“There are only two prayers:
The first prayer is possession,
The second prayer is surrender.”
– Sri Chinmoy
We might say that the first prayer, the possession prayer, is from the finite within us – our body, vital and mind – for the finite; for our desire-fulfillment, for material wealth, status, power and influence, name and fame. The second prayer, the surrender prayer, is from the infinite within us – our spiritual heart – for the infinite; for peace, love, light and bliss, for God-realisation and God-satisfaction.
We offer the possession prayer when we know no better, when in our ignorance, we still imagine ourselves a finite being with God a high, remote and aloof Entity; before we have glimpsed spirituality’s infinitude, hearkened to the call of the soul or felt the tug of the Beyond. Ultimately, this first prayer binds us to the finite and actively stands in the way of our spiritual progress and happiness. To pray our desires is to row upstream. When we realise this, either through frustration, disappointment, suffering or the dawning of wisdom, we are ready to embrace the second prayer.
Jesus Christ offered the ultimate surrender-prayer:
“Not my will, but Thine be done.”
In this prayer, we surrender our limited desires and needs, in the full awareness that a higher Power within us knows infinitely better than we, what is best for us and how it can be achieved; and in the flow of this higher Will, lies our own ultimate fulfillment, our consummate satisfaction. Here prayer and meditation merge, in silent supplication and invocation of the Highest within us.
As deep meditation subsumes prayer, so prayer fulfills itself in meditation. As the prayers of our mind dissolve into the silence-tears of our heart, our prayer-river flows into and loses itself in the meditation-sea.
“If a flower can whisper
Its prayer to God,
What is wrong with a human being?
How is it that we do not know
How to whisper prayers to God?”
– Sri Chinmoy
How does a flower pray? Certainly not with words, or with any mind at all, but with everything it has and is. The flower’s whole being is an offering, of its beauty, simplicity, sweetness, humility, innocence, fragrance, charm and surrender. Its offering is absolute, unreserved and unconditional. In its offering, in its prayer, in its surrender, lies its perfection, fulfilment and satisfaction.
We too, can pray as a flower prays, without words, in silent, consecrated, continuous, complete self-offering to the Highest within us, of all that we have and are.
Each breath, each glance, each thought, each task, each word, each gesture, each intention, each action can be prayer. The body and vital can pray through dedicated activity, service, exercise or sports: the heart prays naturally through silent tears of intense yearning.
Until our meditation becomes effortless and spontaneous, we need prayer-tears to purify, focus, intensify, open up and elevate our consciousness.
We pray, so that we can meditate. For meditation we need deep faith, a clear mind, pure heart, focussed will, resolute determination and boundless patience: all arise from prayer. The discipline, intensity and intimacy of prayer nurture and cultivate all the qualities and attributes of a spiritual seeker. Prayer ushers us into the palace of meditation.
The heart’s prayer is a one-pointed flame rising upwards into meditation’s ever-expanding sky. Prayer is seeking, meditation is becoming. Prayer prepares, meditation completes.
We cannot meditate 24 hours a day: but to meditate well even for one minute, we can and must pray to learn, pray to live, pray to become the supreme art of prayer.
What is prayer? Is prayer only begging for the fulfillment of our desires and aspirations from God, the Universe or a higher Being?
Any concentrated intent, expression of hope, application of will or practise of discipline to achieve a certain outcome, where that outcome is beyond our conscious control, can be prayer. Prayer can be offered through words, actions, tears or smiles.
Prayer is faith in action: our supplication to fate, our intercession with destiny. Prayer yields our self-discovery, self-assertion and self-transcendence.
Prayer at once follows, and directs our aim. A musician practising is prayer, an athlete training is prayer, a monk chanting is prayer; anything we do to enlarge, cultivate or elevate ourselves – reading a poem, tending the garden, cleaning our room, helping a friend – can be prayer.
Prayer is a child dreaming, a mother giving, a lover wooing, a plant growing to the sun, a horse going for a run, a thief planning a heist, a potter surveying her clay, an architect plotting a masterpiece.
Prayer can be an emotional demand, an angry command or terse reprimand. Prayer can carry love or loathing, sweetness or bitterness, faith or fear, compassion or aggression. Prayer can beg, bribe, bless, curse, free, enslave, unite or tear apart, build or lay waste.
So let us be careful with our prayer, for prayer can take us anywhere! Our prayer reveals at once who we are, and who we yearn to become. Our prayer directs our growth and evolution, prefigures and beckons our future. Prayer is the motive force of our self-transcendence, the tectonic plates of our becoming, setting the stage and writing the script of our progress – so if you want the best, employ the best prayer; if you want the highest, aim your prayer high, beyond the sky.
In the Western Christian tradition, more emphasis has been placed on prayer as a means of communication with God, while in Eastern spirituality, meditation has been held paramount.
