Prayer is the Master-Key that unlocks the Kingdom of Heaven
Prayer can be defined as an anguished cry of the soul in distress of helplessness, to a Power fuller and greater than itself for relief and comfort.
It is, in the generic and commonly accepted sense, an invocation to God or a Godman (living Master), competent enough to grant solace and peace to a mind tortured by the problems of life and life's surroundings.
Prayer is the soul's sincere desire,
Uttered or unexpressed;
The motion of a hidden fire
That trembles in the breast.
A worldly-wise man in this scientific age regards human life just as any other mechanical contrivance which moves and acts blindly on the lone principle of "Cause and Effect" with no guiding hand behind it. Against this mechanistic concept of man and the universe, there is an organic concept as well. Without denying the principle of "Cause and Effect" that is visibly in operation in human affairs, the exponents of the organic theory see behind it the hand of God, or the Law of God, in and through which the principle of "Cause and Effect" is at work. The Law of God then is the motor power or seed force from which every conceivable principle – scientific or ethical – springs and works out the Divine Will according to His purpose. Unfortunately, we see only the surface currents and cannot penetrate into the depths beneath.
In common experience we see that a worldly-wise man, with all the material resources at his command, is actually in a state of dire helplessness. Ever dissatisfied with what he has, he cries for more and blindly works to that end, employing all means, fair or foul, to achieve his desires. But all his riches and possessions, pelf and power, name and fame, fail to give him any degree of satisfaction. He still continues, more helpless than ever in the face of disease, decay and death. His mind is always haunted by untold fears and imaginary horrors. With no moorings, he drifts rudderless upon the ocean of life, a prey to chance winds and waters. In this sad plight, either he flounders on the rock of suicide, or, if he escapes that, he drags on a weary existence until death comes to his rescue. But even in death he finds no comfort. He yields to it simply because he cannot help it. This is the sad story of a common man of the workaday world.
On the other hand, a really wise man also tries, like the former, to collect means of a comfortable existence; but unlike the other, these do not, in his case, form an obsession with him. Behind all his efforts, he sees the hand of God and is never bothered by success or failure in his endeavours. He leaves the result to the "Divine Will" for that alone knows what is good for him to possess. If things come to him as he desires, he does not feel elated but accepts them with sincere thanks and with a grateful heart. But if things turn the other way he does not feel dejected, but smilingly bows down his head before the Supreme Judge who decided otherwise; and at every step he prays to God, for he knows that without His active aid, he cannot do anything by himself.
"Prayer" is, in a strict sense, another name for collecting the outgoing and wandering faculties of the mind, at the root of the mind. Like the rays of the sun, these spread out into the world, and likewise these can be withdrawn and collected at their source. A person in infatuation with a thing which he cannot get, or in distress and distraction over some calamity from which he cannot escape, sets his face toward God for success in his endeavours or comfort in his woebegone condition as the case may be. This concentration while begging for help is called prayer.
Human heart is the throne of God and hence it is, at times, termed Kaaba.
Of all the pilgrimages, the one to the human heart
is the most sacred,
Much better it is to win merit here,
than countless trips to Mecca.
As soon as a person collects himself and focuses his attention at the seat of the soul, he stirs up the mercy of God, which, in turn, fills him with strength and fortitude never experienced before. These enable him to find a way out of the difficulty whatever it be. A will, when concentrated, works wonders. "Where there is a will there is a way," is a common saying. Prayer is nothing but concentrated will falling back upon its source, the great reservoir of power in which are lodged all sorts of possibilities – physical, mental and spiritual – and one can draw upon any of these according to one's needs. Great indeed is man. He lives in a God-made temple along with God Himself. His very spirit is just a drop from the Ocean of Divine Life. Between God and spirit, there is no other obstacle but that of the veil of the mind. If this veil were to stop fluttering in the breeze of desires, as it does at present, the spirit could take in directly the Cosmic Energy from its very source.
"As you think, so you become," is a common adage. If a part thinks of the whole, it gradually begins to imbibe the characteristics of the latter. So is the case with the human spirit. It can gradually expand until it becomes all-embracing from the cribbed, cabined, cramped and cringing position that it occupies in its present state. When freed from its entanglements – physical, mental and causal – it triumphantly cries out: "I am soul," or "I am as Thou art," or "I and my Father are one" (as Christ put it).
There are two types of people in the world: Firstly, those who can withdraw, introvert and take inspiration directly from the Great Power within. Secondly, those who depend on outer aids, like churches and temples, for worship and for offering prayers at altars or before idols and statues. Some try to seek inspiration from the great forces of Nature, like the sun, the moon, the snow-covered hilltops, waters of the sacred rivers, as different manifestations of the One Power behind the entire Universe. Everyone according to his faith and degree of concentration gets some benefit from his mode of worship, for nothing is lost in Nature and no effort goes in vain.
Some people do not believe in the existence of God and as such have no faith in prayer, for they do not realize that God has no objective appearance and cannot be seen by the eyes of flesh. O Nanak! The eyes that behold the Lord are quite different from those with which we see the world.
The truth, in fact, is that God is spirit, and can be worshipped in spirit only. We cannot worship Him with human hands and much less in handmade temples and synagogues. He dwells in the inmost depths of the human soul. He is the soul of our very soul. He is immanent in every form and not apart from forms. All colours and all patterns alike take their hue and design from Him alone. Whether we believe in Him or not, we actually live in Him and have our very being in Him.
True prayer then is the means to concentrate the wandering wits at one centre – the centre of the soul – to gather up the spirit currents at the still-point in the body, between and behind the eyes. Herein lies all worship, all prayers, all renunciation and all knowledge of here and hereafter. The path to salvation lies in direct touch with the Inner Power rather than to get entangled in this or that thing. "Truth is one, though sages have described it variously," is a well-known Upanishadic saying. Why not then search out the Eternal Truth, of which Nanak speaks:
Truth was in the beginning of Creation, Truth has been the beginning of each Age, and Truth shall ever remain when all ages and creations pass away.