Selfless Prayer: Preparation for Bhakti

Our wish list defines our God
by Dr. Mukul Shri Goel

While asking God for monetary gains, a house, education, or a more healthy body is not unethical, we may be worshipping only a self-limiting aspect of the Divine if our mind is fastened to our own desires. As we create a wish list of finite objects while worshipping, we do not try to connect to the One Who is Absolute Truth, Consciousness, and Infinite Bliss but apply for the blessings of a finite potency that can fulfill our dreams.

In Hindu spirituality, this concept becomes explicit as certain expressions of divinity have become culturally associated with specific objects or gains that they can bestow upon us. While the principal forms of God, including Lord Krishna and Lord Shiva, are worshipped selflessly by followers as the manifestations of Brahman (the Absolute Reality), the lesser forms (demigods) are traditionally remembered only when their followers need a specific object in life. In the Bhagavad Gita, Lord Krishna promises that whenever we desire something due to our ignorance and select a demigod to achieve it, He fixes our faith on the selected form so that our wishes may be easily fulfilled (VII: 20-21). Along these lines, the thousands of demigods in Hindu mythology, all elements of the same divinity, can also be understood as God’s reciprocation to our own desires.

As we evolve and learn to connect, our wish list may expand to include goodness, some knowledge, some truthful fellow beings to interact with, some love in life, and some desires for “letting go.” This would mean that we are getting closer to God and are on our way to meeting Him. Eventually, we may start requesting Him for realization and deliverance from the universe. But only when we approach God with an empty wish list, not desiring even liberation, can we actually sense the original inspirations within us that are a result of a two-way connection with the Almighty.

Similarly, we can worship the Divine Energy as the Mother for knowledge, wealth, and strength. But it is not until we take refuge in Her by transcending the short-term objectives of life that we worship the personification of the infinite source of universal energy and power. We need to learn to transfer the doership of all karma to Her and adore Her just for being there for us in order to realize that we all are Her favorite kids.

God, according to Hindu thought, is everywhere — in you, in me, in all matter, and yet He is beyond the universe. Accordingly, His availability to the individual soul is never a constraint. Our aim is to surrender to God so that we can experience Him within ourselves or call Him for a visit in person. And when we remember God just to remember Him, we start surrendering to God. The lack of any material objective during remembrance indicates that the devotional foundation of trust, truth, contentment, and an earnest aspiration to meet God has been made. This is where pure love or Bhakti begins, for the love of God, to exist in the heart, requires a permanent erasure of all human inclinations towards scheming, passion, and slackness from the mind. On the other hand, whether we opt for the “formless” God or a God with attributes, large amounts of worldly knowledge and information about the Lord may not be necessary to understand that God pervades us all.

Moving from duality to the non-dualist school of thought, where the individual soul and God are not really separate but appear to be separated due to our own ignorance, our desires remain as the only barrier in our connecting to our Self — which is God. Because ignorance-borne selfish karma, laden with desires, are inept in destroying ignorance and cause repeated births in the world, any prayer to God solely for the fulfillment of our own desires does not contribute to our awakening. Through whichever yoga we choose, the introspective path of knowledge or the emotional path of pure love, when spirituality purges the difference between the individual soul and the Divine, ignorance, desires and the feel of separation — all leave together.

In spite of the fact that our desires, which are present when we are spiritual beginners, prevent us from worshipping God in His entirety, every prayer slowly and steadily helps us build a platform for our inner rise due to the tiny bits of pure love that are often unknowingly present in our communications. Even the elementary prayers that are directed towards an object of the material world may strengthen our habit of applying for a connection to the Divine. And it may not be long before we turn to the selfless mode of praying to activate selfless karma. Once we are in love with God, we are all set; God remembrance with a feel of surrender can desert all our remaining passions to connect us to God eternally.

Copyright © 2007  Mukul S. Goel

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