Sri Chinmoy expresses these two pathways in the simplest terms: “In prayer, I speak and God listens. In meditation, God speaks and I listen.”
It’s a common notion, that prayer is an ardent request formulated into words: our lost, weak, helpless self, beseeching a higher, all-knowing, all-powerful Being to fulfil our desired outcome. Words, and the desires they express, typically arise from our mind, so such prayer will inevitably be conditioned by our mind’s limitations and preconceptions. Our mind almost never knows what is actually best for us or for the world, so there is every chance our mind’s prayer may be misguided and not in our best interests. Yet it is infinitely better to pray with imperfect intentions than to not pray at all, for prayer creates momentum, which leads to progress. Our prayer reflects us; as we grow spiritually, so our prayer matures and blossoms.
Why the need for words – does not God already know what we need for our fulfilment? Yes of course God knows what we need, and is already offering all we need and infinitely more. It is we who are not accepting or receiving the bountiful spiritual wealth with which we are continuously being showered. The words of spoken prayers are for our benefit, not God’s. They help us become more conscious of our needs, more aware of our opportunities, more conscientious in our responsibilities, more disciplined in our practise, more receptive to our progress, more surrendered to our transformation and more grateful for the continuous blessings flowing towards, within and all around us.
You are a small child. You have a very special friend, a most intimate, closest friend who loves you most, and who you love above all. You love playing with this friend more than anything else in your world. Your friend is forever happy, delightful, sweet, inventive, thoughtful, funny and kind, knows all the best games and leads you on ever-new, thrilling adventures. Just being with this friend, is your complete heaven.
Right now you are alone in your room. Your mother calls out that your friend is here, and wants to see you. Your friend also calls out your name, imploring you to come and play. How do you respond?
You ignore your mother’s and your friend’s calls. You stay in your room, doing some stupid thing, or nothing at all.
Why? Why? Why?
Your spiritual heart is your mother, the one who is urging you to come and play with your most special friend, your soul. The eternal game and matchless adventure, is your meditation.
Our soul is always eager to enwrap us in peace, immerse us in light and flood us with delight. Our soul has only us on whom to lavish its attention so it waits, and waits for us to heed its call. Our soul shows every move and guides our every step. Our part is only to open the door and allow our soul in, our best, closest friend, playmate, lover, tutor and guide.
Stop whatever you are doing. Give it up and be still, be silent, be empty, be receptive.
Surrender to your soul-friend. As the meditation-game unfolds, enjoy the game, love the game and become the game. You will make yourself ever-increasingly happy, your heart ever happier and your soul, your lives-long eternal friend, ever the happiest.
“The moment I say and feel
That I am an eternal beginner,
I become the possessor
Of boundless joy.”
– Sri Chinmoy
In our meditation and spiritual life, we need always to feel we are just a beginner.
For no matter how much we know, there is always infinitely more that we do not yet know: no matter how much we have experienced or attained, there is always infinitely more we are yet to experience and to attain.
In the spiritual life, we can only move in two possible directions: forwards or backwards. There is no standing still. We can move forwards only when our mind and heart are open and eager to learn and to progress, for our journey is from the known to the unknown, from the finite to the infinite, from what we are to what we are yet to become.
When we close the curtains of our room, we shut out the light. When we feel we know enough or have attained a sufficient height, our mind and heart tend to contract and turn inward. As they close, so we shut out the possibility of further progress. As soon as we stop moving forwards, we start to slide – at first imperceptibly – backwards.
The spiritual universe is ever evolving. In the spiritual life, we can never rest on our laurels: my yesterday’s achievement will count for nothing if I am not seeking to build upon it and transcend, today and tomorrow.
So the attitude of an eternal beginner is essential not only to ensure our further progress, it is also our necessary safeguard against sliding backwards and veering from our chosen Path.
To remain always a beginner, breathe in humility, simplicity, sincerity, cheerfulness, enthusiasm and gratitude, and focus ever forward, inward, onward and upward.
“Sleep is sleep and meditation is meditation. If it is beyond what is necessary, sleep is friendship with ignorance. Meditation is always friendship with illumination.”
– Sri Chinmoy
Meditation is our heightened, intensified and expanded conscious awareness. Sleep is the suspension of our conscious awareness. Meditation and sleep are incompatible and mutually exclusive. Certainly we can experience spiritually significant, inspiring and uplifting dreams while asleep, however such dreams and their messages must still be assimilated by our conscious meditation for us to gain any lasting benefits.
Sri Chinmoy has called sleep ‘death’s little sister.’ Just as death forcibly interrupts the flow of our continuous spiritual progress, from one lifetime to the next, so does sleep, though in a briefer time scale, from one day to the next: our temporary spiritual death.
“I shall not sleep, I shall not sleep
In the sea of vast ignorance deep!
