What is Prayer?

Hari ke jan satigur, satpurkha binau karau gur paasi.

– Shri Guru Granth Sahib, 10

{O humble servant of the Lord, O true Guru, O true primal being, I offer my humble prayer to you, O Guru!}

Question: What is prayer? Is there a need for another thing or another body separate from you for praying?

Acharya Prashant: The word ‘praying’ is beautifully understood when you also take its counterpart in Sanskrit Praarthna.

Arth means desire. Whenever you usually pray – and we all keep praying – our prayers are to the world, our prayers are to people, to situations. Whenever we normally pray, there is a desire behind it: arth. The desire is obviously a product of conditioning; it is obviously material, as all desires are bound to be. It is about a thing, a person, or an idea.

Praarthna means that arth (desire) is being surpassed.

Pra-arth – beyond desire.

So now I cannot ask for a thought, a thing or a person. What is left to ask then? Because the world is only these: thought and object. Going beyond these, there is no world at all. If you do not ask for anything material, then actually you cannot ask for anything, because anything you would ask for would be material. So surely it means that Praarthna or prayer is not about asking, because whenever you would ask, there would be an object of asking.

Two things are bound to be there whenever you would ask for something: one, there will be somebody to whom you will ask, and two, there will be something that you will ask for. That is your normal arth (desire).

Between desire and prayer is the same difference that is there between arth and pra-arth or arth-na and pra-arth-na.

In real prayer, both the characteristics of desiring are absent, and they are simultaneously absent. One cannot be absent without the other being absent too.

One, there is nobody to whom you are asking.

Do you know what that means? Neither the entity to whom you usually ask is there, nor ‘you’ are there, and nor is ‘asking’ there. Because if there is nobody to ask to and there is no ‘asker’ either, then ‘asking’ too is not happening – that is Praarthna. You must understand this!

The normal function of the mind is to desire. In desiring there is somebody to whom you are making a desire, expressing a desire, and there is an object of desire as well.

In prayer, there is nobody that you are praying to, there is nothing that you are praying for, and there is nobody who is praying. So what is praying? Well nothing! Neither is there anybody to pray to, nor is there anything to pray for, nor is there anybody who is praying – that is prayer.

If ‘you’ are still there, then it is not a prayer, it is just desire. If there is something to ask for, it is again not prayer, it is just desire. And if you know to whom you are praying, it is again not prayer, it is again just desire.

What does that mean? It means prayer cannot be an activity. It means that you cannot call any of your actions as prayer. All the stupidity that you do in the name of praying becomes invalid. You cannot say that you are going to the temple to pray. You cannot say that you are praying to the lord. You cannot even say, “I am praying.”

Understand these three things!

You cannot say, “I am going to temple to pray for a son.” You cannot say, “I am praying to the Lord,” and you cannot even say, “I am praying.”

Prayer cannot be an activity. Prayer is your very being. Prayer is the very, very silent call of the mind. The deeper the silence, the truer the prayer. The noisier the call of the mind, the more it is just desire and not prayer. The more you are able to say, “Lord bless me with a son or give me a promotion, or whatever”; the more clearly you are able to express and articulate it, the farther you are from praying. The more you stand carrying all your personality and all your concepts and the mind, the more ‘you’ are present, the less is praying.

So you cannot pray, you can only be full of prayer.

Understand the difference: you can only be prayerful, you cannot pray.

In every movement of the mind must there be prayer – and only that prayer is responded to, only that prayer is heard. When you are calling day-in and day-out . . . you might be eating, sleeping, walking, running, talking, you are just praying, you are prayerful . . . then that prayer will be surely answered; because you are asking for nothing. There is no way that somebody cannot answer you. You are asking for nothing, so how can he deprive you of what you are asking for? What are you asking for?

Listener: Nothing.

AP: So you get what you are asking for. Now your prayers are answered. Now you also know why ‘your’ prayers are never answered. Because you never ask for nothing. Whenever you will ask for something, then that prayer will remain unanswered, and you will come back saying: “You know I prayed so much and yet the Lord is not listening.”

What is Prayer_Sir-1

The Lord listens only when you don’t ask anything. The Lord listens only when you don’t ask the Lord. The Lord listens when you forget the Lord. The Lord listens when there is no Lord.

“Lord, where is the lord?” “I don’t know any Lord. I am just praying.”

 To whom?

“Well to nobody in particular.’”

L1: Sir, if I ask for something in prayer and say that I have surrendered, then how will that state be?

AP: When you say, “I have surrendered,” you have very cleverly left the option of ‘not surrendering’ open. If you have surrendered, then you can also withdraw from surrendering.

Are you getting it?

If I am surrendering, I may also decide to not to surrender. I am still there. Surrendering is smaller than me. Who has decided to surrender?

L1: ‘I’.

AP: Then ‘I’ may as well decide to not to surrender.

Even after surrendering, who remains?

L1: ‘I’.

AP: ‘I’ remains. Because ‘I’ decided to surrender.

You go and you bow your head in front of a barber. Is that surrender? You have decided to bow your head, and after sometime you will again raise your head. The option is open. And you have bowed as per your convenience. The barber is a service provider. And that is what you take God as: the service provider. You go to God, and bow your head, and say, “Please, do something.” And once it is done, you pay the fee and you come back.

So kindly don’t surrender.

In surrender, you make God a barber; and the whole thing becomes very barbaric.


– Excerpts from Clarity Session held at Advait Bodhsthal. Edited for clarity.

Watch the session at: What is Prayer?

Read more articles on this topic:

Article 1: How to surrender?
Article 2: Fear can be answered only with Faith
Article 3: How to have faith?

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6 thoughts on “What is Prayer?

  1. ‘Lord, where is the lord? I don’t know any lord. I am just praying. To whom? Well to nobody in particular.’– wonderfully explained. Thanks

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