Link back to index.html
Prayer By Dr.Tan Kheng Khoowww.kktanhp.com.
“The root of prayer is interior silence. We may think of prayer as thoughts or feelings expressed in words, but this is only one expression. Deep prayer is the laying aside of thoughts. It is the opening of mind and heart, body and feelings---our whole being---to God, the Ultimate Mystery, beyond word, thoughts and emotions.”
“I give you my word, if you are ready to believe that you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer, it shall be done for you.”
“Everyone prays in his own language, and there is no language that God does not understand.”
Christians and Muslims pray, whilst Hindus and Buddhists meditate. Superficially these two practices are different, but deep down the respective mystics of these religions inevitably would end up in the same void, the ground of Being or the Soul. The Soul here is used synonymously as the Atman or Buddha Nature. All these three names are interchangeable and also change from moment to moment. Similarly, in this essay the word God is used interchangeably with Buddha, Kuan Yin, Krishna, Allah, Godhead, Brahman, the Tao or the Absolute as higher authority. The Absolute being fairly neutral will be used in this essay. The Oxford Dictionary defines prayer as “a solemn and humble request to God, or to an object of worship; a supplication, petition, or thanksgiving, usually expressed in words.” Christians would pray to God, Jesus, Virgin Mary, the Pope etc. The Eastern worshippers would pray to Buddha, Kuan Yin, the Dalai Lama and all sorts of Deities, e.g. the God of Rain, the Wind God, Krishna, Ganesh or Vishnu etc. Cult worshippers would pray to their cult leaders. All told, they would pray to a higher authority, which they think that could fulfil their requests.
There is quite a confusion in the terms for meditation and prayer between the religions. In Christian monastic tradition, four words are used: lectio divina, meditatio, oratio, and contemplatio. Lectio divina is the listening or the reading of the sacred scriptures or Psalms or simply the Word of Truth, the Way and the Life. There was a time when most of the monks or Christian community cannot read. So these Words or texts of Revelation were read to the monks or community. By meditatio it means here more of a discursive type of prayer, the subject of which is some facet of life or a point in the scriptures. Simultaneously, one must also be aware of one’s own response so that one can guide one’s future conduct accordingly. The ‘word’ here means a phrase, which is repeated over and over again with one’s lips. This process is to interiorise the phrase until one has totally assimilated it, and how the whole being responds to this phrase. In this way, one changes the notional knowing of the words of revelation into total and implicit understanding of the word or phrase: from notional assent to real assent. In oratio, the words of revelation means revealing God and the response is to pray. This prayer grows with illuminating grace. The moment of light and illumination expands until it becomes continuous at all times. This Reality is so real that the whole being must say ‘yes’. This is contemplatio. This is a gift of light from God and one has no choice but to receive it with open arms. In the last stages of Christian contemplation, one’s mental and emotional faculties are all suspended. One is hopelessly at the receiving end of God’s immense wisdom. The only problem here is that when the individual awakens from the trance, the divine knowledge is ineffable.
So in Christian meditation it is discursive thought over a religious point or a facet of life. In contrast, the one-pointed concentration of Hindu and Buddhist meditation finally ends in one thought, and that is the object of meditation, e.g. breath or mantra. Christian contemplation usually means emptying of one’s mind from all thoughts and worries of the mundane world so that the rays from God can penetrate the Cloud of Unknowing into the subject’s soul. At this juncture, the individual must be totally empty of all thoughts and emotions i.e. void. The stages of contemplation are actually descending deeper and deeper into the layers of emptiness into the ground of Being, which is the Soul. This is identical to the Buddhist Vipassana meditation of mindfulness and Shikantaza of Zen. Vipassana empties the mind by watching the thoughts until they disappear. Thoughts mean pictures and mental chatter. This emptiness will have to deepen layer after layer until one’s consciousness arrives at the Void, the ground of Being--- Buddha Nature! This is the same arena as the Christian Soul. Buddha Nature or Soul changes every moment. Every soul is interconnected.
The Absolute includes every soul, animal, vegetable and mineral. There is a spark of divinity in the above four varieties of existences. They exist as consciousness. The Absolute is composed of all consciousnesses whether visible or invisible. There is nothing outside It. Everything, material or immaterial, is included in the One, without a second. All consciousnesses are interconnected and all are part of the Absolute. That means every human being has a spark of divinity (God) in him or her. It is situated in our heart chakra (chest). Therefore the highest form of eastern meditation or Christian contemplation, is to descend into the heart. This accounts for the Christian saying, Prayer of the Heart. Similarly, in Buddhist meditation, after achieving emptiness in the mind, one must descend down to the heart so as to disperse the emptiness into the Void! So the meditator or the pray-er must first arrive at the soul level of the ground of Being. It is at this point that the Absolute takes over with grace as all souls are part of the Absolute. The individual soul is already powerless: he has no more faculties at his command. The Absolute (God) then starts to infuse his love and wisdom into that soul. The Buddhist mystic undergoes the same process. He calls the Absolute the Source.
