THEOSOPHY, Vol. 50, No. 10, August, 1962
(Pages 459-464; Size: 17K)
(Number 2 of a 9-part series)





THERE is probably not a belief or practice in any of the world's creeds, however strange or even ridiculous it may appear, but has an element of truth at its core. And prayer evidently is no exception. What, then, may be the truth behind this ancient custom? Why has it persisted, in one form or another, throughout the ages? Is prayer only another name for meditation?

In its broadest definition, prayer may be thought of as a yearning, an ardent aspiration within the heart of man, to establish relationship with the Whole, of which he feels himself to be an indivisible part. It is an urge to transcend personal limitations, to become one's larger Self, and the urge takes many and various forms, according to the character, knowledge and wisdom of the aspirant.

Prayer, according to H. P. Blavatsky, has several meanings other than that given it by the Christians. It means not only a pleading or petition, but meant, in days of old, far more an invocation and incantation. It is a mystery rather; an occult process by which finite and conditioned thoughts and desires, unable to be assimilated by the absolute spirit which is unconditioned, are translated into spiritual wills and the will; such process being called "spiritual transmutation." The intensity of our ardent aspirations changes prayer into the "philosopher's stone," or that which transmutes lead into pure gold. The only homogeneous essence, our "will-prayer," becomes the active or creative force, producing effects according to our desire ... prayer is an occult process bringing about physical results ... Will-Power becomes a living power. But woe unto those would-be Occultists who, instead of crushing out the desires of the lower personal ego or physical man and saying, addressing their Higher Spiritual Ego immersed in Atma-Buddhic light, "Thy will be done, not mine," etc., send up waves of will-power for selfish or unholy purposes! For this is black magic, abomination, and spiritual sorcery. The only God we must recognize and pray to, or rather act in unison with, is that spirit of God of which our body is the temple, and in which it dwelleth. "Know ye not that ye are a temple of God, and that the spirit of God dwelleth in you?" (1 Cor. 3: 16.)

Prayer, then, if it is any good at all, is an invocation of the powers and potentialities of the Divine Spirit. Whether its rationale is understood or not, the invocation, if successful, calls down upon the natures of all those who participate, both upon the one who speaks (in the case of public prayer) and upon those who listen, the fructifying rays of the Central Spiritual Sun, or God. Have we considered what they may mean? Have we forgotten the old adage, found in one form or another in every religious scripture worthy of the name, that "God is no respecter of persons?"

Sunlight is power -- pure, impersonal, omnipotent -- and so is God-light. The forces of Spirit -- whether those emanating from the physical solar orb in the sky, or from the Central Spiritual Sun in heaven, which is God -- can as readily kill as cure. Foolish is the man who places himself and others indiscriminately under its colorless though powerful rays. When the farmer prays for rain, he is not foolish enough to suppose (even if he thinks he will get it) that it will fall only upon his land and not upon his neighbor's, however uncooperative or even wicked the neighbor may be. When he prays for good weather, he does not expect the impartial rays of the Sun to nourish only the corn in his field and not the weeds. What reason, then, has the conductor of group prayer to believe that he can call forth the rays of Divine Light only upon the good which is resident in the hearts and minds of all those present, and not upon the evil?

One reason, perhaps, why public prayer is not advocated in the Gospels is that the ordinary praying man is not wise enough to discern what lies latent in the minds and hearts of all those who participate. And if these hidden potentialities cannot be known, how can one afford to take upon one's self the responsibility for their intensification? Just as the rays of the morning sun cause to grow every seed, whether useful or poisonous, that lies waiting in the earth, so the rays of a "Divine Light," invoked through prayer, intensify and cause to grow all desires, loves, hates, ambitions and jealousies. Jesus evidently was not willing to assume responsibility of this kind, which, in all probability, was the reason he "went off to himself" to pray.

