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Stages of prayer


What is prayer?

This is a very subjective question. The answer varies from individual to individual. Complete works of literature can be made on prayer alone and prayer has inspired hundreds of parables and stories. Just go around and ask ten people on what they think is prayer and you will surely get varied answers. I remember a short and powerful story that I read.

A man goes to a master and asks,
“What is life?”
The master responds,
“Life is the sweet scent of the dewdrop as it falls gently on to the ground from the petal of a jasmine flower.”
“But master”, the man continues, “I am confused.”
“Why my child?”, asks the master.
“I had been to another master and he said that life was the painful prick of a sharp needle whose steel has been tempered in the hottest of furnaces.”
“That’s his life”, the bemused master remarked and retired into silence.

“What is prayer?” is a question with as varied answers as the question “What is life?”
I have also heard of a story where a child repeats the 26 alphabets in English and says,
“God! I have given you all the letters. Make up your favorite prayer from them and bless me!”

In an attempt to gather more feelings and opinions, I threw this question open on Facebook. The answers that came up were both beautiful and interesting. I share them with you.

“Prayer is conversation with God”

“Any combination of the 26 letters that results in the melting of the divine heart”

“It's a real world chat with god. For me, when I pray, I just converse with Swami about my day, other people, everything - a kind of divine gossiping where we will share everything.”

“Prayer to me is requesting the higher self within to lead from untruth to truth;darkness to light;death to immortality. “

"A request to God to fulfill one's wishes"

“In connection with God every moment we breathe.”

“It's a monologue, where the supreme being eavesdrops and responds!”

So, I shall not try to define prayer here. What I want to share is something that I read on the facets of prayer. This was titled as the four stages of prayer. What struck me was that each stage of prayer depicted a stage in Swami’s Avatarhood. The stages spiral upwards just as the Avataric mission gained steam and moved ahead in full thrust.

Without further ado, here are the four stages.

Connecting with God...

Connecting with God...

The first stage:

"Prayer is when the devotee speaks and God listens."

Travel back to 1940. It was the year when our dear Swami declared His avatarhood. He declared, “I am Sai Baba” and then sang the song immortal - Manasa Bhajare Guru Charanam. A little enquiry will reveal the ‘trigger’ for this historic moment.

Swami walked into His home from school. He opened the door and threw away the books. This was in Uravakonda where He was staying with His brother and sister-in-law, Mr. and Mrs. Seshama Raju. The loud thud that the books made as they crashed to the floor brought the brother and sister-in-law rushing to the spot. He declared,

“Maya (delusion) has left. I am not your Sathya. I belong to the world and I am leaving.”

What made Him say such a thing out of the blue? He answered this question then and there:
“My devotees are calling me!”

That was the beginning of the life of the Godman, the Avatar, the Social Reformer, the Lord - as different people in the world know it.

Ah! That was the first stage of prayer - when the devotee speaks and God listens.

The second stage is when God speaks and the devotee listens...

The second stage is when God speaks and the devotee listens...

The second stage:

"Prayer is when God speaks and the devotee listens."

Once again, we travel back in history. By 1950, the Prasanthi Nilayam ashram came up. The time for leelas (divine sport) was done and the upadesh (discoursing)began. It was now that people would gather informally in hundreds and Swami would speak to them. These gatherings grew in size to thousands. The informality changed into one of a more formal nature. Thus it was that the different festival days and occasions were slotted when Swami would speak.

These discourses have been compiled as Sathya Sai Speaks.

Again, the second part of Swami’s life seems to be perfectly in sync with the second stage of prayer.

A conversation with the Lord...

A conversation with the Lord...

The third stage:

"Prayer is when both (God and devotee) speak and both listen."

For this, we need not travel much into history. The last decade stands testimony to this fact. Prasanthi Nilayam witnessed ever-increasing crowds and a growing number of cultural programmes that were put up in Swami’s physical presence. What made these programmes popular for all participants and viewers alike was the interaction between Swami and the devotees. Thousands have fond memories of their interactions with Swami after they had performed in His presence. This memory takes a physical shape today as a photograph, video-clip, a momento or a simple souvenir. Every student, every devotee, every curious person who made it regularly to Prasanthi got some chance for an interaction with Him and he/she remembers that ‘dialogue’.