Besides the confusion of terms as seen above, very popular books have been published and read for the wrong reasons. One of them is ‘ Centering Prayer’. This book has sold more than a quarter million copies. It is a renewing of an Ancient Christian Prayer Form. It is a simplification of the practice outlined in the Cloud of Unknowing. It is renewed by M. Basil Pennington. This prayer is actually a meditation and is very akin to Transcendental Meditation. It is composed of three simple steps:
1. Relax comfortably in a chair with your eyes shut.
2. Choose a sacred word relating to God, love or Jesus. Hold on to the word as a Love and surrender to God in your consciousness.
3. Whenever you become aware of any sound, emotion or thought, gently return to the prayer word.
4. After 20 minutes in this prayer, remain in silence with eyes shut for a couple more minutes.
There is a question about this Centering Prayer (CP) being the same as TM of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. The answer is that TM uses a meaningless mantra throughout the meditation, whilst CP brings out the prayer word of love only when distracted. TM can be invested with other religions at the ground of being, but CP must be true to Christianity. These differences appear rather flimsy, as the techniques are almost identical. In fact, John Main re-introduced it with a mantra as an effortless type of prayer-meditation. He chooses a sound-word, which is easy to let go during the meditation. He chose the mantra, maranatha, to be repeated throughout the whole period of his meditation. This differs from CP in that the word in CP is only brought out when distraction appears. My main contention here is that CP is actually a meditation exercise as in the eastern religious context and not a prayer.
Now what about formal prayer itself? Why do we pray? How do we pray? And when do we pray?
Why do we pray?
More than 90% of people in the East and West pray because they need help. They need material things. They are at a loss as to what to do with a problem. They are in dire straits and no friends or relatives can assist them. They may be aspiring to a higher position or station. They want a promotion in their job. A bigger house is required. He or she is interested in someone in the opposite sex. One can go on and on ad nauseam. So most prayers are of the petitionary type. Then there are prayers to solve personal or other people’s problems. These include asking for healing measures to self or to loved ones. One suddenly starts to pray again when one has been given an ominous diagnosis by the doctor. Other types are to keep loved ones in safety as in times of war or during national epidemics. Then there are prayers of thanks and gratitude. Quite a few would just like to have a conversation with God.
This habit of praying for help stems from the time when we were young children. A family that prays together would perpetuate such practices. Most families pray to their respective Gods, Deities, Buddha, Kuan Yin, Krishna, Vishnu etc. This habit of the parents dies hard. Prayer suddenly is remembered when times are hard and when one is in desperation, especially at a time when the bank manager has turned one down for a desperately needed loan.
Of course, the highest form of prayer is towards the union with God (Absolute), but this form of spiritual practice is only expected from a very small percentage of people, e.g. the Christian monks. The prayer is in the third stage, called oratio. After the first two stages of lectio and meditatio, oratio or prayer is actually a joyful response to the revelation of the Word of Life. This prayer is done with gratitude and love, because the monk has encountered Reality in his spiritual practice and this assent deepens into the revelation of the Absolute and Its Love. In the same token, although the Buddhist embarks on his journey of meditation, he has also arrived at the ground of Being, the Void. Both have arrived at the same place of the Void and emptiness. Both are helpless with their faculties suppressed. Both are being infused with grace, love and wisdom of the Absolute. So it is a matter of semantics. One is praying and the other meditating!
How do we pray?
For those who have been brought up in a praying family, there is no problem. Most of these would recite the Lord’s Prayer by rote every night before sleep. This is like taking a blanket insurance with not much wisdom and insight in the matter. The individual believes he has performed his duty and feels content about it. In spite of this insurance, things still do go wrong. So what to do? The form of prayer must change. Go to a priest or someone for specialist help. Anybody, who is ardent about getting a result from a prayer, must pray not with the mind and voice alone. It must be from the heart. One must pray humbly from the heart like a child. Prayer after all is to make contact with the Absolute. It is the service of the heart. We must, as a child, talk to the Absolute, and listen to Him. In this heartfelt prayer, gratitude must be included, as if one’s prayer has already been answered. We don’t have to know how it is answered. Just know that you have given the most powerful and ardent plea of your case in this emergency. St. John Vianney says ‘in mental prayer, shut your eyes, shut your mouth, and open your heart.’ Use short sentences from the bottom of your heart and soul. With sincerity surrender totally to the Absolute. With absolute humility, pour out everything as if your life depends on it. Do not camouflage your feelings. Know and feel that you are nothing and nobody. That is why we go on our knees to pray.
