Can you talk a little bit about the science of prayer. Who do you pray to? Coming from a science background, I found it hard to pray to a”god “or deity. I’ve heard how prayer can be useful but I want it to be authentic for me
I like the Hindu term “bhava.” Bhava means something somewhat like a mood of the mind but also a state of consciousness.
In the devotional path of yoga, called Bhakti, the main vehicle to realize god is through prayer, singing, chanting, and other sorts of religious activities meant to facilitate total surrender of mind. In my experience, those on the Bhakti path are very prone to ecstasy and bliss.
Within the context of the Bhakti path, bhava is that indescribable mood of the divine. When you let go of your own mood, the mood of eternity fills you. You become like a hollow instrument through which the divine’s breath moves; the result is spontaneous and sweet music of the soul.
In some other religious traditions of prayer and worship, it is not only a form of the divine that is worshiped but also the distinction between human and divinity. That apparent distance between divine and self is itself a part of their worship–and also an illusion.
Whereas the emphasis in the Bhakti path is not about the separation of human and divinity but rather the surrendering of such walls that sit in the heart and mind.
Personally, also coming from a science background, I am discovering the importance of having elements in my sadhana and lifestyle that are entirely non-scientific. Science is a description, a damn good one. But if we live solely through what is describable, we miss out on that which is without and beyond description.
Maybe it could be said that there is a science to prayer but I have preferred to view it as the “art” of prayer. Art is about being evocative, about stirring something within you. It doesn’t have to make sense or conform to rules or ideas; all it has to do is move you.
I try not to overthink it when I pray. The use of words in prayer is a gimmick, like a hypnotist who uses a swinging pocket watch. It can be helpful but it’s not the point. When I pray, its purpose is threefold:
1. I pray for the peace, happiness, and liberation of all beings. This helps to reduce excessive self-cherishing and also reminds me that ultimately the happiness of all is intertwined. Additionally, when you pray for the wellbeing of all, you yourself are also included. It reduces the sense of separateness.
2. I empty myself through prayer. I let go of my preferences, my ideas, my beliefs, my perspectives, and my word-based mind. Instead, my attention shifts toward the livingness in/as consciousness. This is the beginning of surrender.
3. Mystery. Ultimately, this world and reality is not a knot to be untied or a puzzle to be solved. This shouldn’t stop us from our pursuits of knowledge and truth but we shouldn’t lose touch with the mystery and unknowable aspect of existence/spirit. That room for mystery is important, for it keeps us from getting locked inside of the mental boxes in which we are so accustomed to putting things.
“Prayer is not asking. It is a longing of the soul. It is better in prayer to have a heart without words than words without a heart.” ~ Gandhi
If you want to do art, you do stuff to get inspired and then you play around with art. You go for a walk, listen to music, let something strike you, and then you paint it, sing it, or whatever. You allow something to alight your heart and then you follow that light within.
You don’t “learn” to pray any more than an artist “learns” art. An artist drops their barriers and boundaries, exposing their heart and mind to influences and inspirations. Through experimentation and practice, they find their own voice. In prayer, it is very similar except that it is an introversion of mental attention to that which is more intimate to your existence than even your body and senses.
If this sounds similar to meditation it is because it is. At their highest “pitch,” prayer, meditation, and contemplation are indistinguishable. All roads leading up a mountain meet at its peak.
So play around with prayer and as weird as it sounds, fake it til you make it. Prayer can feel very insincere at first, the way a painting can suck at first go. But if you keep working it over, something gives way and the painting finally starts coming together.