Indeed, both God and devotee spoke and both listened!

The fourth stage:

"Prayer is when neither (God and devotee) speak and both listen."

Ah! This is a stage that needs no explanation. Today, we find ourselves in this stage. We just cannot ‘speak’ to Him nor can ‘He’ speak to us the way we are used to. But yes! He does listen to us. But can we hear Him?

The answer forms from within. If we ‘listen’ to Him (His words and teachings), we can ‘hear’ Him! It is simple understanding that Swami has moved to the fourth stage but we haven’t. Each one of us are stuck at the various stages of prayer without moving to the fourth stage.

Personally, I am stuck a bit in the third stage and a bit in the second stage I feel...Again, different people will have different thoughts about their own stages. What I am trying to get to is that the way ahead for us devotees, is to reach the fourth stage!

So, how do we listen to Him? Swami has said,
“It is only in the depths of silence that the voice of God is heard.”
WE NEED SILENCE. And not the silence of the vocal chords... We need the true silence.

I will quote another Facebook message here:

"LISTEN & SILENT are two words with the same alphabets.
Only a true friend can listen to you, when you are silent..."

Always listening... always waiting to be heard...

Always listening... always waiting to be heard...

If you liked this hub, you may also like:

1. Why are some prayers not answered? - A theory

2. The power of praying for others.

3. How Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai baba became my family deity.

4. When God teaches you to walk...

5. God through the eyes of a child - Childhood experiences with Swami.

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© 2012 Aravind Balasubramanya


Aravind Balasubramanya (author) from Puttaparthi, India on November 19, 2012:

@ Cretch - What you pose are beautiful questions. Let me tell you honestly, I have actually stopped 'praying'. I neither ask nor inform for what is there that God does not know? I feel God is my best friend, my father, my mother and guide. He knows me better than I know myself. So what is the need to communicate?

As you said about what you do, I too do the same. When I find my mind getting agitated, I just chant His name. Again, that is not to call Him to my aid or seek anything. My God has taught me that all worry, frustration, irritation and anger is caused by thoughts. And the mind is nothing but a bundle of thoughts. Becoming 'thoughtless' makes me one with the entire Universe and, in that state, there are no dualities of life (pain/pleasure, joy/sorrow). It is just existence.

To get to that thoughtless state, a precursor is to get to a state of a single thought. I try to make God's name as that single thought.

God does not need prayer. We need prayer... To realize that we are not bodies possessing a soul but the spirit possessing a body! :)

cm-neverfade on November 16, 2012:

As a believer of God, I constantly do the low intensity prayer especially if I can't attend the Holy Mass or pray the Holy Rosary. Low intensity prayer is when I just called upon His name whatever I do, wherever I am and whatever kind of situation I am into. I practiced deep meditation, it's like talking to Him one on one, asking questions and having realization later on; and this somehow gives me a solemnity in spirit. But honestly there were times that I came to think of - Does God really need my prayer?? Why do I need to pray?? These questions are keep on lurking in my mind. I tried to answer and explain things on my own. Though I got some answers, I would still love to read your thoughts about my questions.

I do appreciate your precious time in reading this.


Ramamani Velamuru on November 09, 2012:

Very gud article. The quote from f.b.was excellent.

Mark Aspa on October 22, 2012:

what a clever idea to relate the 4 stages of prayer to Swami's Life. I like it ....

saivivekgupta on August 15, 2012:

Sai Ram Aravind. You are really Sai worker......... Excellent.

poornimasrinath from Midrand, Johannesburg, RSA on August 08, 2012:

Lovely! Thanks for sharing :)

If you have time please read about "empty chair" - a beautiful story on prayer


You will find relevance in this story to our prayer and faith in Swami

Aravind Balasubramanya (author) from Puttaparthi, India on August 08, 2012:

@ Mr.Happy - Aha... Light always 'brightens' you into a smile I see! :)

Lovely prayer you make... At the end of all our prayers, we chant, Samastha Lokaha Sukhino Bhavantu which means

"May all the beings in all the worlds be happy."