Now all this outpouring can only be done if one is silent.
Be still and know that I am God is a quotation from the bible.
The best is to pray in total silence. Internal silence is more important than external silence, which is sometimes beyond our control. Therefore, one should shut oneself alone in a quiet room. Kneel down beside a bed or a chair with clasping hands. Shut the eyes, the ears, the mouth and the mind. With silence in the heart God speaks as a little small voice. Thomas Merton has put it nicely:
‘The solitary life is above all a life of prayer. We do not pray for the sake of praying, but for the sake of being heard. We do not pray in order to listen to ourselves praying but in order that God may hear us and answer us. Also, we do not pray in order to receive any answer: it must be God’s answer.’ He continues: ‘The solitary, being a man of prayer, will come to know God by knowing that his prayer is always answered. From there he can go on, if God wills, to contemplation.’ Thomas Merton has brought out the quintessence of silence in his book, Thoughts in Solitude.
Mother Teresa says: ‘Listen in silence, because if your heart is full of other things you cannot hear the voice of God. But when you have listened to the voice of God in the stillness of your heart, then your heart is filled with God.’ She further suggests that after God has spoken, one’s heart is filled with God, love and compassion and faith, then one’s mouth can speak, i.e. pray verbally. In between formal prayers, one must also spend time to withdraw and be alone with God, to be silent, empty, expectant and motionless.
After this stage of oratio, prayer, then we can proceed to contemplation, the real prayer. Contemplation will then bring us to union with God. In the Buddhist sense, the individual having arrived at the stage of Void will now be able to merge with the Source or the Absolute. This is final stage of Vipassana and Shikantaza.
This is so especially for those who are in dire straits. There must be an earnestness and desperation without hysteria. However, the following story illustrates this point cogently:
The Japanese Zen master Soen Nakagawa Roshi once had a student who was an American Jesuit priest. At their first formal interview of a seven-day retreat, Soen Roshi gave the Jesuit priest as his Koan, “What were Jesus Christ’s last words on the cross?” The Jesuit priest immediately replied, incredulously but matter-of-factly, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Soen Roshi promptly rang his bell and said, “No”. The priest left disconcerted.
For six days, the priest gave the same response and Soen Roshi each time rejected it. By the seventh day, the priest was completely frustrated and dumbfounded. At the last interview, he pleaded to have the answer to put him out of his misery. Soen Roshi compassionately complied in a most startling manner. Suddenly, the priest saw Soen Roshi become Jesus Christ on the cross, arms agonizingly outstretched, head thrown back in pure despair, the very embodiment of crucifixion, and heard him howl with the full force of his being-----MY GOD, MY GOD WHY HAVE YOU FORSAKEN ME!
This is a story in an article called, ‘Prayer by Zen’, written by Lou Nordstrom. It is featured in a book called the Power of Prayer, edited by Dale Salwak.
The story illustrates very well the essence of praying earnestly and in desperation. One does not have to be so dramatic as Soen Roshi. A comparative case would be a wife, who is praying for healing from God, as her husband, the sole breadwinner, has just been diagnosed to have terminal cancer. It has to be an ejaculatory prayer of anguish and desperation.
We can pray anytime, anywhere. Normally, a good Christian would pray before bedtime as an overall insurance. A Christian family would in addition, pray before meals. A desperate person would pray more often. However, St. Paul suggested to the Thessalonians in his first letter to “Pray constantly”. Did he mean to pray in Spirit on every possible occasion? A simple Russian peasant tells the story of his life in finding out what is the meaning of ‘Pray constantly.’ This popular book is called ‘The Way of a Pilgrim’. His first teacher was a village gentleman who told him: “Ceaseless interior prayer is a continuous aspiration and a yearning of the spirit of man toward God. To succeed in this sweet exercise it is necessary to ask God frequently that He teach you to pray continuously. It takes time.” After trying very hard for some time, he is no nearer to his quest. So he traveled more until he came across a book called the Philokalia, which contains complete and detailed instructions about ceaseless prayer. In it the book says: ‘Sit alone and in silence; bow your head and close your eyes; relax your breathing and with your imagination look into your heart; direct your thoughts from your head into your heart. And while inhaling say, “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me,” either softly with your lips or in your mind. Endeavour to fight distractions but be patient and peaceful and repeat this process frequently.’ This is ceaseless interior prayer taught to him by a reverent Father in a hermitage. The pilgrim went to the reverent Father many times in order that the prayer enters into the interior of his heart. He was told to repeat this short line from 3,000 to 12,000 times and more per day. So much so that he was found to be reciting this prayer every moment of his waking hours. While reciting this ‘Jesus Prayer’ all distractions, mental or otherwise must be subdued. This is identical to what Buddha taught his disciples 2500 years ago. He gave each of his monks a word or phrase like metta (loving-kindness), Buddho (the enlightened one) or annica, dukka, anatta (impermanence, suffering, and selflessness). That monk has to repeat the word or phrase throughout the day or week, stopping only when he is carrying out a conversation or eating his meals. On both counts it is ceaseless prayer. The purpose of this exercise is for the pilgrim or the monk to return to his source (Absolute). Although the religious texts superficially differ a great deal in their contents and context, the spiritual practices of their mystics do approximate in their paths. So to answer the question of when or how often do you pray, the answer is as often as you can and in the ultimate practice it is ceaseless or in the Buddhist teaching from moment-to-moment.