If one would know the part played by desire in prayer, let him read and try to understand Mark 11: 24-26, where it is stated that "what things soever ye desire, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them." The Master does not say, note well, that one will receive only the good things he desires, but "what things soever" -- be they good or bad! That such is the correct interpretation, Jesus straightway, in the next verse, warns that while praying one must forget all personal desires and antipathies, must stand interiorly in a forgiving attitude of mind, otherwise the Father in heaven will not forgive him. "And when ye stand praying, forgive, if ye have ought against any: that your Father also which is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses. But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father which is in heaven forgive your trespasses." What can this mean but that the power of the Creative Spirit, flowing down through the matrix of desire, will bring to pass in due time every good or evil thing thus envisioned? The Theosophist, supported by the words of Jesus, insists upon the dangers of prayer -- especially during Kali Yuga, when selfish thought and desire are the ruling characteristics of the age. If there is any truthful or logical way for the Christian to refute this position, the Theosophist would like to be shown it. Indeed, the theosophist holds that whenever a professed Christian denies that there is any danger in prayer he thereby sets up his judgment against that of Jesus, who must have known more about the matter than those who follow him. Desire is one of the most potent forces in the universe. Intensified by the power of the Spirit within, its potentialities for both good and evil are almost unlimited.

The pure man may conceivably offer up daily prayers for the whole of his lifetime, and experience therefrom nothing but apparent good -- at least so long as his purity remains. But how many individuals, in this age of trial and difficulty, can be certain of their future moral equanimity? Where is the man or woman whose virtues have all been put to test? Is the average man strong enough and philosophical enough, when strained relations arise, to soar interiorly above his troubled heart, and to view the situation impersonally -- with no feeling whatsoever of resentment? If this can be done, then he may succeed in escaping the danger aspect of prayer indefinitely. But woe to the praying individual who wishes another man ill, who says Amen to even an unexpressed feeling of revenge! For such is one of the most terrible of karmic sins, the consequences of which are sooner or later tragic. Unless a person can say "Thy will be done" and mean it, from the very depths of his heart, he had better leave prayer alone.

Also, one of the greatest dangers attendant upon prayer -- not even suspected, perhaps, by those ignorant of the laws of the occult universe -- is the power resident in the spoken word. "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God," said St. John. "The Word (Verbum) or the speech of every man is, quite unconsciously to himself, a BLESSING or a CURSE" -- certain words, according to the letters which compose them, possessing the most occult and formidable potencies. Students of this day, Christian or otherwise, seem to have little conception of the potentiality locked up in words, and in names.

Not only did Jesus refrain from praying before the multitudes, but in no single instance, at any place in the New Testament, did he pronounce the word Amen.(1) Why did he not use this word? Might it have been because Amen, like other ancient terms of mantramic quality, was held to be in occult correspondence with dynamic powers and potencies of the spiritual world? These forces, once awakened, were almost infinite in their potentialities. The Adepts of all ages have warned their disciples against pronouncing such words indiscriminately, especially when angry or after a fit of temper, lest they endanger not only their own lives but the lives of those they love.

Neither Buddha nor the Masters of Wisdom, from whom the present-day teachings of Theosophy emanated, advocated prayer of any kind for the masses. One reason for this position may be found in the view expressed by H. P. Blavatsky in The Key to Theosophy: that prayer as commonly understood and practiced "kills self-reliance." In all too many instances, prayer is instigated by the desire to escape responsibility, by the unwillingness on the part of individuals to face up to and resolve their difficulties. It is likely to be colored by the hope or "expectation" that a miracle of some sort may happen, thus releasing us from our problems -- the intent being, of course, that we may then be free to pursue our old mistaken courses without obstruction from the Law and without the necessary adjustments, on our own part, which the Law almost invariably decrees. Some of the motivating elements which usually attend prayer may be detected in the case, known to the writer, of a good and otherwise intelligent Christian who, as cashier of a small-town bank, attempted to resolve through this means a financial crisis through which the bank happened to be passing. God knew, he said, the bank's need for cash, if disaster was to be averted. He, as the responsible head, had done all that he could by way of prayer. Needless to say, the crisis ended only when this individual energized himself from within and mustered the courage necessary for facing his creditors in an honest, more manly spirit. "What men usually ask for when they pray to God," according to an old European proverb, "is that two and two may not make four."

