Value of Prayer

Jaldhar H. Vyas jaldhar at BRAINCELLS.COM
Fri May 17 22:41:53 CDT 2002

[I'm forwarding an article contributed by A. Lakshminarayana.  I thank him
for sharing these golden words of Shankaracharya on this Shankara Jayanti

Value of Prayer

In this life we are faced with various kinds of difficulties, afflictions
and sorrows. We go to a doctor to get relief for our bodily ailments. We
approach numerous authorities for obtaining solution for our worldly
problems. We also pray to God. Our great men have given guidance as to how
to pray and what to pray for. There is one school of thought which says
that we should pray to God only for our spiritual salvation. But there are
others who think that we owe a duty to the members of the family, and, in
the discharge of that duty, we have perforce to invoke the blessings of
God by prayer. This is a proper approach and, therefore, even when we have
to go to human agencies to get relief, we should first submit our
difficulties and troubles to God.  Lord Sri Krishna says in the Gita :

Chaturvidhaa bhajante-maam janaah sukritinorjuna;
Aarto jijnaasur-arthaarthee jnaanee cha bharatarshabha.

Bhagavan mentions four categories of persons who pray to God. The first
category is denoted by the term Aartah, i.e., those who are suffering
physically and mentally, afflicted by diseases, pain, poverty, troubles,
difficulties, etc. They pray to God to lighten their burden and make their
existence tolerable. The second category of persons is denoted by the term
Jijnaasu those, who are thirsting for knowledge and are eager to get at
the truth of things. The expression Arthaarthee denotes the class of
people who are fairly well off in the world, but desire to be blessed with
more of the good things of life, so that they can live free from troubles
and sorrow and also serve others. The last category of persons is denoted
by the term Jnaani, those who have acquired Jnaana or wisdom and realised
the Supreme Truth. They are people who have realised that there is nothing
outside God and that all is God. Yet they too pray. Their prayer is
described in the Gita as prayer with the realisation that Vaasudeva is all
(Vaasudeva sarvamiti).  A person may have everything that contributes to
happiness, and yet, if he has not developed the proper frame of mind, he
cannot be happy and contented. When his mind is a slave to discontent,
anger and envy, he cannot have peace and happiness. Like water kept in a
leaky pot, everything he has will prove useless to him. Therefore, we
should first of all seek God's help to cleanse our minds of all passions
and impurities. Sri Adi Sankara has given us proper guidance in the matter
of prayer in his Shatpadee Stotram, the opening verse of which is :

Avinayam apanaya vishno
Damaya manah samaya vishaya mriga-trishnaam;
Boota dayaam vistaaraya
Taaraya samsaara saagaratah

Vinaya is a quality which is associated with a cultured gentleman.
Gentleness, humility, consideration for others, freedom from egoism- these
are some of the virtues we associate with Vinaya. In fact, the purpose of
education is to make one acquire Vinaya (Vidyaa vinaya sampannah).
According to our Sastraas, a Guru's (teacher's) duty is to inculcate
Vinaya in his pupils. So also, the primary duty of the king is to see that
his subjects are people endowed with the virtue of Vinaya. Then his second
duty is to protect his subjects, i.e., to see that they get education, and
are gainfully employed and are free from wants. Governing and protecting
his subjects from external aggression and internal disorders come
last-Vinayaa daana, rakshana and bharana.  Because of the emphasis on
Vinaya, the expression Vineya is used to denote a disciple. The meaning of
the word Vineya is one who is to be equipped with Vineya. Sri Padmapaada
Acharya in a verse in praise of Sri Adi Sankara, says :

Yadvaktra maanasa sarah pratilabdha janma
Bhashyaaravinda makarandarasam pibanti;
Pratyaasa-munmukha vineeta vineya bhringaah,
Taan bhaashya-vittaka-guroon pranatosmi moordhnaa.