I shall now run and dive and fly.
I shall now touch my freedom–sky.”
– Sri Chinmoy
In the spiritual life, sleep represents ignorance. Whether we are physically sleeping or awake, whenever we are not spiritually conscious and aspiring, we are effectively enjoying ‘ignorance-sleep.’
A spiritual seeker must fight against sleep in all its forms: indulgence in indolence, comfort and desire-gratification; heeding the dictates of our body, vital and mind over the urgings of our heart and soul.
Sleep is not mere physical inactivity: it is the inactivity of our heart’s cry for something ever finer, deeper and higher. Sleep can be silence; sleep can be violence. Sleep can express as the wildest rage of the vital; the loudest boasting of ego; the proudest proclamation of prejudice.
To overcome spiritual sleep, tenderly nurture and fiercely treasure always your heart’s cry for peace, love, light and freedom. Let sleep … sleep.
Sleep – we need it, but how much? If we don’t get enough sleep, we become tired and exhausted, and our spiritual life suffers; if we sleep too much, we become torpid and lethargic, and our spiritual life suffers.
Sri Chinmoy wrote: “When we have established inner peace, we diminish our need for sleep, because peace itself is rest.” To reduce our sleep, it is extremely beneficial to meditate last thing before going to bed at night. Much of our sleep time is not needed by the body, but for the mind to unwind and release its built-up stress and tension. When we empty and purify the mind prior to sleeping, we can enter sooner into a deep and fulfilling sleep, and require less of it. We then awaken sooner, refreshed and energised. The deeper we meditate, the less sleep we need, the less time we are disconnected from our conscious aspiration, the more value we retain from our meditation, the faster we progress.
Then when we awake, meditate first thing after washing and energising the body. Though it may feel that we are starting our journey again from the very beginning, it is not really so. It is like returning to yesterday’s food: the meal has already been cooked and prepared, now it just needs to be reheated, like a curry that has a better and fuller flavour on the second day. The tap of inspiration needs to be carefully turned back on, the engine of aspiration re-started, the book of meditation re-opened.
Focus on breathing and simple concentration exercises for a while until you feel the presence of your spiritual heart and the blossoming of gratitude, then pick up the thread from your previous evening’s meditation to continue your spiritual journey, full speed ahead.
Regardless of the amount of sleep we get, the very nature of sleep presents a significant challenge to the spiritual seeker. Spirituality and sleep appear to be diametrically opposed: one a dynamic flow, the other a static repose. While our spiritual aspiration seeks ever to heighten and deepen our consciousness, sleep inveigles us into an unconscious state.
While there are times when we awaken feeling inspired and full of light and joy, many of us tend to wake up feeling barely conscious, scarcely able to recall that we are supposed to be an aspiring being on a spiritual Path. It seems we have been under water, as though the time we spend asleep has eroded away our connection with our deeper self and dissolved yesterday’s inspiration, aspiration, determination and bliss. We may feel inert, our only eagerness being for more sleep time. Our cherished goal has receded into the mists of obscurity.
Our finite body, vital and mind need sleep, to repair and recharge. Our spiritual heart and soul need no sleep, as they are one with infinite energy and inexhaustible inspiration. Spirituality deals with consciousness, which is never static; it is always expanding or contracting, rising or falling, speeding up or slowing down. Spiritual progress is the shaping of our conscious awareness, and cannot proceed when that awareness is suspended – just as a painting needs its canvass and a song is formed from and needs the notes of the musical scale. In sleep, our connection to conscious awareness is temporarily unplugged, so while sleep is necessary and unavoidable as long as we are here in the earthly realm, it will always be an interruption to the flow of our spiritual progress. And while we are not moving forwards, we can only be moving backwards.
Meditation is food and nourishment for our inner being. Just as we need time after eating a meal to assimilate and digest our food before engaging in strenuous activity, so time and the right environment is needed after meditation to assimilate the peace, light and bliss we have received.
Assimilation is essential to lock in the gains of meditation. We might see, smell, touch and be inspired by a fruit, but we can only enjoy its full benefits once we have eaten and absorbed it into ourselves. Similarly we might have high and beautiful experiences in meditation, but until they are assimilated, these treasures can easily be lost to us, our meditation squandered. Once assimilated, high experiences become our property, part and parcel with our consciousness: only then are they safe in us, and we in them.
Like digestion of our food, assimilation of spiritual wealth is a natural, spontaneous process – there is nothing we have to do outwardly for it to occur. However we do need to be careful not to interfere with and disrupt the process, for we are dealing with spiritual phenomena, subtle nerves and super-fine realities.
For peace, light and bliss to be assimilated by our subtle nerves, absorbed and flow into and through our conscious awareness, we must be calm in our body, vital and mind. Remain silent for some time, read spiritual books, sing or hum spiritual songs, walk slowly in nature or enter into harmonious discussion of only spiritual matters.
