THEOSOPHY, Vol. 42, No. 9, July, 1954
(Pages 415-420; Size: 18K)

THE ELEMENTS OF PRAYER(1)

The syllable OM is the leader of all prayers; let it therefore be employed in the beginning of all prayers.

--Padma Purana

PRAYER is the longing, the inclining, or the aspiring toward that which represents the summum bonum, the highest good. Seen through the eyes of the suppliant, that highest good may signify the fruits of righteous lives and the earned wages of eternity -- or it may fulfill but the expediency of the moment. It may inhere in the resounding chant of the liturgy; in human sacrifice; in the sacrifice of oneself; in the meditated silence of the soul; or in the culmination of loss and anguish. Prayer may be directed to gods or to demons. Prayer is that which man chooses to make of it, each to his own measure. Yet to each it represents the most sacred and high good. But the true prayer is said to take place within one's closet, and is like unto the sound of a bell terminating within the bell.

True prayer opens the spiritual sight of man, for prayer is desire, and desire develops WILL. There are many other meanings to prayer besides that given it in the West. It means not only a pleading or petition, but in days of old meant far more an invocation or incantation. The prayer as outward petition to an unknown God as the addressee, was inaugurated by the Jews and popularized by the Pharisees. Will-prayer is rather an internal command than a petition. It is an occult process, a mystery, by which finite and conditioned thoughts and desires, unable to be assimilated by the absolute spirit which is unconditioned, are translated into spiritual wills and the will. Such process is called "spiritual transmutation." Will-power becomes a living power. The intensity of our ardent aspirations changes prayer into the "philosopher's stone," or that which transmutes lead into pure gold.

It is blasphemy to teach that an Omniscient and Omnipotent God needs uttered prayers to know what he has to do! Similarly, it is regarded as idolatry to pray to created finite beings -- I.e., gods, saints, angels. One should therefore try to replace fruitless and useless prayer by meritorious and good-producing actions. Buddha says, "Seek nought from the helpless gods -- pray not! But rather act, for darkness will not brighten. Ask nought from the silence, for it can neither speak nor hear." We believe neither in vicarious atonement nor in the possibility for the remission of the smallest sin by any god, not even by a "personal Absolute" or "Infinite."

That which supports the faith of man in God and a spiritual life to come is Intuition, the divine outcome of our inner self. "There is a faculty of the human mind," wrote Iamblichus, "which is superior to all which is born or begotten. Through it we are enabled to attain union with the superior intelligences, to being transported beyond the scenes of this world, and to partaking the higher life and peculiar powers of the heavenly ones." This is the faculty called Intuition. The mind, the sentient soul, called fav-atma, is inseparable from the physical brain, which it holds in subjection, and is in its turn equally trammeled by it. While it is yet within the material body, the clearness and correctness of its spiritual visions depend on its more or less intimate relation with its higher principle -- Intuition. When this relation is such as to allow the most ethereal portions of this soul-essence to act independently of its grosser particles and of the brain, it can unerringly comprehend what it sees. Then only is it the pure, rational, super-sentient soul. This state is known in India as the Samadhi. It is the highest condition of spirituality possible to man on earth.

There is another, dark, side of prayer. A prayer may be an appeal or an incantation for malediction, and a curse (as in the case of two armies praying simultaneously for mutual destruction) as much as for blessing. Sorcery and incantations are regarded as fables now; yet from the day of the Institutes of Justinian down to the laws against witchcraft of England and America, such incantations, even when only suspected, were punished as criminal. A classic historical example of this aspect of "prayer" is related of the pagan Greeks who, upon the approach of the fleet of Xerxes, were advised by the oracle of Delphi to "sacrifice to the winds." The Athenians are accused of having sacrificed thus to Boreas; and this "Demon" is charged with having submerged and wrecked 400 ships of the Persian fleet on the rocks of Mount Pelion, and of having become so furious "that all the Magi of Xerxes could hardly counteract it by offering contra-sacrifices to Tethys" (Herodotus). "Very fortunately," comments H. P. Blavatsky, "no authenticated instance is on the records of Christian wars showing a like catastrophe on the same scale happening to one Christian 'fleet' owing to the prayers of its enemy -- another Christian nation. But this from no fault of theirs, for each prays as ardently to Jehovah for the destruction of the other, as the Athenians prayed to Boreas. Both resorted to a neat little piece of black magic con amore."

Every such "sacrifice" or prayer to God for help is no better than an act of black magic. It was not superstition in the Greeks, if the same has to be regarded as Divine Worship in the Israelites, who sacrificed as often to wind and fire -- especially to the latter element. Do they not say that their "God is a consuming fire"? And did not Elijah seek for him (the Lord) in the "great strong wind, and in the earthquake"? Do not the Christians repeat the same after them? Do not they, moreover, sacrifice to this day to the same God of Wind and Water? They do; because special prayers for rain, dry weather, trade winds and the calming of storms on the seas exist to this hour in certain prayer-books. These are relics of pagan sacrifices to the gods of the elements. The magic of the ancient priests of Atlantis consisted, in that far day, in addressing their gods in their own language. These were the Cosmic gods in their phenomenal manifestation of the four elements. "The speech of men cannot reach the Lords. Each must be addressed in the language of his respective element." An ancient book adds as an explanation of the nature of that Element-language: "It is composed of sounds, not words; of sounds, numbers and figures. He who knows how to blend the three, will call forth the response of the superintending Power" (the regent-god of the specific element needed).