This verse described the disciples of Sri Bhagavatpaada as "bees
(Bhringah) drinking the nectar of Bhashya flowing from the lotus face of
Sankara". The expression used to indicate the disciples is "Vineetavineya
bringaah". The special significance of this expression is that these
Vineyas (pupils coming to be equipped with Vinaya) have become Vineeta
(persons possessing the virtue of Vinaya). by the mere presence of the
Guru. A student is called Sishya in Sanskrit, because he has to undergo
training or Siksha under a Guru. In the present day, the term Siksha is
applied either for training in music or for punishment. Probably the term
Sikh must have been derived from Sikshaka or Guru. The religious head of
the Sikhs is known as Guru. The followers being his Sishyas or those who
had undergone Siksha under him, the term Sikh probably came to be used to
denote the followers.  Therefore, in the Shatpadee Stotra, Sri Adi Sankara
prays to God to remove Avinaya, evils like arrogance, which are opposite
qualities to Vinaya. Vinaya is an accretion that comes to be attached to
persons, and if that is removed, Vinaya will express itself naturally.
Then Sri Adi Sankara prays to God to keep his mind under control (Damaya
manah). When the mind is brought under control, it will cease to race
after transient pleasures, and will remain steady in the thought of God.
The next prayer is to eradicate the desires prompted by the senses.
(Samaya vishaya mrigatrishnaam) when we no longer hanker after worldly
pleasures. Our heart begins to beat in harmony with the rest of the world,
and we acquire a broad and sympathetic outlook. So Sri Adi Sankara next
prays to enlarge his compassion for all creation (Bhoota dayaam
vistraaraya). When the mind is so elevated spiritually step by step, the
inevitable result will be the end of birth and death or the crossing of
the ocean of Samsaara. So he prays, Taaraya samsara saagaratah.  There is
an aptness in the use of the term Mriga trishna in connection with
pleasures of the senses. The meaning of Mriga is deer. When there is
drought and deer are wandering in quest of drinking water, they drift
towards the desert. They mistake the mirage in the desert for drinking
water and run in pursuit of it and ultimately collapse and die. Similarly
Kaama, Krodha and other passions, generated in us by our senses, are like
mirage which drives us ultimately to our destruction.  When speaking the
desert, another interesting thought occurs. Probably due to certain
geological causes, deserts have come to be formed in places which were
once an expanse of the sea. Sahara is a desert and the name might have
been derived from Saagara, the Sanskrit term for the sea. By reason of
these expanses being landlocked, and the absence of rivers flowing into
them and on account of continuos process of evaporation by the sun's heat
through the ages, the "Saagara" became "Sahara". In India, there are
deserts in Rajasthan and in Sanskrit, a desert is called Maruvaatika. The
terms Marwar and Marwadi are likely to have been derived from Maruvaatika.
The Shatpadee Stotra is a beautiful composition. In one of the verses, Sri
Adi Sankara has employed the poetical technique known as Antaadi, the word
with which one verse ends being used as the opening word of the next
verse. The verse in question is :

Uddhritanaga nagabhidanuja danuja-kula-mitra mitrasasidrishte
Drishte bhavati prabhavati na bhavati kim bhavatiraskaarah.
It will be noticed that Sri Bhagavatpada has employed the last word in a phrase, as the first word for the next phrase in the same Sloka. After the six verses of the Shatpadee Stotra, the seventh and concluding verse is :
Naaraayana karunaamaya saranam karavaani taavakau charanaau
Iti shatpadi madeeye vadana-saroje sadaa vasatu.

The beauty of this verse is that expression Iti Shatpadi (foregoing
shatpadi or six verses) is applicable not only to six verses that have
preceded, but also to the six words, Naaraayana, Karunaamaya, Saranam,
Karavaani, Taavakau, and Charanau, occurring at the beginning of this
verse itself. Bhagavatpada says, "Let these six verses (and also the six
words of the last verse) reside always in my mouth", meaning, bless me to
constantly repeat them, even as the Shatpadi (bee) resides in a lotus

The sixth verse in this Stotra is :
Damodara gunamandira sundara vadanaaravinda govinda
Bhavajaladhi mathana-mandara paramam daramapanaya tvam me

The Lord, addressed in this verse as Damodra, one who bears the marks of
the rope with which he was tied up by His mother, Yasoda, is described as
Gunamandira, the abode of all qualities. Here is a beautiful synthesis of
the conception of God as both Saguna(possessing attributes) and Nirguna
(Attributeless). It is only when all the colours in the light mix together
that we get the colourless rays of the sun. Similarly, by virtue of being
the abode of attributes, God becomes Nirguna, attribute-less. In the like
manner, the term "Sundaravadanaaravinda", in this sloka, brings to our
mind the idea that even people God like to contemplate on God. Even when
they have experienced the bliss flowing from the realisation of the
identity of the Jivatma and the Paramatma, and also have realised that God
is in everything and everything is in God , they prefer to put aside, for
a little while, the experience of this oneness with God, and to
contemplate on Him as One slightly different from themselves, like the
apparent difference between waves and the ocean, and to enjoy the darling
divine form of Krishna. Sri Madhusoodhana Saraswati, that great apostle of
advaita, in one of his verses, finds indescribable beauty even in the
yawning of the child, Krishna, as He gets up in the morning. The
expression "Bhavajaladhimandira", brings home to us that fact that we have
to find salvation only by going through the trials and tribulations of
this life. The taste of the thousands of leaves and barks of a tree may be
disagreeable. Yet it blossoms and yields sweet fruits. The trials and
tribulations of family life are but necessary steps leading to the
sweetness of salvation. The only condition required is that we should not
lose our hold of God, who is the churning stick ( mandara) to churn the
amrita of salvation from the ocean of births and deaths.  It is
significant to note that while the teaching of the Lord in the Gita begins
with the words, Asochyaan anva sochastvam--( you grieve over persons unfit
to be grieved for), and ends with ma suchah --(don't grieve). The
Shatpadee Stotra of Sri Adi Sankara begins with Avinayam apanaya and ends
with Apanaya Tvam Me.  The prayer of Sri Adi Sankara to bless him to
recite the Shatpadee stotra constantly is meant for us. Let these verses
and the prayers contained therein be constantly on our lips, so that we
can safely cross the ocean of samsaara, and find refuge in Him

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