When we are sorry and sad, or when we undergo some hardship, or when we suffer some loss, or when we are bereaved or deprived of some comfort, or when we are sick, or when we are in search of some solution to some problem confronting us, we like to open our heart and confide our burden to someone, whom we think of as our well-wisher, or as one who is capable of solving our difficulty, or as one, who can console us and extend to us his sympathy.
We feel in our life minor disappointments, frustrations, and vexations, which by no standard can be assessed, judged, pronounced or termed as crises.
A crisis in life leads us to believe that in order to overcome the crisis, we should think and act wisely.
Any wrong step at the crucial moment will be unwise. It is necessary, hence, that we should be willing and prepared to readjust our thinking, move of behaviour and style of functioning.
This means that we must act in a different way, and do something different from what we were doing before.
In order to break the knot of difficulty and in order to overcome the besetting storm it is imperative and necessary that we should, in all earnestness, give up the old ways of living, change the trend of thinking, the mode of acting, the style of functioning and the mode of behaviour.
The world is, indeed, a place of suffering. It is said to be a valley of tears. It is a place where misery looms large and where moans, groans and shrieks are heard. It is an abode of trials and tribulations.
We are tired travellers in this world. We know that pain and suffering are in store for us. Dismay, despair, defeat, frustration, censure, abuse, persecution and harassment await us in the journey of life.
Life to a mystic is like climbing a mountain. To climb a mountain means that one has to face many hardships, bear many troubles, and undergo many rigours. On the way, there are many and varied, narrow and rough paths. There are shades to be met with, of course, but they are slippery.
The glimpse of awful crevasses is heart-rendering. The terrible storms are terrifying. The biting cold is dangerous. The bewildering fog and the darkness accompanying it, is undoubtedly, very discouraging.
But the mystic, like an apt mountaineer, experiences all of them, and is happy and content to do so.
In the journey of life, we have to walk on thorns. Everybody has his own thorns, and everybody has his own thistles.
How can the thorns be turned into roses, that is the problem.
The men of the world adopt worldly means, but the mystics do not rely upon worldly means. They take to prayer. They pray for themselves and they pray for others.
What is prayer? Prayer is the intercourse of human souls with God. Prayer is our private talk with God. In prayer, we confide our secret to God and implore and seek His Assistance.
The mystics treat prayer as a means of giving new life-varied and abundant, affording ample and infinite opportunity of self-development.
It is in prayer, that we are close to God. We place our worries and cares at the feet of our Master.
By seeking and receiving Divine Energy and Grace, we put a new living zest in life, which slowly, but surely, transforms and changes us.
Any progress made in prayer marks a milestone in our onward march towards the increased closeness with God and increased perfection towards love.
God speaks to man in different ways. He speaks through intuition and inspiration. He speaks through revelations. He speaks through nature.
We, in prayer, pour out our heart to Him. Prayer is the opening of the heart to God.
Prayer is the title of the book of solutions. It is a preface to the book of Good Living. It is a student’s preparation for his examination. It is as soldiers wearing arms for the battle.
Prayer has been defined by H.More as:
“Prayer is not eloquence, but earnestness; not the definition of helplessness, but the feeling of it; not figures of speech, but earnestness of soul.”
The Sufi mystics hold that an individual should ceaselessly and constantly pray, so much so that life may itself become a perennial prayer. The reason they give is that an individual is ever in want. His wants make his life a constant want. Such being life, we should ever pray.
According to the Sufi mystics, God is interested in the sincerity of prayer and not in anything else. Prayer may be in the nature of an oratory filled with the choicest words, like a ring studded with mine precious gems. God does not look at the length of our prayer nor at the dimensions of prayer, nor at the method or system of our prayer but as I have said, at the sincerity with which the prayer is offered.
There are four types or degrees of prayer. Firstly, there is the ordinary prayer, secondly, there is the mental prayer which we call meditation. Thirdly, there are the immediate acts, and fourthly, there is the simplicity. In the prayer of simplicity the depths of the unconscious are opened to God.
The Sufi mystics hold and affirm and declare that God is omnipotent and Omnipresent. He knows all things and He hears all things. He is continuously, constantly, vigilantly and ceaselessly working for His Creation. We are nothing but small, insignificant half-grown spirits.
The Grace Abounding of God Almighty is, in fact, creating, guiding, illuminating, teaching and inspiring us.
A Sufi mystic as a person who prays, serves as a link, a wire, and connection between the Grace of God.
A Sufi mystic has surrendered himself to God without strings. He is thus capable of working on a supernatural level, for he imbibes and transmits the saving and enabling love, the will, and the emotional drive. He can, undoubtedly, by his prayer and love and concern, change and transform another person in to a better mould, and take him up and lift him into a different atmosphere, which is, indeed God’s atmosphere.
