True devotion is when you offer yourself to Life – in total surrender, willing to be led.
What is the best way to profit from prayer? I was recently asked this question. I have often thought about this too. Since we all talk of Return On Investment (ROI) on almost everything else that we invest ourselves, materially, in, why not talk of the ROI on prayer?
To be sure, I have tried several forms of prayer in my Life. Over time I concluded that chanting or performing a religious ritual was not something that gave me an immersive experience. Not to impugn those that find value in praying that way. It just didn’t work for me. Instead I found great value in conversations, that too in English, with a Higher Energy. So, when I would find some ‘me time’, I would pray to the Earth, the Moon, the Sun, the stars, Nature…and to any vision I held in my mind’s eye of this vast inscrutable cosmos. I know and believe that this Universe is powered by a Higher Energy that is far more intelligent and compassionate than all of us. So I always found myself at peace when I appealed to that Higher Energy.
Initially, as instilled in me by my father, as a way of praying at our native Bhagavathi shrine in Athipotta, in the Palakkad district of Kerala, I would simply say, “Show me the right way.” My father always used to say: “Don’t ask for anything material…just ask to be shown the right way.” As I evolved in understanding and awareness of the Higher Energy as not being something in a form, in a place, and instead learned that this Energy is a presence in each of us, around us, I simply added, “Show me the right way…you lead…I will follow.” So, I don’t necessarily go to a place of worship anymore to pray. I don’t follow rituals. And I believe religion, as it is preached and practiced today, interferes with simple, peaceful, intelligent living. I have learnt to pray to the Higher Energy I feel in me, around me, from wherever I am at a given moment.
Over the last several years when we have not known what to do in several contexts and situations, I have found this state of let go, this way of letting Life take over, incredibly peaceful. I have found that every time I surrendered to Life, I have been taken care of, provided for and hoisted up even as I have been stripped of everything material and may actually have been plunging into a dark abyss.
That’s really how, from my own personal experience, I have understood that prayer is not about a language. Nor is it about a ritual. Or about a religion. So it doesn’t matter if you recite Vishnu Sahasranamam or say namaaz five times daily or show up at a Sunday Mass or on the banks of the Ganges or at a Gurdwara. It is not about writing down Sri Rama Jayam or Sairam a million times alone. It is not about angapradakshinams (whole body, rolling-on-the-ground, perambulations of a place of worship) and observing fasts alone. It is not also about landing up to meditate for weeks at a Buddhist monastery up in the hills. Yes, you may do all of these, but if you are not immersed in your actions, if you are not emptying yourself, if you are not having an attitude of total surrender, of letting go, you will not feel peaceful within.
Devotion is what you feel when you are thirsting to learn, are humble enough to surrender, are willing to let go and are allowing yourself to be led. And, to me, true devotion is to be devoted to Life – who is the biggest teacher of them all – and therefore to living fully! I say so because I have found that Life always gives the test first and the lesson later. So every moment of this lifetime is a learning experience. When you are devoted to Life, to the experience of living fully, from moment to moment, you will find that all questions cease, and inner peace prevails. This is when you are soaked in abundance because you are in a total let go, and are nothing but grateful (which is why they say that ‘Thank You’ is the best prayer ever!) for whatever is! This is the most profitable, if you like, prayerful state ever! And the ROI, which is actually a Return On Immersion too, on this state – well, that’s a no-brainer, isn’t it?