Take 3 to 4 minutes to relax the whole body. Now come to the mind by paying attention to the third eye at the forehead. There are many thoughts there. Remove them by visualizing a situation or a scene you would like to achieve, like signing of a contract and shaking the hand of your future partner. Hold on to this scene as long as you can, the longer the better. Good concentration is required. That means an experienced meditator has an advantage. What is needed then is the ability to visualize with a good imagination and strong concentration. A small project may need only a few sessions, and a complex or difficult one may need a hundred creative meditations. The Rosicrucians believe that humans have the ability to create things in the material plane. Of course, after these meditative prayers we must also work physically and mentally towards the goal that we are aiming for.
In summary, we must learn how to pray and spend great effort in praying and yet some teachers insist that it is a gift from God or the Absolute. Although most prayers are petitions or intercessions on behalf of others, gratitude and thanks must be included in all prayers. Some people reckon that to pray is to be weak, and yet if one calls it meditation it is all right. Although many people have had answers to their prayers and yet some do not. The outcome obviously is dependent on one’s character, way of life and most importantly G-plan. G-plan includes karma. If it were against one’s G-plan or Tao, the prayer would not be fulfilled. Of course the Absolute knows about your problems even before you pray, and some people believe that it is God that brings you to pray. If you are a Christian monk practicing oratio and contemplatio or a Buddhist meditator practicing Vipassana, the necessity to pray is obviated to some extent. The conscious mind superficially cannot read one’s own G-plan, but one’s own unconscious is cognizant of one’s own G-plan as it is inscribed in the DNA. Therefore, one would know whether one’s prayers would be positive or not. Having an inclination that it will be negative, one would not even try praying. Thus far we have been discussing about mental and vocal prayer, but the ideal is prayer from the heart.
Let us expand the meaning of prayer to a much larger context. This section would have to include practices like chanting, affirmations, reading of sacred texts, sacred music, praying dancing, rituals, etc.
Meditations of the eastern religions must be considered as the highest forms of prayer. These are raja yoga of Hinduism, Vipassana of Theravada Buddhism, Shikantaza of Zen and Tibetan Dzogchen. These meditations all end up in the Void.
The soul is dyed the colour of thoughts said Heraclitis. However one cannot reach enlightenment or union with God with only affirmations. These are statements of aspirations in the mind conditioning therapy to be repeated as often as one is able. As an example, Dr. Emile Coue in the 1970’s invented this phrase: “Every day in every way I am getting better and better.” Some of the prayers in religions were originally affirmations but degenerate to rituals of supplication directed to some outside higher authority. Looking at it in another way, it is a dialogue between self and Self. ‘I am beautiful, I am wonderful and I radiate perfect health!’ If you repeat this affirmation often enough, you will come to believe it to be true.
The body has been taken as the temple of God. The most popular form of this prayer is “yoga.” Hatha yoga is one of the five yogas of Hindu spiritual practice. The physical exercises involved postures, breath control, stretching and meditation. Watching an accomplished yoga exercise leaves no doubt to the observer that it is a body prayer. In addition there are also mudras which depict hands and finger postures in meditation which cannot be interpreted as anything else except praying. This is yoking or reconnecting to God.
Chants are said to be raising our voices to God. According to Robert Gass in his book, “Chanting”: “Chant is singing our prayers. Chant is vocal meditation. Chant is the breath made audible in tone. Chant is ‘discovering’ Spirit in sound.” We have been chanting for thousand of years. It ranges from the melodic Christian chants to the Tibetan Buddhist monotone and from the Rhythmic African chants to the Jewish Liturgical ones. In the mid-1990s, the Gregorian chants have been revived to top the music charts. Buddhists and Hindus have been using the sacred word ‘OM’ as a seed syllable of created existence. Lately Buddhists and nuns have been making the singing of sutras as a great enticement to the Buddhist religion. They are set to music of delicate tunes. The main purpose of these chants is to vibrate the body and mind upward to spiritual realms.