The prophets have prayed.
Prophet Adam prayed thus:
O our Lord! We have wronged ourselves and if thou dost not forgive us and have mercy on us, we shall surely be of those who are lost.”
Prophet Abraham Prayed:
“Lord! receive it from us, verily, Thou art hearing and dost know, Lord! and make us too, resigned unto Thee, and of our seed also a nation resigned unto Thee, and show us our rites, and turn towards us, verily, Thou art easy to be turned and merciful. Lord! and send them an apostle from amongst themselves to read to them They signs and teach them the Book and wisdom, and to purify them, verily, Thou are the mighty and the wise.”
Prophet Job submitted on his Lord:
“As for me, harm has touched me, but Thou art the most merciful of the merciful ones.”
And Prophet Dhu’nnu submitted thus:
“There is no god but Thou, celebrated by Thy praise! Verily, I was of the evil doers!”
And Prophet Zakariah prayed:
“O Lord! leave me not alone; for Thou art the best of heirs.”
The Sufi mystics lead a life of Union. The purified soul of the mystic is a reward for his self-abandonment. The glowing and glaring new beauty and reality have given him fullness of life and a creative quality, which is developed further by way of suffering and prayer.
He, at last, finds himself so sunk, so united and penetrated in Divine life and Divine beauty that he comes to lead this type of life with freedom, easy in originality and simplicity.
The mystics are fond of this metaphor:
“I live in the ocean of God, as a fish in the sea.”
By this, they mean a life of full satisfaction, of deepest desires, a life of expansion of man’s spiritual possibilities, a life of union and a life of conscious abiding in God.
Mystical life, in fact, is a life of contemplation, meditation and of prayer. Meditation is continuous and constitutes prayer.
Courage, devotion and single mindedness have their own reward. They constitute a training in detachment. The power of the mystic grows with concentration. Lord Shri Ram says thus:
” ….life means happiness to those who have found peace in the knowledge of reality.”
It means that the hotel life level, with its attendant comforts and conveniences, should be renounced and we should set our face, instead, towards detachment, not for personal ambition and joy, but driven by the inward urge towards perfection, and austere reality.
Prophet Mohammed (Peace be upon them) stresses the importance of remembrance of God in these words:
” There is a polish for everything that taketh away rust, and the polish for the heart is the remembrance of God.”
He enjoins us:
” Pray to God morning and evening. and employ the day in your avocations.”
The Holy Prophet prayed thus:
” O Lord! keep me alive a poor man, and let me die poor; and raise me amongst the poor.”
Once the prophet prayed thus:
“O Lord! Grant to me the love of Thee; grant that I love those that love Thee; grant that I may do the deeds that win Thy love; make Thy love dearer to me than self, family or wealth.”
Guru Nanak Ji enumerates the five prayers and lays down:
” There are five prayers, five times for prayers and five names of them.
The first should be truth,
The second what is right,
The third charity in God’s name,
The fourth good intentions,
The fifth the praise and glory of God.”
He has offered his prayer in these words;
” Neither chastity nor truth nor wisdom Do I the ignorant wretch have in life O Lord! Nanak, therefore seeks humbly the refuge of those who forget Thee not”.
And he asks in his prayer:
“Give me the mind, O dear, that forgets Thee not;
Give me the wisdom that I meditate on no one but Thee.
And I praise Thee with every breath,
And seek no other but the Guru’s refuge, O dear.”
On another occasion he prayed thus:
“Powerless am I, O Lord, to describe what Thy Excellence be, Sacrifice am I a myraid times to Thee,
That what pleaseth Thee is the only good done, O, Thou eternal! the formless one.”
Prayer may be in the nature of adoration, supplication or invocation.
In prayer, we open our heart to God, as we do to sincere and loving friend. In prayer, we put before God our daily needs.
Let us pray to God that He may give us fresh supplies of strength, patience, perseverance and constancy to face and overcome difficult times and trials, and also, seek and implore His Enabling Grace to perform, to the best of our ability and to the utmost of our capacity, the duties assigned to us as human beings.
In prayer, we are close to God. Prayer, in fact, takes us to God. We go to God in prayer. God does not come to us in prayer.
Family prayer or public prayer is good indeed. But we cannot minimize the importance of secret prayer, as it affords an opportunity to pour out our heart in secret before God.
In secret prayer, we avail ourselves of an opportunity afforded to us to pray in seclusion. When we offer secret prayer, then the soul is free from excitement and the surrounding influences. Secret prayer offered calmly, but fervently, will reach God. The clam and simple faith enables the soul to have communion with God.
To a mystic, prayer is a privilege, and communion with God is a source of great joy.
