I have already written a fair bit on karma, on the law of attraction, on meditation, self transformation and so forth, as indicated in the last post, I am writing on grace and prayer today. If there is God, and if there is such a thing called Divine Grace, do you really have to do everything yourself? What is God’s role then? Has He just sent us on the planet to toil, to struggle, without any help from Him, has He thrown the baby out with the bathwater and thrown in the towel too. A while ago, I recorded a discourse called What is God, you may want to watch it, the narrative is in English.
God is the finest artist, His creation vouches for that, he may be the foremost scientist, he is certainly not a trader though. The concept of God boils down to individual belief system, he is a product of your belief, your faith, your devotion, your reverence, and if you allow me to put it, your conditioning. A Muslim, a Christian, a Buddhist, a Hindu, or any believer of any other religion, have their faith naturally inclined towards what they have been indoctrinated as God. They derive greater strength from praying to their own god.
Before I get to praying and grace, let me just take a moment to split God into two, figuratively speaking, of course.
1. With Form
Followers of various religions have branded god, they have labeled him, many claim superiority of their brand over others. Some are okay to try different labels, others are fiercely, sometimes fanatically, loyal to their preferred brand. An elaborate system of religion is passed onto them as part of their upbringing and they further their faith based on their inheritance. If you look around, you will find this is how most believers or theists operate. If taking such route makes you a more compassionate person and gives you joy too, there is nothing wrong with this approach, it may even be a good approach. When you believe God has a form, it is only natural to assign certain attributes to perceive and narrate that form. As soon as we put words around any experience, others conceptualize it. Such conceptualization, intellectualization, forms the basis of misunderstanding and misinterpretation.
2. The Formless
Imagine you were never conditioned by your parents, your teachers, by others, in school, in shrines, what would be your concept of God? Do you think you will feel attached to your present notion of God the same way? If not, would you pray the same way? How would you perceive his presence, his grace? The formless God is an important vedic concept, this school of thought encourages a sense of oneness, of non-duality, that, everything, everyone is God, for, what has emerged from God cannot be anything short of divine either. Yogis relate their experience of samadhi, exalted state, to union with the formless.
I reiterate, if your faith, however labeled, helps you be at peace, increases your utility to the mankind, inspires you to lead a virtuous life, you can safely stick to your belief. However, if it makes you rabid, ties you down, clips your freedom of a free thought, you may want to stop, take a deep breath, recess, and reassess your position.
What about grace, praying, do prayers work? Keep reading.
Scriptures adorn God with fine adjectives, mostly in superlatives, as the purest, greatest, omnipresent, omnipotent, omniscient among numerous other epithets and monikers. If He was not all these, you would not need to pray, you could bribe him, fool him, entice him. That is not possible though, how can you fool yourself, after all. He is in you, the basis of your existence. Praying is your way of self-purification, of gaining inner strength, of becoming worthy of his grace, of connecting with him. It is one of the finest paths to experience him, to thank him, to be with him. It is the path of surrender, of decimating your ego, of putting the drop back in the ocean, of offering your presence, your potency, your knowledge, your very existence to the Supreme Soul.
Grace is his way of showing He is, it is his style of connecting with you, answering your questions, protecting you, being by your side, watching out for you. Such grace in the form of wisdom may help you to walk the noble path, in the form of blessings, it may assist you in staying course with your efforts and so on. Grace is not always getting what you desire, it rarely is that in fact, it is being exposed to what is right for you, it is helping you overcome the hurdles, to sail through the lows and remain even through the highs. Believing in the concept of grace can instill humility in you; during massive storms, a humble blade of grass remains protected, it does not get uprooted.
Grace does not mean he can directly absolve you off your karmic duties and karmic debt. Why would he? Because you have pleased him with your fervent prayers? Can a bank manager write your loan off just because you enchant him with eulogies, with flowery words? He can give you options perhaps, he may advise you to capitalize on any possible exceptions, but not much beyond that. God is not going to stop the rain for you, he will happily give you an umbrella.
Praying is your method of connecting with him, and Grace is his method of connecting with you. When you call and say ‘hello’, that is praying, when he answers back, that is grace, sometimes, he calls back later. If you insist on stopping the rain, it is merely an evidence of obstinacy, a sign that you are being selfish, not thinking about others who may need rain, it is not going to work, instead, pray for protection. If your faith is unshakeable, He will source an umbrella for you.
In case, you are wondering about my personal position, I believe in divine grace, in God, I rejoice in both aspects of Him: with form and the formless. Regardless of the religion, when people talk to me about their religious or spiritual experiences, I feel equally joyous. If it makes you happy narrating it, it makes me happy hearing it. I have seen my deity, multiple times, I have experienced samadhi, tranquil equipoise, countless times and can slip into that state, anytime, at will. You can too if you are willing to devote time to intense meditation.
On a lighter note, here:
Mulla Nasrudin and his friend, devoid of food and water, had been adrift, for five days, in a dinghy in the middle of the Indian Ocean. There was no hope of survival. They prayed, they cried, they swore, nothing worked, they were counting their last, basically.
His friend began praying one last time, “O Lord! I have been a terrible person my whole life, I was unfaithful to my wife, I abused others’ trust, I told lies, I never prayed, I cheated, I ripped people off, I spent my earnings on gambling and liquor. Please, let me live, forgive me. If you spare me now, I promise I will pray every day for the rest of my life, I will never gamble again. I will also give up—”
“Wait a minute,” interrupted Nasrudin, “don’t go too far. I think I can see a boat.”
Trading and praying do not go together.
Gratitude is a form of prayer, so is compassion, being kind is praying too as is serving his creation. Begging God is not praying to Him. A prayer in the right spirit can transform you, if your faith is firm, your prayers can yield results. That said, praying is not a substitute for the right karma, virtuous living, righteous conduct, it is not an escape route.
The easiest way to experience His grace is to be childlike, to live in the moment; watch a toddler who has just graduated out of infancy to know what I mean.