The Purpose of Prayer

By Satyanarayana Dasa Babaji, originally published at the Jiva Institute.

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, sastra 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 or she will die one day. So in the face of eternity, how does it matter if someone died a few years earlier or 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 sukhinah, 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 duritani.

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.

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4 Responses to The Purpose of Prayer


    Didn’t Srila Prabhupada ask his devotees to pray for him that time he was hospitalized in NY?

    Also, not all prayer is materially motivated. What is wrong with petitioning Krsna for spiritual progress? Vaisnava literature is full of great devotees’ prayers to that end.

    This post makes absolutely no sense to me…

    • Kishore Krsna das

      And in regards to your first question, I don’t know the context so it is hard to know exactly what Prabhupada was intending. But one way to harmonize it, is to know that Prabhupada’s material benefit is for the spiritual benefit of all his disciples.

    • I don’t see any contradiction in the Q and A in regards to basic teachings of bhakti. In the BG Arjuna asks Krishna about different kinds of faith. Krishna replies that there are various kinds of faith corresponding with the various modes of nature. Faith is an animating principle for the jiva and according to one’s faith, a person will offer a certain quality of prayer. Based on one’s qualification or adhikari, one will petition the Lord according to her orientation.

      In the context of bhakti, there are 2 basic categories of prayer, those within sadhana and those within bhava bhakti . Those within sadhana are characterized by submission, saranagati and sraddha. A sadhaka under the proper guidance will gradually orient all his prayers to those congruent with bhakti.

      The SB is filled with prayers and one can carefully study them to see how they align within bhakti and under good guidance will understand their intent, etc.

      As far as SP’s request to his disciples, I also see no contradiction. SP was a pure devotee and he had a mission and his whole life was dedicated to that mission of his guru to spread KC all over the world. Out of humility and perhaps sensing the distress of his disciples at that time, he asked them to pray for his health in order to continue with his mission all the while being fully conscious of Krishna’s divine will.

  2. Is this Q&A a transcription of a face-to-face verbal exchange between two people who know each other? Or is SNDB writing a general answer based on principles?

    I dearly hope that it is the former. SNDB’s answer makes sense if one is striving in a wider conversation to emphasize a narrow point about tattva, rather than to consider bhava or lila. However, if the answer was given as practical advice for anyone other than an uttama-adhikari, it borders on the monstrous — impersonal at best and cruel at worst. Do a quick search of the scriptures and you will see many occasions in which a devotee prays for a loved one or a desired outcome. Are each of these situations “just to keep people aware of God”? Certainly not!

    It is true that the uttama-adhikari has nothing to pray about, as everything is happening according to Krishna’s will. However, when we have seen devotees falsely “posing” as uttama-adhikaris, we have usually seen their spectacular falldowns before too long. Prayer is an act appropriate for the madhyama-adhikari and below, and since the guru functions from the madhyama platform I would be very wary of a guru who taught his disciples to act prematurely from the uttama platform. Let us hope that this is not what is happening here.

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