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Power of prayer and the martyrdom of Gandhi

Connecting to the Divine in whatever manner a person wishes is integral to every religious system, even from ancient times.

A. K. MERCHANT | Updated :

Mahatma Gandhi had tremendous faith in the power of prayer. He managed a calm and peaceful demeanour because he believed, “The man of prayer will be at peace with himself and with the whole world.”

Connecting to the Divine in whatever manner a person wishes is integral to every religious system, even from ancient times. However much a person may get absorbed with the transitory things of this world, every human being’s true identity is the immortal spirit that is associated with the body similar to that of a light with a mirror which reflects it. Through prayer we can keep the mirror clean and polished and let the light shine brightly.

“The spirit,” Gandhiji wrote, “becomes unclean if the heart is not washed with prayer.” All through his life, particularly from the time when he became an ardent protagonist of satyagraha (truth force) for removal of the many forms of injustices and for the freedom of India from the yoke of colonial oppression, he never wavered and firmly assured everyone: “It has never happened that God has not responded to my prayer.” Sadly, it was that during the Sarva Dharma Prarthna Sabha at 5.17 p.m. on 30 January 1948, that the apostle of peace and father of the nation was shot thrice. He died, ncalling out in prayer, Hey Ram! What is prayer and how did it help Gandhiji to face the vicissitudes of time and fortune from his earliest childhood. Surely, he would have experienced that prayer is a conversation with the Divine. “The Allah of Islam is the same as the God of Christians and the Ishwar of Hindus,” he stated.

Therefore, when we pray, we are talking with our Creator. It is a loving conversation or an ardent supplication for aid and assistance or just to express our gratitude for the wonder and gift of life.

It is not a one-time conversation but should be a daily routine. Regardless of what faith, spiritual, or religious background people come from, souls who love God want to become closer to Him. Everyone in the world can converse and connect with God through prayer. In many religious communities prayer is mandatory and there are prescribed verses and accompanying rituals as well as places of worship, which serve as a reminder for the faithful to carry out their spiritual obligations of prayer and worship. Gandhiji understood this very well and wherever he went he made sure all who were with him would set aside some time during the day for collective prayers and chanting of bhajans.

In prayer we beseech God because, human beings have shortcomings; we are weak, we supplicate the supreme Divinity and ask for His assistance and beg forgiveness. In the state of meditation, we converse with our spirit, put questions and receive answers. We should bear in mind that prayer in its purest state serves to bring us nearer to our Creator and helps us attain the Divine Presence.

“Prayer,” Gandhiji wrote, “is not asking. It is a longing of the soul. It is daily admission of one’s weakness. It is better in prayer to have a heart without words than words without a heart.”

Aspiring to grow spiritually and become closer to God is an essential first step in achieving spiritual happiness in this world and the next. “There is nothing sweeter in the world of existence than prayer. Man must live in a state of prayer. The most blessed condition is the condition of prayer and supplication,” this is what I have learnt in my long years as a member of the Bahá’í Faith. It has certainly helped me through thick and thin in a checkered career spanning over six decades. I can vouch as a practicing Gandhian that prayer creates spirituality, creates mindfulness and heavenly feelings especially when one goes away from the hustle and bustle of the urban jungle and is close to natural surroundings.

There are prayers in different religions even for an unborn child in the mother’s womb. At the time of birth special invocations are offered and prayers recited for the mother and the child. It is very important that parents inculcate in their children the virtue of daily prayer. “In the highest prayer, men pray only for the love of God, not because they fear Him or hell, or hope for bounty or heaven… The spiritual person finds no delight in anything save in commemoration of God.” (From the Bahá’í Writings).

Today when the Security Board of the Bulletin Atomic Scientists has moved the Doomsday Clock to 90 seconds to midnight, our world is at its greatest peril. How shall we respond? One way would be to offer prayers of intercession. When we intercede, we make a humble request to God to provide guidance, to assist those gone astray, to stop the warring parties from destroying each other, to protect the world, to comfort and heal the suffering masses trapped in places of conflict and to establish peace.

Let’s pay heed to what Gandhiji said, “Courage, endurance, fearlessness and above all self-sacrifice are the qualities required of our leaders.” “It is my conviction that nothing enduring can be built on violence…Peace through superior violence inevitably leads to the atom bomb and all that it stands for.” Let these soul-stirring words prick the conscience of all those who care and believe in the power of prayer.