Sunday, October 22, 2023

What is the Best Way to Pray? Is God Personal or Impersonal?

 What is the Best Way to Pray? Is God Personal or Impersonal?

The best way to pray is any way you can and will! Who cannot but feel for the people in Israel and Palestine fighting one another with civilians being targeted and taking the brunt of the violence. All war is stupid, but stupidity is endemic. As much as millions yearn for peace, war is a consistent fact of human existence as far back as we have records. It would seem to be a necessary part of the human drama.

As it was said during the last so-called “world” war, “There ain’t no atheists in foxholes.” If it requires hardship, pain, and suffering to trigger an appeal to a greater power, then so be it.

Contemplating the vastness and complexity of the universe and the human body and life, we are confronted with two choices: head down and get mine, or, head up, and embrace our part in the symphony of life. 

Life tends to push our head down into the details, let’s face it. And there are many details, more now than ever before in history. The head-down mudra of the cell phone symbolizes this reality. Who can blame those billions who, overwhelmed by the sheer volume of facts, energies, and circumstances that surround them, prefer the original head-down mudra of the ostrich. Tempting it is to hide under the covers or binge on Netflix.

Whatever opinions you may have of so-called pagan worship of the gods and the elements, at least in that worship there is a recognition that there are forces greater than our own that impact our lives.  Not as much can be said of billions of humans on our planet today between their indifference, their atheism, or agnosticism. Real paganism is the worship of the false idols of money, power, and pleasure.

Human consciousness is poised between the old and the unfolding new. The old contains static beliefs and social immobility; well-worn ritual and dogma; hierarchy and privilege; exploitation and abuse; power and helplessness. The new promises freedom but threatens us with chaos. Our world is confused and polarized, at best.

As there are many levels or stages of awareness and consciousness among humans so also does higher consciousness descend through many layers of God-ness and good-ness through forms such as angels and devas, saints and avatars, sages and heroes, peacemakers, teachers, caregivers, and parents.

The best way to pray is that which opens our hearts and minds to a power greater than our own. Not in abject self-denial but in self-expansion and love.

Jesus gave to us the Lord’s prayer newly revised in yogic pentameter:

Our Father who art in the heaven of Eternal Bliss, sacred is the vibration of Thy presence above, below, and within. Give us this day the sustaining life of Thy joy, the cleansing power of Thy love, the guidance of Thy wisdom, and the healing power of Thy peace. Forgive us our forgetfulness of Thee as we forgive others who hurt us, and may our tests strengthen our resolve to seek Thee alone. I shun the false promises of material desires, for Thou art my life, my love, and the light and glory of all life forever and ever. Amen.

Jesus shows us as do many great saints, East and West, that praying to God in a personal form is both beautiful and powerful. Never mind that God is “infinite.” I can think of several saints who encourage us to put aside our definitions of God in favor of developing a personal relationship propelled and flavored by the fragrance of pure love.

Nonetheless, our prayers should rise to the heaven of God’s nature as joy or pure love, and not try always to pull God down to make our lives more comfortable or successful. We cannot help but pray for the relief of suffering of others and sometimes even ourselves, but the highest prayer seeks to know God who is our very Self, our nearest and dearest. “God knows what you need before you even ask.”

Swami Kriyananda, a direct disciple of Paramhansa Yogananda, describes in one of his many books (“Awaken to Superconsciousness”) that he makes it a rule for himself never to pray for himself. He admits that is not an expectation he has of anyone else. During his life, he experienced significant incidents of physical pain from operations and procedures. In the book mentioned, he tells of when he had a kidney stone attack. He could barely talk or move. After a time of intense pain, he recalled that he was scheduled to give the talk at the Sunday Service in a short while. He prayed to Divine Mother not for relief from the excruciating pain but to mention that if She wanted him to give the talk, She would have to make it possible for him to speak! The pain left him instantly. Ironically, he DID have trouble speaking as he was suffused with divine joy for the miraculous demonstration of Her love.

Unless we are significantly impersonal with respect to our own feelings, desires, and bodily compulsions, we would do better to relate to God in a more personal form.

Is God personal or impersonal?

In the ancient teachings of India, God has not only made this world but did so by BECOMING all things and endowing all creation with a spark of divine consciousness. After all, think about it: what else could God have made the universe out of except “Himself?” Divinity must, in some way, be present in every atom of creation even if well-hidden and deeply asleep.

The universe is God’s child and as such must contain, in varying degrees, elements of the nature of God’s impulse to have brought forth the creation in the first place: elements such as consciousness, the impulse to create, and choice. As the source of all created things is God’s consciousness, the greater the degree of self-awareness (consciousness), the greater one’s potential for creativity and choice. When awareness turns inward upon itself it has the potential to transcend the inherent limitations of form: including the human body and subtler aspects of human consciousness linked to the body: such as thoughts, emotions, memories, and imagination. When awareness turns inward to perceive its own nature it begins the return journey to the Consciousness out of which all things were born. Meditation is the art and science of consciousness.

In this return journey to God (as Consciousness), our perceptions become increasingly subtle and refined. We see this even in ourselves as we outgrow the toys of childhood and move increasingly through life with ever greater awareness and wisdom (hopefully). At the border of Infinity, we encounter stories such as that of Ramakrishna Paramhansa: he enjoyed a loving relationship with Divine Mother who appeared to him in vision and form but when his guru, Totapuri appeared in his life, Totapuri guided him to go beyond divine form into the formless bliss of God-consciousness.

We should be careful, however, not to grade God-consciousness as if we were the teacher. God is as much present IN forms as BEYOND forms. To one with “eyes to see” there is no difference. But we must also be careful not to imagine we are “one with the Father” in our present state! Tricky stuff, eh?

Yogananda said, “You will know when you will know.” “When this I shall die then shall I know who am I.”

Thus it is that Krishna encourages us to relate to God in the personal form. Responding to Arjuna’s question in the Bhagavad Gita comparing prayer to the impersonal Absolute to the personal form, Krishna states that “for embodied beings, the path of dedication to the Absolute is a more difficult way.”

Why be concerned if devotees extoll their love for Jesus or Krishna above all else? As Jesus said to the woman who washed his feet with her tears, “Her sins, which are many, are forgiven for she hath loved much.” God has everything; God IS everything; but God awaits our love.

May the light of Christ, the Infinite Consciousness, be with you always,

Swami Hrimananda


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