Many cultures have experienced many different forms of guides. All of them can be subdivided into these major categories: ancestors or dead relatives, masters and teachers, animals, angels and spirit guides. The last include soul mates that are discarnate and we may be their guides when we die. They are not to be worshipped, but are there to guide us to go along our G-plan. Some people can contact their guides through means like meditation, intuition or question in prayers. They may then receive answers through different ways of meditation, automatic writing and dreams.
Praying-Walking and Walking Meditation
On Prayer-Walking, Linus Mundy says: “It is an exercise that considers and serves every part of the human being, the mind, the body, the spirit (or soul). It is prayer–exercise that makes it possible for us to look inside and outside of ourselves simultaneously.” While walking one does the usual prayer at the same time.
All Buddhist monks and serious Buddhist must practise walking meditation. This is an exercise in mindfulness. Total attention is placed on the walking without any extraneous thoughts. The awareness is mainly on the placing of the feet on a straight, short path. One should not coincide the breath with the movement of the feet.
Using beads for praying originated with the Hindus. They use a string of 108 beads to count their mantras. This method has been taken up by most Buddhists in Tibet, China and Japan, who also use 108 beads. These are called malas by these two religions. They are made of sandalwood, seeds, or inlaid animal bone. In the past, the inlaid bones were from the skeletons of holy men, but now they are made of turquoise, coral and yak bone. However, the Burmese use 72 black-lacquered beads. The Muslims use 33 or 99 beads, representing the 99 names of Allah found in the Koran.
The Catholic rosary (usually made up of coloured glass or plastic or olive wood beads) originated in the sixth century for praying of the 150 psalms of the Bible. These beads are used to count the 150 Paters (“Our Fathers) once a week and these 150 beads became known as Paternoster. Thomas of Contimpre was the first to call them rosary after Virgin Mary visited St. Dominic in a rose garden (rosarium). It is not a coincidence that the word bead comes from the Anglo-Saxon bidden meaning to pray and bede meaning prayer. Besides the calming and tranquillising effect of the beads, they are predominantly there to ground us to the significance of the prayer we are reciting. This is touching of the holy practised by all religions in the world, except by Judaism.
Sacred dance practised as an ancient rite in the worship of God is almost universal. It originated in Greek temples, Egyptian rituals and Judaism and early Christianity. It is just as common in the East. In Hinduism, Shiva is a dancing God who helps the individual to release the soul from illusion, as it represents the rhythm of the cosmos. In Japan, the Kabuki Dance Drama was launched by a shrine maiden in the 1600s. Again this is of religious origin.
Amongst the peasant and tribal population, they perform the sacred dance for supplication for rain etc. It is also performed as thanksgiving for successful harvests and hunts. The Sioux Sun Dance held each year is a thanksgiving celebration to the Great Spirit. Finally, the Muslim Sufi dancing with its associated dervish whirls may end up in a trance of Samadhi. It is a religious act capable of converting the brain waves from alpha to theta waves. Its teachers believe that with the rhythmic and physical movements, the dancer may end up in communion with the Divine. The viewers of the dance may even be healed of their illnesses. The essence is they are not dancing the dance, but are being danced by the dance. In practice, it is whirling the ego out of the body so that spirit may occupy the twirling body. This dancing prayer with music is an ecstatic practice towards the union with the Divine.
All religions use rituals, whether with their prayers or not. Some Buddhist sects, Hindus praying to their deities, Christian priests, African shamans, Taoists etc use rituals. The author of School of Kabbalah, Z’ev ben Shimon Halevi, said “ The essence of ritual is that something done in the physical realm is related to the higher worlds. This may be a simple gesture of the hand or an elaborate ceremony. It can be working consciously in everyday life, so that quite mundane actions become full of meaning, or a carefully designed ritual acted out for a specific occasion…Ritual is the mode for formalising action and giving it not only meaning, but creating a contact with other worlds.” Ritual when used as a prayer practice infuses a sense of the sacred when not performed by rote. With awareness it brings us nearer to a relationship with the Absolute. The trick with ritual is to remember the intention and be inspired by the myth. With intuition, ensure that the ritual harms nobody but benefits all. Keep it simple and be balanced. Be in touch with your feelings. Honour the power of the words and keep the imagination alive. These are the guidelines given by Rene Beck and Sydney Barbara Metrick, authors of The Art of Ritual. There are no rights or wrongs in ritual. If performed with intensity and in detail, one should be transformed. Do not be an automaton when acting out the ritual. So ritual can be taken as a form of prayer, as it takes you out of the present time and place.
