Man prays. He admires beauty. He is lifted up by grandeur. When he reads in history the magnificent achievements of a Hannibal or a Charlemagne or a Caesar, he begins to admire them, and sometimes he wants to see their pictures, and sometimes he visits the places of their birth. All this shows that by nature man is a praying being. If man does not pray to God, he will pray to gold, and those ladies who fail to admire the holy Gospel or Christ or his Saints cannot get away from admiring and praying to their dogs. Admiration, adoration, exultation, talking with delight, are all forms of one and the same sentiment. In its highest form this sentiment is called prayer. It is man’s nature to pray; he cannot do without it.
The mind is capable of being lifted up to God. Those who do not admit this characteristic of the human mind have no place in the realm of religion or devotion, what to say of mysticism. As you know that you cannot extract oil out of sand, you do not try to do so.
The object of prayer is to lift man’s heart from the realm of finite objects to the realm of infinity, from the darkness of sin and error and selfishness to the light of peace, communion, and the annihilation of self in the light of God. First, convince yourself that the human mind is capable of being lifted up to God. How? Turn to history.
How many saints Christianity has produced. There have been men in each and every religion who have succeeded in lifting up their hearts to God. God is not located in the seventh heaven, but in the personality of man. The peak of the human personality is reason; intellect, a reflection of God, abides there. To lift up the mind to God means to lift it up from cares, worries, fears, and the petty and puerile considerations of humdrum life, to a region where there is peace and light. Lifting up the mind to God does not mean flinging it up high, like a ball struck by a tennis racket. Our mind is like a lotus, one part of which is in mud, another in water, and the last and highest part in light. To lift up the mind means to uproot it from the mud, the life of selfishness, of living only to eat and drink, to play bridge, to talk scandal etc. This is not life but living in darkness.
Education means lifting up the mind from what is common and mediocre to what is rare, excellent, and great. This is the purpose of education, and religious education starts and ends with prayer. It is the life of prayer. Some religions, like Buddhism, do not believe in prayer, but they never have real adherents. Prayer is a necessity.
Prayer means elevating the mind to God within and without, with a view to obtaining spiritual illumination: it is not soliciting God for a motor-car, or the cure of a certain disease, or for some distinction in society. The object of prayer is (be fully convinced) to lift up the mind with a view to obtaining spiritual illumination in the form of a vision or a flash of knowledge; and that one flash proves a turning-point in one’s history. Vision in the lower sense means the realization that it is virtue that always triumphs, that vice is a failure, that God reigns supreme and is the only Reality, that sweetness, beauty, and truth abide only in God and nowhere else, and that the soul is immortal.
That flash of lightning makes this clearer than daylight. That is the meaning of ‘Thy Kingdom come’, that is, may spiritual illumination in the form of vision abide in my mind, may this state abide in my personality. In the Yoga and the Guru we recognize that holiness and purity are results of the gifts of God. We ought to make endeavours. The Lord of the universe, if He thinks fit, can turn the greatest sinner into a saint, and He has done it; history shows.
One condition of prayer is that the mind should be light, not choked with worldly deceit of an abiding nature. If you want to have success in prayer, keep your mind light. It is a light bird that flies highest. A light flame burns straight and higher. Anything that is heavy tends to gravitate towards the earth, Fee yourself from all selfish desires and aversions and cravings after worldly advantages. In this way the mind is made light, pure, and tranquil.
How am I to know that my mind is pure? Because it is tranquil. A mind which is not tranquil never knows deep sleep. If you can sit and in a few moments you can focus the mind here, in the heart, then you may know that it is tranquil.
Within parenthesis, ‘ego’ means the sense of individuality, separateness, this sense of being an island in a lake, unapproachable, inaccessible, and impervious to sympathy, love, friendship, and kindness. This state of affairs has to be broken by realizing the fact that each and everybody lives in the functioning of the same Consciousness, that is God. We are all one fundamentally: none is higher, none lower.
This egoity, loaded with Sansara, is the curtain between God and man. God is in man’s intellect, and a curtain hides Him. The curtain is egoity, anger, avarice, and the habit of being infatuated. This curtain cuts out all the light of God before it reaches the region of the soul. The soul remains in darkness, is restless, peaceless; it goes from plan to plan, it fails, fails, fails. And even when it seems to succeed in worldly affairs, it fails. Remember, every worldly success is a precursor to failure.
By prayer the mind receives glimpses of the divine light. No prayer is possible without a pure and tranquil heart. If you thus visualize and pray: “Show Thyself unto me; I am groaning under the load of ignorance,” then the soul begins to see glimpses of Light. If for a year you practise like that, you will see glimpses of divine light, which creates a revolution. It gives steadiness and faith. Without it the mind will remain restless, tired, and hard, not moved by the tears of widows and orphans.
