The use of prayer

A recent post here offered a portion of a prayer from the Sufi master Ibn Arabi that asks for spiritual elevation and protection.  As Hazrat Inayat Khan points out in the volume, “The Unity of Religious Ideals,” there are different ways–or purposes–of prayer.  We may pray to offer thanks for all that we receive, or to ask forgiveness for our shortcomings, or to ask for our needs, for example; these purposes relate to our external life.  We may also pray in adoration of the immanence and to draw closer to the oneness of God, purposes which relate to the inner world.

The present day seeker, living in a time in which religion is commonly viewed with suspicion, might wonder if it is necessary to pray, especially concerning the outer aspects of life.  A commentator writing some three centuries ago enthusiastically claimed a long list of benefits for the one who recited Ibn Arabi’s prayer sincerely and regularly, including freedom from robbery, shipwreck, drowning, snakebite, blindness, broken bones, neuralgia and many other difficulties.  If those are really the possible benefits of prayer, why would we not pray constantly?  And if there are no such benefits, then why should we pray art all?

The spiritual seeker might think of prayer as a form of intimate dialogue between the outer self and the inner Reality; by engaging in this dialogue, we begin to turn from our wandering dreams of the external world to the awakened clarity of the world within.  To accomplish this turning, we need to become conscious of a link between the outer and the inner, and this comes from the first three ways of prayer, of thanksgiving, of recognising our faults, and asking for help.  We must understand, though, that in asking for our needs, the first help comes from within.  A thoughtful person will easily recognise that very often it is we ourselves who are our worst enemy–our behaviours, our selfishness, our lack of wisdom can cause far more difficulty for us than other factors in life.  Through prayer, though, we can in time turn that enemy into a friend.  It does not mean that we will live forever in perfect health and without any hardships–not in the outer world, for that is a place of change and limitation.  But by means of prayer, we can begin to glimpse that perfection to be found within.

Therefore we need not believe that our prayers will save us from the stings of scorpions; if we can be rescued from the sting of “me” and ‘mine” it will be sufficient blessing, not only for ourselves, but also for those around us.

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