There is a book called “The Way We Pray” by Maggie Oman Shannon in which a comprehensive account of praying practices around the world is written up. There are many more practices then what are written in this article. If the reader is interested please consult the book.
What are the results of prayer?
Larry Dossey, M.D., extensively explores the answer to this question in his books. As prayer is so ubiquitous throughout the world statistics are difficult to come by solely on prayer. So the author utilised researches on healing with regards to medical benefits. Distant healing is treated as distant prayer: in fact there is no difference as the mechanism is the same. Publications quoted in his books are all of high quality and are published in medical and psychological journals. That means they are to be trusted.
1. “Healing Research” is a book written by Daniel J. Benor in 1993. In it his definition of healing (and prayer) is ‘intentional influence of one or more people upon another living system without utilising known physical means of intervention’. His findings are:
· Researchers have performed 131 controlled trials: 56 of these showed statistically significant results at a level of < .01 or better (i.e. the likelihood that the results were due to chance was less than 1 in 100); 21 studies demonstrate results at a probability level of .02 to .05 (i.e. the likelihood that the results were due to chance was between 2 and 5 chances in 100).
· All the above means that it is very unlikely that the positive results are due to chance. They are due to prayer or distant healing.
· These experiments deal with healing (prayer) effects on enzymes, cells, yeasts, bacteria, plants, animals and human beings.
2. Jeffrey S Levine, Ph.D., an epidemiologist at Eastern Virginia Medical School, investigated the local effects of prayer and religious practices. He has uncovered over 250 empirical studies published in the epidemiologic and medical literature since the 19th century in which spiritual or religious practices have been statistically associated with particular health outcomes. Positive effects for both morbidity and mortality have been found for cardiovascular disease, hypertension, stroke, and nearly every type of cancer, colitis and enteritis. These findings hold regardless of how spirituality is defined and measured, whether according to beliefs, behaviours, attitudes, experiences, and so forth. Over two dozen studies demonstrate the health-promoting effects of simply attending church or synagogue on a regular basis. These benefits have been found to be widely distributed, appearing in studies of all races and in different religions. Levine wants more investigation into why, what and how spiritual factors consistently reduce suffering and curing the sick.
3. NIH physician-researcher David B. Larson and Susan S. Larson surveyed 12 years of publication of the American Journal of Psychiatry and Archives of General Psychiatry. They found that, when measuring participation in religious ceremony, social support, prayer, and relationship with God, 92 % of the studies showed benefit for mental health, 4% were neutral, and 4% showed harm.
4. F.C. Craigie and his colleagues, in a 1990 review of 10 years of publication of the Journal of Family Practice, found similar findings for physical health: 83% showed benefit, 17% were neutral, and none showed harm.
5. Larry Dossey, M.D. discovered that there were more than 130 scientific studies in the general area of “healing” many of which employ prayer. Over half of these experiments strongly indicate prayer works. Science has more or less agreed that prayer works but does not know how it works. Intercessory, distant prayer also works without the knowledge of the recipient. Therefore it is not a placebo effect.
From the above evidence, one is pretty sure that prayer works, although not 100%. Neither do drugs and surgery work 100%. Another interesting feature of distant prayer is that it is nonlocal, meaning that information exists everywhere all at once. This follows Bell’s theorem: if distant objects have once been in contact, a change thereafter in one causes an immediate change in the other---no matter how far apart they are. The 3 characteristics of nonlocal events are 1) unmediated (the distant changes do not depend on the transmission of the energy or any sort of energetic signal); 2) unmitigated (the strength of the changes does not become weaker with increasing distance); and 3) immediate (the distant changes take place simultaneously). Nonlocal prayer therefore works under the same rules as other psychic phenomena: clairvoyance, telepathy, psychokinesis and distant healing. In all these quantum phenomena, no energy is transmitted. It happens all at once. Quantum theory does not explain the ‘how’, but we know that love, empathy and compassion are essential ingredients for the execution of the prayer.
Is there such a thing as negative (black) prayer?
In a 1994 Gallup poll found that 5% of Americans prayed for harm to come to others. This is a self-confessed figure. Therefore, there should be more than 5% in the general population. Larry Dossey even wrote a book about it: “Be Careful What You Pray For… You Just Might Get It.” In this book he comprehensively investigated into this phenomenon. He lumped negative prayer with hexes, curses and all forms of negative thoughts towards others. Hex means to bewitch, to cause adversity or malediction. That means when you mutter a soft curse or have a black wish against someone else, you have executed a negative prayer. Even if you exclaim a comment like, ‘he ought to be shot!’ or ‘damn him!’ it is a black prayer. Very rarely a very good friend who is an alcoholic would ring you up at 3 am, wakening you up and you may mutter an expletive like ‘go to hell’. This is a black prayer. An exasperating swearing of the driver in front of you in a traffic jam is also a negative prayer. A consummate distant healer can in the same token activate a negative distant hex. It works both ways. When one prays for a football team, one is making a negative prayer against the other team. Similarly, in praying for one’s daughter to top the class, one is also praying against all the other girls in the class.
