be cleared from the mind. That is how prayer will bless you. Do not think that all you need to do is pray for knowledge and you will get it without any other effort.
If the mind is intent on knowledge, the mind will be cleared, you will be placed in a conducive atmosphere where you can pursue and gain knowledge. When you are praying for knowledge of the Reality then you are praying for knowledge of Bhagavān. Prayer will be continuous as long as you ask for security, pleasures and an ethical outlook from Bhagavān. Prayer will come to an end when you ask for security, pleasures and an ethical outlook along with knowledge of Bhagavān. This is the culmination of prayer. Praying for knowledge of the Reality will put an end to the very act of praying. Once you are blessed with knowledge you don’t need to pray for anything else.
What about worship? In worship, prayer is implied. In prayer, prayer is directly expressed: ‘O Lord please bless me with this or that, with clear thinking, right perception, all the things I need for this life.’ In worship you do not pray directly – prayer is implied. Worship is inclusive of prayer. In prayer there is no worship.
Worship is an act of offering. Prayer is an act of asking, begging for something. In prayer you ask for something. In worship you are giving something. Who am I offering to? I am worshipping the Lord means I am offering something to the Lord. But, if the Lord is everything, how can I offer anything to the Lord? The one who is offering is the Lord, the act of offering is the Lord, whatever is being offered is the Lord, the one who is offered to is the Lord. Offering is an action. It definitely produces a result – that result is also the Lord. The law that determines the result of that action is the Lord.
If everything is the Lord the doubt arises: who is the offerer? Who is the one being offered to? There cannot be real offering in this act of offering: it is only symbolic. Worship is a symbolic act of offering through which you convey something that is very subtle, which is deeply felt in your mind. It is the expression of your gratitude and humility. This act of offering is a symbolic action through which you express your gratefulness to the Lord.
Why should you feel grateful to the Lord? Every natural phenomenon is a devatā, a deity, a manifestation of the same Reality. Every devatā, everything in this universe, contributes to the wellbeing of everything else. Nothing is indispensable, everything is important here.
Sun, stars, moon, the five prāṇas, all the elements – every devatā contributes. Everything contributes for the whole universe to keep going by being what it is. The sun contributes for the whole universe to keep going. The moon contributes for the whole universe to keep going. Stars contribute. We do not understand how much they contribute. Oceans, mountains, wind, every phenomenon contributes to the wellbeing of the universe. Everything, being what it is, contributes to the wellbeing of the universe.
Every phenomenon is a devatā, a manifestation of consciousness. We bow to every devatā because every devatā stands for Īśvara. I bow to the Sun, to the Moon, to the stars. I bow to any phenomenon here. That’s why we say:
“Whichever drops fall from the sky, they go to one ocean only.
Whatever devatā you bow to, the salutation goes to the Reality.”
As an individual, as a self-conscious being, as a most responsible being, I know how important the devatās are for me to keep going – for life to keep going. Without food, for example, what can go on? For food, I am dependent on the contribution of devatās. Food is from nature, from the devatās – shelter also. Clothing, all that we need, all scientific and economic development is completely dependent on the basic thing called food, which is from the devatās. We cannot produce anything on our own. We can discover, we can improve, but we cannot make the earth yield. None of our machines can produce grains. We rely on the earth to feed, clothe and shelter us. This can make us very humble and grateful for all the contributions. I consume so much, I take so much from this world. Therefore, as a token of my acknowledgement of the contribution of the devatās for my wellbeing I offer something – a coconut, a candle, a small light. The offering is to express your gratefulness and humility to Bhagavān, acknowledging the contribution of Bhagavān, in the form of devatās, for your wellbeing.
When you worship you also pray: ‘Thank you Lord for blessing me with everything and please don’t forget to bless me in future.’ That is how prayer is implied in worship. A heartfelt expression of gratitude must be there. Both, worship and prayer, are effective as actions. When you offer yourself to Bhagavān worship comes to an end. Either you give yourself to Bhagavān or ask for Bhagavān, then prayer and worship come to an end.