Disputes, excitement, complexity and negativity can destroy all our meditation’s gains; while sweetness, kindness, inspiration and joy protect and nurture our spiritual wealth.
Gratitude expedites assimilation. As we bathe in and become the breath and fragrance of gratitude, our meditation treasure takes root, grows and blossoms within us as our very own.
From the moment we start going to school, we associate teaching and learning with spoken and written instruction – with words. So when it comes to meditation, we may reasonably hope and expect to learn this also from reading books, attending lectures or listening to podcasts – from words. Yet while words might convey some of the practical details, they can at best be “the finger pointing to the moon”: words can never encompass or convey the experience of the meditation-moon itself, or how to land there.
How then can we start to learn meditation, without words? The same way babies learn to walk. Babies simply ‘absorb’ the secrets of walking by identification with their elder family members – and practice.
Inspiration is the best teacher, for it awakens and reveals our own inherent capacities. An avid student of tennis learns much from watching the world’s best players, consciously and unconsciously assimilating and emulating their mental and psychic mastery of the game, along with their strokes, tactics and court awareness.
Sri Chinmoy writes: “The best way to begin to learn how to meditate is to associate with people who have been meditating for some time. These people are not in a position to teach you, but they are in a position to inspire you. If you have some friends who know how to meditate, just sit beside them while they are meditating. Unconsciously your inner being will be able to derive some meditative power from them. You are not stealing anything from them, but your inner being is taking help from them without your outer knowledge.”
Mixing with spiritual people and sitting with them in meditation, inspires us and stirs our aspiration to bring forward our capacity: we ‘remember’ meditation, and begin to recover our own long-lost, long-forgotten selves.
Is an absurdity.”
– Sri Chinmoy
We commenced this series on Finding Your Spiritual Path, by stating:
“There are only two essential tasks in life –
a) find your spiritual Path; and
b) follow it.”
Having found our spiritual Path, only one task remains: FOLLOW IT!
We follow a spiritual Path to reach and attain the highest Goal –Enlightenment, Illumination, God-realisation or God-satisfaction – the Goal that subsumes and transcends all quests and aspirations. Clearly we are now a long way from this Goal, so following the Path must involve radical transformation of our consciousness along the way. The limited, ignorant parts of our being – with which we presently largely identify – must be surrendered, and traded for our infinite, illumined Self.
Reaching and attaining Infinite Bliss is anything but a bed of roses. On the contrary, giving up my cherished ignorance, my present apparent identity, is perilously difficult.
Our present Nature must first be brought under our control and command. To this end, every spiritual Path requires discipline. Without discipline, nothing significant can ever be achieved in life. Until we can control our own thoughts and passions, we remain their slave, impotent to direct our progress toward any worthwhile goal.
Everything in Nature fights to preserve its own dominion and existence – including our own ignorance, weaknesses and limitations. To tread the Path to illumination, we must be ready, willing and eager to wage war against our own puny and proud ignorance-ego.
The obstacles to overcome are predominantly found not in the world around us: they are within, cradled and coddled by our own indulgence. Doubt, Fear, Insecurity, Pride, Impurity, Inertia – all we have built; all we must now dismantle.
To follow your Path, be ready to fight … for fight we all must.
[“I go to the Buddha for refuge,
I go to the Dharma for refuge,
I go to the Order for refuge.”]
– Buddhist chant
In Buddhist tradition, the Path is formed of the confluence of three interdependent channels: Buddha, Dharma and Sanga. These channels apply to all spiritual Paths, and are as indispensable today, as ever.
Buddha literally means “enlightened one”. Buddha is the Guru or spiritual Master who, having realised God, reveals the way to Eternal Truth, Light, Peace and Bliss in the form of Teachings, whether spoken, written, enacted or through silent meditation. The foundation of each spiritual Path is the Teachings of one, or sometimes a lineage of several Spiritual Masters.
Dharma is the code of life, the practises, precepts and rules to be followed by the adherents of the Path. The Dharma is established either by the founding Guru, or by subsequent disciples, and may vary to adapt for different times and cultures. The Dharma might set out rules of dress, diet, routine, ritual and lifestyle – but most importantly, the Dharma applies to inner discipline, to self-control, purification and transformation in the realms of thought, feeling and conduct. There are typically parallel codes for those committed wholly to the spiritual Life, and for ‘householders’ – those following the Teachings while raising a family.
Sanga is the community of disciples or followers, who might live together in a dedicated, regulated ashram or monastery, or separately in their own dwellings, coming together for prayer, meditation, social and communal activities in furtherance of their Path’s Teachings. Notwithstanding the solitude of meditation, we are social beings, and the camaraderie, inspiration and aspiration we share are integral to our progress on any Path.