In the bible, Elisha caused 42 children to be devoured by bears for making fun of his baldness (Kings 2; 23—24). Paul struck a sorcerer blind (Acts 13:11). And even Christ blasted an apparently innocent fig tree for not bearing fruit (Mathew 21:19, Mark 11:13—14). The Hindu marana, which is one of the 6 siddhis, is a death prayer. Marana can bring on a death of an enemy through mental means. In the Hawaiian Islands, the native shamans, the kahunas, practice ana-ana, the “death prayer”. These kahunas can kill a person from afar with mental intent. If one were to delve into the literature, one will be able to dig out many more primitive methods of negative prayers. Voodoo curses are not black prayers as such, because the victim has to be told that a curse has been levied on him and psychology will do the rest.
Protection against negative prayers
Can we protect ourselves against these black prayers? The answer is yes. We are born already immunised against these curses and maledictions; otherwise life is not sustainable. It is like the normal immunity we received from our mothers when we were born. Further the person trying to bewitch us is quite often inept and their curses do not work most of the time. Some of the curses may also backfire on the perpetrator. Lastly, in our daily prayers, we can also protect ourselves as in white lighting.
What is prayer and how does it work?
The word prayer comes from the Latin precarius, “obtained by begging,” and precari, “to entreat”----- to ask earnestly, beseech, implore. This covers the 2 commonest forms of prayer: petition and intercession. The former is to ask for oneself and the other is to ask for someone else. Then there are prayers of confession, the repentance for wrongdoing and the asking for forgiveness, lamentation, adoration, invocation and thanksgiving. Most cults and religious sects invoke their masters, deities or the Absolute. Prayer can be performed in private or public. It can be individual or communal. It can be in words, signs, gestures or silence. Although most prayers are carried out consciously, it may be performed subconsciously or unconsciously in our dreams.
Those who pray are generally happier and healthier. Research has confirmed this fact. If the prayers belong to a religion it is even better. Research has also found that these happy people who pray have 4 characteristics:
1. They like themselves and they have high self-esteem.
2. They have a sense of self-control over their lives, their situations and their health.
3. They are optimistic.
4. They are generally outgoing and not focused on themselves.
The above fall into the innate nature of humans: to obtain ultimate perpetual happiness by getting enlightenment or union with God.
How does prayer work?
The common concept of prayer involves the pray-er, the person who is prayed on and the Absolute or God. The whole process embraces all the three, the intermediary being the Absolute.
Prayer and healing
Most studies equate intercessory prayer with healing. Healers also insist that they should be armed with love, empathy and compassion for healing to work. These are the same qualities required by prayers. When a healer focuses on a patient, a two-way traffic is established. The healer knows the patient’s wants and he provides the healing energy or prayer to that end. When a patient knows he is being prayed for he gets well faster.
One can use a directed method or a nondirected prayer. A directed prayer means one prays to heal the cancer or heart problem, telling the Absolute what to do. The nondirected method is to leave it to the Absolute carte blanche with instructions like, ‘Thy will be done.’ It is an open-ended approach. The Spindrift organisation in Salem, U.S.A., which has been showing that prayer works in laboratory research for a decade, says that both methods work, but the nondirected prayer works better. So when a healer does not visualise or strive to cure a certain disease, and his mind and emotions should be as empty as possible, the success rate increases. That means the healer does better if he ascends to a higher realm without desire.
According to the Chinese, qi is the animating energy that enlivens an individual When he dies no more qi is circulating in his body. A person who is healthy has more qi than one who is sick. A person that is getting old will be reducing his qi as he ages. Health is more than an abundance of qi. Good health means that the qi is clear and not polluted or turbid; also the qi is not blocked or stagnant. This is internal qi. There is also external qi, which is the same as prana or vital force in the surrounding atmosphere. This external qi is constantly absorbed by the body for revitalisation. This replaces the used polluted internal qi, as the lung replaces carbon dioxide with oxygen. So in healing as in prayer, the healer can use the external qi to heal the patient. The moment he contacts the patient the external qi goes through the healer and then this is passed on to the patient. This can be done through either bodily contact or visualisation with distant healing. The other method is for the healer to pass on his own internal qi directly to the patient. This method is predominantly carried out by contact healing. The first method utilising external qi is much better, as the healer is not exhausted of his own qi. This emitted external qi shows up in the laboratory as low levels of photon emission, infrared light and magnetic fields and infrasound emissions. The healing by qi can also have positive as well as negative outcome.