Everybody feels these glimpses sometimes. You may be an atheist or an agnostic, but when, on the top of a hill, in woods, or on the seashore, our desires become still, and we feel kinship with the rest of creation, then peace comes. I have often experienced this feeling on the seashore, sitting with friends, and the soul feels: “I am not one, I have a companionship, I am united with some indescribable being.” In some persons this feeling is more readily awakened by the breakers rushing with great fury against a rock, like an unbroken horse; then the mind forgets all worldliness in awe of the grandeur of that force. Then the mind is lost.
Indians believe that if you go on a pilgrimage to the interior of the Himalayas and there commune with the breath of nature arising from the glaciers, your sins are cleansed, and your mind is uplifted from the mortal atmosphere to immortality. These spots are favourites of the devotees of God. Christ is always found on a mount, on the seashore, or among rocks. When you commune with nature, your mind is lifted up from nature to the Lord of nature. If you practise love in the true sense, then the first feeling is sympathy with the object of love. Love engenders sympathy; it strikes at the root of egoity.
The love of a friend long held is eventually turned into love of God, according to the Persian mystics. The love of beauty, goodness and infinity has to be cultivated for a man to be able to pray. Our consciousness is lifted up by prayer, communion with nature, and love. Love becomes profane if it is tainted with a selfish desire. It is not the love of a policeman for the prisoner that he keeps under guard, nor the love of a fowler for the bird he has caught, but love in freedom. These are the three means that lift up the mind towards God.
Journeys into the unchartered seas of consciousness through contemplation and vairagya are more important than the journeys of Columbus etc. Let us make journeys with our purified mind into the region of light.
Prayer leads ultimately to mystic contemplation. It is like a rocket: the higher it goes the more momentum it gathers, and when it goes highest it bursts into flames of light and many colours. At a certain subjective altitude the mind bursts into multitudinous colours and light, called entry into the mystic consciousness.
When Uddhava was asking the gopis to contemplate on the Absolute pervading all hearts, they said: “O Uddhava, we are sorry, we have not got three, four, or ten minds; we have only one mind, and that has been given to Shyama. Now we have no mind left.” When the mind becomes no mind, it begins to lose its colour and slowly melts, as an iceberg begins to melt in the sea, until it is all melted and absorbed into light – mystic experience, which comes to the devoted soul.
Prayer leads to mystic contemplation, which is an approach to the relationship between the soul and Paramatman. By this approach the soul Atman enters the region of
Paramatman. It reduces the discord, the evil, and limitations, which blind the eyes of the soul. The discord within us is plentiful and a source of great unhappiness. The air of the earth is not pure. Breathe the purer air of the soul. Love breathes sympathy, and we feel we are not two but one.
The eyes of the soul are blind; but when they are opened, then illumination within and without is there. Emotions and unfulfilled desires, which have not found an outlet, become a perennial source of discord, and woe unto that human wretch who exploits the feelings of love: for him a new hell has to be made. The mystic, knowing the limitations and the bondage of the lower self, wants to transcend it through discipline According to Western mystics mysticism is:
- A disinterested quest into the Absolute, the real, the beautiful, and the good. “If a man will seek the good for anything other than itself, he will never find it.” Spirituality is a disinterested, persistent, all-absorbing, all-sacrificing quest for the Absolute, the real. The values of a devotee are absolute. He wants to reach the highest truth, beauty absolute – not the beautiful. From the love of the beautiful we enter into the realm of beauty, and from beauty to beauty absolute, to consciousness absolute.
- The devotee is committed to a life of strenuous external labour, a life-long labour of discipline, self-surrender, devotion and dedication. Where has the mystic anything to do with the world? There is duty which is external; that duty is at any cost to find the Ruler of the universe in your Atman by contemplation and mystic union.
- The goal is God as Self and no Paradise. His region is the region of pure light (Christ), not this supposed Paradise.
- Nirvana is the life following God-vision, the fullest use of the spiritual faculty, which all have but few use.
The soul becomes Spirit; jiva is Brahman. Light is manifest to light. Each is all, Self is all, all is all: this is nirvana. Jivatman sees Paramatman. Nothing is opaque, nothing is separate: all is transparent, one light pulsating through all, all the time and even beyond time. Like a high priest, the soul dons the robes of renunciation, vairagya, devotion, and peace, and is devoted to Him only. In this state there are no strange visitations, no Angels, no messengers, no vision, no miracles. This is seeing himself in the Absolute, in others, in all. Nothing dark, nothing opaque, but only transparency.