Prayer is many things to many people. To the initiated Chela or disciple, it is synonymous, perhaps, with the Samadhi of the Hindus and Buddhists -- the road par excellence to union with the Divine Spirit, or God. To the good and pure man, of whatever faith, it may become a source of psychic balm and upliftment. For the vast majority, it may be only the feeling that we have been benefitted by the practice. It is so easy to say that things probably would not have turned out so well but for faithfulness in the daily ritual. Yet in how many instances has prayer to an outside, personal God been the chief cause for loss of self-reliance? And where lies the responsibility for those millions of former sincere Christians who, failing to obtain the help they sought in prayer, have turned their backs on religion as a whole, declaring it to be a waste of time? Is it possible, as suggested by H. P. Blavatsky, that the atheist is the bastard child of the church?

Theosophy has no dogma on prayer or on anything else. Theosophy, in fact, is not a system of dogmas, but of principles --and proceeding on the basis of principles, it holds that each individual owes it to his fellow men and to himself to become enlightened on subjects of common interest. Study of the sayings and practices of Jesus would seem to indicate that prayer, for the early Christian, had more than one meaning. Like meditation, it seems to have been of two sorts -- first, that prayer or meditation practiced at a set time, or an occasional one; and second, that of an entire lifetime, that single thread of intention, intentness, and desire running through the years stretching between the cradle and the grave. Of this second sort, both Jesus and St. Paul speak. "Watch ye therefore and pray always." (Luke 21:36.) "Pray without ceasing," said St. Paul in a letter to Timothy. (1 Tim. 4:5.) This latter, thread of lifetime aspiration, of devotion to an ideal, is the only form of prayer, according to Theosophy, that may be pursued by all men with both benefit and safety.

It was the view of the Founders of the present Theosophical Movement that prayer, as a particular rite or appeal, ought to be abandoned, and replaced by self-induced and self-devised exertions. Man's spiritual intuitions, if only they could be heard through the deafening roar of custom and tradition, would probably assure him that work, duty, and common sense are the highest form of prayer for the average man, and that morality and right living need no artificial aids. The ethics given by Jesus on the Mount, together with a knowledge of Karma and Reincarnation, provide all that is needed by way of moral and religious instruction for the masses of aspiring men. These verities, said H. P. Blavatsky, are pure Theosophy, the teaching and discipline of the Wisdom Religion from time immemorial. If studied and applied, they will lead to the highest goal. Buddha spent the whole of his lifetime teaching the majesty of this Law of Love and Righteousness. It is the same Law of sowing-and-reaping taught and exemplified by all the great religious founders -- that Law to which each one must answer, as St. Matthew says, for every word and thought, and from which none can escape either by prayer or favor or force or any other intermediary.

It seems clear from the foregoing that what Jesus meant by "prayer" was actually a communing with the Higher Self, an attempt to reach union with the "Father which is in heaven." There is no evidence that Jesus recommended the supplicatory prayer now customary "in His name." Buddha went even further, it seems, and overtly condemned this type of prayer. As poetically expressed by Sir Edwin Arnold in The Light of Asia, Buddha said:

Pray not! the darkness will not brighten! Ask
    Nought from the Silence, for it cannot speak!
Vex not your mournful minds with pious pains!
    Ah! Brothers, Sisters seek
Nought from the helpless gods by gift and hymn,
    Nor bribe with blood, nor feed with fruit and cakes!
Within yourselves deliverance must be sought;
    Each man his prison makes.
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(1) In the King James Version of the New Testament Jesus is quoted as saying Amen on two occasions (Matt. 6:13; 28:30), but in the Revised Standard Version (1953 ed.) this use was ruled out by the editors, after comparison with all ancient sources, as unauthentic.
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