What happens when a prayer or healing is initiated?
The patient or recipient of the prayer immediately gets healed or improved even though they are thousands of miles apart. Larry Dossey invented a term for this----nonlocal mind in 1989 in his book, Recovering the Soul. This concept theorises “that consciousness cannot be completely localised or confined to specific points in space, such as brains or bodies, or to discrete points in time, such as the present moment.” A nonlocal mind works through the brain and body without being limited to them. This theory suggests that there is no energy sent out to the patient, because if it is energy, the effect would take time and it gets weaker the further the patient is away from the healer. Researchers have now established that the human brain is capable of establishing close relationships with other brains and may sustain such an interaction even at a distance. Bell’s theorem concerns subatomic particles, but recent scientists have found that it can happen too humans as well, especially if there is previous, reciprocal, emotional establishment.
Emerging theories now are suggesting that consciousness is the fundamental, causal factor in the universe, and consciousness is not confined to the brain, body or the present time. Consciousness is present in everything in the universe including mineral, vegetable, animal and humans. It is also present in the air. This explains the nonlocality of prayers and healing. I was healing a patient with lupus erythematosus in Singapore. When I went to London to work privately, she e-mailed me that a rash has arisen on her face. I replied that I would heal her distantly. Within 15 minutes of my e-mail reply, her rash began to subside! I have encountered many such instant effects in my distant healing. As one goes deeper into this quantum problem, the interconnectedness of everything in the universe is often verified. When a healer can go inwards to his pure consciousness (soul), the distant healing or prayer is facilitated.
Prayer and the unconscious mind
It is mentioned above that one could heal or pray in our dreams. In fact the Russians were the first to study how the unconscious mind can transfer information from one person to another. They found that it was possible even with very stringent shielding of the sender from the receiver. One of the members of this Commission for the Study of Mental Suggestion, R. Desoille, believed that there are four ways that information may be sent from the sender to the receiver. Everyone has a conscious and an unconscious mind. Thoughts flow easily from one compartment to the other. The four ways are: 1) Thoughts from the sender’s conscious mind are sent directly to the receiver’s conscious mind. 2) Thoughts are sent from the sender’s conscious mind to the receiver’s unconscious mind and they then surface to the receiver’s conscious mind. 3) From the conscious mind of the sender they are transmitted to his own unconscious mind. From there it is sent to the receiver’s conscious mind. 4) Again, thoughts are transmitted from the conscious to the unconscious mind of the sender, and then they are sent to the unconscious mind of the receiver. From thence they surface to the receiver’s conscious mind. This last pathway is a frequent one. That means prayer and healing from the healer or pray-er may be sent unconsciously to the recipient. In other words, after the healer has been told about the patient’s condition, unconsciously he starts to heal him even though the healer does not intentionally go through the ritual of healing the patient. Cases of this nature have been reported all the time. The author himself has experienced this many times.
With all the above explanation, the important question is why are not all prayers answered? They are, but according to one’s G-plan. Our G-plan is the end all and be-all of our entire life. If what we are praying for is opposite to our G-plan, then we cannot get what we pray for. Although we do not get what we pray for, spiritually it is always in our best interest, maybe not for that present moment, but time will tell that it is for the best.
1. Larry Dossey, M.D. Healing Words: The Power of Prayer and the Practice of Medicine. Harper paperbacks.1997 (original 1993).
2. Larry Dossey, M.D. Prayer Is Good Medicine. HarperSanFrancisco. 1996.
3. Larry Dossey, M.D. Be Careful What You Pray For…. You Just Might Get It. HarperSanFrancisco. 1997.
4. Thomas Merton. Contemplative Prayer. Darton, Longman and Todd Ltd. 1973.
5. Thomas Merton. Thoughts in Solitude. Farrar, Straus and Giroux. 1958.
6. M. Basil Pennington, O.C.S.O. Centering Prayer: Renewing an Ancient Christian Prayer Form. Image Books, Doubleday. 1982.
7. Maggie Oman Shannon. The Way We Pray: Prayer Practices from Around the World. Conari Press, Berkeley, California. 2001.
8. Mother Teresa. No Greater Love. New World Library. Novato, California. 1997.
9. Mother Teresa. In The Heart of The World. New World Library. 1997.
10. Edited by Dale Salwak. The Power of Prayer. New World Library. Novato, California. 1998.
11. The Way of a Pilgrim. Image Books, Doubleday. 1997.
Link back to index.html