Thank you for the lovely comment.

Mr. Happy aka White Wolf on August 07, 2012:

Lovely stories as usual, Mr. Aravind.

"Prayer to me is requesting the higher self within to lead from untruth to truth;darkness to light;death to immortality. “ - Smiles here. : )

In prayer I wish everyone all the best! May Light shine our paths when needed.

Thank You for putting this piece of writing together. Beautiful.

Connie Smith from Southern Tier New York State on August 02, 2012:

Thank you aravind! You just made my day much brighter. I was feeling a little low this morning, but you have truly lifted my spirits with your beautiful and supportive words. You are far away in miles but right next door in spirit! Thank you.

Aravind Balasubramanya (author) from Puttaparthi, India on August 02, 2012:

@ Grandma Pearl - Beautiful! The world needs more people like you. 'Praying', the way you do it, is so fulfilling and joyous. I also appreciate the other prayer you do - admire, study and respect nature! Your study of birds has me enraptured! It is only one of prayer that can appreciate the beauty in nature - flora and fauna.

Aravind Balasubramanya (author) from Puttaparthi, India on August 02, 2012:

@ Sai Saraswuthi - That is a question that has left me pondering. I shall mail you my thoughts...

@ An Impressed Reader - Thank you for stopping by and for your appreciative comments...

@ Mark Aspa - I was also dumbstruck by the same...

@Madhavi Alpaty - It is only the feelings that count in prayer... The actual mode of prayer is inconsequential.. :)

Connie Smith from Southern Tier New York State on August 01, 2012:

Lovely Article! To me, Prayer is a heartfelt conversation with God. I have them several times a day. Sometimes I am thanking Him, sometimes I am asking for His Love or Help. Sometimes I am just so glad He is there. Voted Up, Beautiful and Awesome!

madhavi alapaty on July 31, 2012:

Well Said Aravind about prayer..i have never thought like this. It is such a blessing to read the words like - “God! I have given you all the letters. Make up your favorite prayer from them and bless me!”

people who are confused like me on what to chant in our everydays life..i think this sentence gives hope..which means..what ever you chant with your heart..that becomes the prayer for that day.

Prashant Nayampalli on July 31, 2012:

Too good

Aarthi on July 31, 2012:

Strange coinSAIdence that I retrieved a beautiful prayer today. Pls go here for the actual prayer -- http://voyagetowardstheself.blogspot.in/2012/07/a-...

Mark Aspa from Berlin, Germany on July 31, 2012:

'Listen' and 'Silent' have the same letters - that's a brilliant observation.

Aarthi on July 31, 2012:

Thought-provoking! Have to read many times and contemplate. I pray that Swami helps me reach the state of prayer that He wants me to be in always.

An Impressed Reader on July 31, 2012:

“It's a monologue, where the supreme being eavesdrops and responds!”

I really liked this one .. I read a book (Sai Dharshan if am right) wherein Swami says in one of the messages that he listents to all that runs in our mind lest he miss out a prayer meant for him .. I was so moved reading that ..

I loved the last picture .. Beautiful silhouette of Swami .. Aptly titled too ..

And you have conveyed a wonderful thought and message in the last part .. Swami really seems to have conveyed the four stages of prayer through his life .. Yes, we all have to move to stage four ..

V.Sai Saraswuthi sarassai@gmail.com on July 31, 2012:

Swamy says Silence is 'Sai'lens.

This was a totally different aspect of prayer which none said before.

we experience the different stages of prayer but may not be in the same order.we switch over. we often use the term 'meditation' but what we are actually doing is still praying(in silence), but not silencing the mind.

can i ask "what is the thin line between 'prayer ' and 'meditation' ".hoping to get a reply.


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