The question arises as how to pray. When we offer prayer. we should hope and expect that God is hearing with attention our prayer; and that He will, without an iota of doubt, answer our prayer.
The door is already open. Where is the necessity of knocking at the door? We should not hesitate. Let us enter through the door and gather to our advantage the rays of Divine Grace, which is enough and sufficient to keep us in good stead, and to strengthen and sustain us in conflict with the forces of evil led by Satan. In prayer, we should express our need of help from Him, Who has promised His help to us.
In order to receive God’s blessings, it is necessary, that out heart should be open, having no doubt and fear. Let us not allow Doubt and Fear to sit in the Court of our Heart. Doubt and Fear are great enemies of Faith, and , whosoever is an enemy of Faith, how can he be a friend of the mystic?
When praying, we should have no iniquity or pride in our heart. We should not cling to any known sin.
In prayer we should approach God with spirit of dependence and helplessness, and place our wants before Him in simple, clear and short language, couched in humble trusting faith.
Let us be penitent when praying. Faith, of course, is an important element of prevailing prayer.
Lord Jesus Christ directed his disciples;
“Whatsoever things you desire when ye pray, believe that ye receive them and ye shall have them.”
Sincere prayer brings us close to the mind of the infinite.
When praying, let us realize that His Hand , bestowing Grace and Blessings, is upon us in love abounding and pitying tenderness. Let us also feel His visible touch.
In order to grow in faith and experience we should ever pray. In order to receive what we want to get, we should exhibit perseverance in prayer. We should wait and watch.
Peter exhorts believers to be
“Sober and watch unto prayer”.
Saint Paul directs:
“In the evening, by prayers and supplication with thanksgiving, let your request be made known unto God.”
Whatever we want to get for ourselves, we should be prepared to give the same to others. Suppose we want to be forgiven, we must then forgive others for their mistakes of omission and commission. In case, we ask mercy and kindness, we should exhibit the spirit of toleration, love and forgiveness in our heart.
We should avoid any selfish motive in prayer. We should pray for ourselves. We should pray for others too. We should pray for humanity at large.
Prayer to be comprehensive should not be one sided. In placing before God our wants and our requirements, we should also praise Him for His Grace, Mercy and Blessings, and thank Him for the fondness, that we have been receiving from Him.
Praise and prayer go together.
In prayer we may place before God our problems, our joys, our sorrows, and our dreams and our devotions, our cares and our worries.
When praying it is better to say:
“In the name of and for the sake of Thy loving friends, grant my prayer.”
Lord Jesus Christ refers to this aspect of prayer in these words:
“Ye shall ask in my name, and I say unto you, that I will pray to the Father for you, for the Father himself loveth you.”
On another occasion he said :
“I have chosen you that whatever ye shall ask of the Father in my name, He may give it to you.”
When should we pray? There is not fixed time for prayer. Pray whenever you like. Pray at any place you like. Pray at any time you like. Pray for yourself if you like. Pray for others if you like.
A prayer which is offered for another person in his absence, is soon accepted.
It is better if you pray at the time of sunrise, or at the time of sunset, or after midnight, say between there and five in the morning. We may also, pray in the stillness of the night.
It is not wise to pray all the time, ignoring the worldly duties assigned to us. We need to retire to a mountain or a cave. We should be in the sunshine of life and pray. It is better if we take a middle course. Let us be on the mountain and in the multitude. If you pray all the time, your prayer will become a formal routine having no emotional drive.
As regards the question, where to pray, I say that every place is good for prayer. But it is better if we may pray at holy places like a mosque , a church or a temple, the tomb of some saint or at the retreat of some saint.
Prayer enables the soul to fly to God. But meditation leads the eye to see God.
The drive of devotional life should be a constant and ceaseless self-giving to God.
According to Coleridge:
“He prayeth well who loveth well, Both man and bird and beast. He prayeth best who loveth best All things both great and samll; For the dear God, who loveth us, He made and loveth all.”
Our prayer is heard Coleridge says:
” Saints will aid if men will call for the blue sky bends over all.”
Prayer is of great consequence. Tennyson observes thus:
” More things are wrought by prayer than the world dreams of. What are men better than sheep or goats That nourish a blind life within the brain If knowing God, they lift not hands of prayer, Both for themselves and those who call them friends.”
If we may act foolishly and forget God in the midst of our various distractions, let us pray, in all humility and sincerity that God may not forget us.
Prayer is our privilege, giving us joy. But we should not be unmindful of the duty, which we should also perform.
This is a series of postings to come on the subject of Sufi Mysticism. The postings will give in-depth knowledge in the complete world & ultimate sphere of Sufi spirituality. The postings are enlisted in Categories : ‘Sufi’s Spirituality’ (Tasawwuf ) & in ‘Tasawwuf ‘(Path of Mysticism).