QUESTION: The more I seek to get closer to God, the more I find myself asking God for less and having less desires. The more I find myself asking God for less, the more I question the purpose of prayer and how the world prays to Him.
Am I correct in saying that it makes no sense to ask God for anything? Am I correct in saying that the method of asking God for anything is flawed? I do not see the purpose of asking God for anything if God already gave us a mind, body, intellect and an ego to help us tread our path in life.
ANSWER: There are various types of people. Most people in this world are attached to their material body and possessions. They cannot think of anything beyond that. They consider everything in this world for their material pleasure. This includes not only people who do not believe in God but also those who accept the existence of God, albeit for their own happiness. The purpose of scriptures is to wean away such people from their material attachments; and turn their consciousness towards God because only that can bring lasting peace and happiness. However, ṡāstra begins where people stand.
Therefore it first allures them by catering to their material needs. It prescribes various processes, such as prayers, which promise to fulfill their material desires. People who have faith in God takes to these processes and if they see the favorable result coming from their practice, then their faith increases. Then they want to hear more and gradually they may come to understand that praying for material boons is not a very intelligent thing to do.
Therefore I would say that your thought process is quite right. Really speaking, we should pray to God only for bhakti and nothing else.
Everything else is immaterial. Even if the sick person’s life is spared, he/she will die one day. So in the face of eternity, how does it matter if someone died a few years earlier/later?
But because people are very much materially attached, they want to use God for their material goals. In the ultimate sense, it is a misuse of God. Why waste our prayers for something material, which is ephemeral? Why not pray for the permanent benefit?
But just to keep people aware of God, it is sometimes encouraged to pray even for material goals. The idea, as you have rightly said, is to be close to God and thus one day we may wake up to Him and not to His creation independent of Him.
The chanting of mantras like sarve bhavantu sukhinaḥ etc is for the welfare of others and for uplifting people’s consciousness. The real happiness comes only from devotion to God, material desires are the real duritāni.
To pray to God for someone’s welfare means we are smarter than God, we want God to be our servant, and we don’t really believe in His intelligence.
I hope this clears your doubts.
If we get a burn in any part of our body we treat it with medicine, similarly if you get burnt by your anger treat it with medication in the form of japa, sadhusanga, and svadhyaya.
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