The latter science or element-language has survived in the mantras found in the Vedic works, used as incantations and charms, anciently, and today by those "adepts who have the power to translate a strictly regular mantram, from the Sanskrit, into any form of language." A mantram is a collection of words which, when sounded in speech, induces certain vibrations not only in the air, but also in the finer ether, thereby producing certain effects. The indispensable agent of every such magical performance, religious or profane, is the Akasa. In the sacrificial mysteries of the Vedas, Akasa is the all-directing and omnipotent Deva (god) who plays the part of superintendent over the magical effects of the religious performance, and had its own appointed priest in days of old, who took its name. These mantrams, or "prayers," of white magic are hidden in the ancient Sanskrit and in the language which preceded it. Their use is known to none but the Initiates.

To disbelieve that there exist in man certain arcane powers which, by psychological study he can develop in himself to the highest degree, that he becomes an hierophant (adept-scientist), and then imparts to others under the same conditions of earthly discipline, is to cast an imputation of falsehood upon a number of the best, purest, and most learned men of antiquity and the middle ages. "The Will," says Van Helmont, "is the first of all powers. ... The will is the property of all spiritual beings, and displays itself in them the more actively, the more they are freed from matter." Paracelsus teaches that "determined will is the beginning of all magical operations. It is because men do not perfectly imagine and believe the result, that the [occult] arts are so uncertain, while they might be perfectly certain." Reason, the outgrowth of the physical brain, develops at the expense of instinct -- the flickering reminiscence of a once divine omniscience -- spirit. In losing instinct, man loses his intuitive powers, which are the crown and ultimatum of instinct. Reason is the clumsy weapon of the scientist -- intuition the unerring guide of the seer. We believe in "communion" and simultaneous action in unison with our "Father in secret"; and in rare moments of ecstatic bliss, in the mingling of our higher soul with the universal essence, attracted as it is towards its origin and center. Whether in the "inner temple," or through the study of Theurgy carried on privately, or by the sole exertion of a whole life of spiritual labor, men of old obtained the practical proof of such divine possibilities for man fighting his battle with life on earth to win a life in the eternity!

But are such "practical proofs of divine possibilities" to be found among the men of today? The great majority of people are intensely selfish, and pray only for themselves, asking to be given their "daily bread" instead of working for it, and begging God not to lead them "into temptation" but to deliver them from evil. The result is that prayer as now understood is doubly pernicious: (a) It kills in man self-reliance; (b) It develops in him a still more ferocious selfishness and egotism than he is already endowed with by nature. And the plain truth is stated to be that they are "unwise who believe that Karma-Nemesis may be propitiated by whatever sacrifice or prayers, or have her wheel diverted from the path it has once taken." Further: "Woe unto those Occultists and Theosophists who, instead of crushing out the desires of the lower personal ego or physical man, and saying, addressing their Higher Spiritual Ego immersed in Atma-Buddhic light, 'Thy will be done, not mine,' etc., send up waves of will-power for selfish or unholy purposes! For this is black magic, abomination, and spiritual sorcery." Karma is, in the strictest sense, "no respecter of persons," and can neither be propitiated, nor turned aside by prayers. An occultist or a philosopher will not speak of the goodness or cruelty of Providence; but, identifying it with Karma-Nemesis, he will teach that nevertheless it guards the good and watches over them in this, as in future lives; and that it punishes evil-doers -- aye, even to the seventh rebirth. So long, in short, as the effect of his having thrown into perturbation even the smallest atom in the Infinite World of Harmony has not been finally adjusted.

Plotinus recommended solitude for prayer, as the most efficient means of obtaining what is asked. He elaborated the entire theosophy and theurgy of his predecessors into a complete system, and believed with Iamblichus in the attaining of a divine power, which, overcoming the mundane life, rendered the individual an organ of the Deity. The ancient and medieval mystics divided magic into three classes -- Theurgia, Goetia, and natural Magic. "Theurgia has long since been appropriated as the peculiar sphere of the (elder) theosophists and metaphysicians. Goetia is black magic, and natural (or white) magic has risen with healing in its wings to the proud position of an exact and progressive study."

The most sublime part of the epopteia (Mysteries) consisted in beholding the gods themselves invested in a resplendent light, or the highest planetary spirits. The statement of Proclus upon this subject is unequivocal: "In all the initiations and mysteries, the gods exhibit many forms of themselves, and appear in a variety of shapes, and sometimes a formless light of themselves is held forth to the view. Sometimes this light is according to human form, and sometimes it proceeds in a different shape." The ancients, unlike ourselves, could "try" the spirits and discern the difference between the good and the evil ones, the human and the elemental. They also knew that unregulated spirit intercourse, the modern Spiritualism and old-fashioned worship of the dead -- brought ruin upon the individual and disaster to the community. This was not the right-hand Magic of old. Magic was considered as a sacred science inseparable from religion by the oldest and most civilized and learned nations. "The realistic desires of modern times have contributed to bring magic into disrepute and ridicule ... Faith (in one's self) is an essential element in magic, and existed long before other ideas which presume its existence. It is said that it takes a wise man to make a fool; and a man's ideas must be exalted ... i.e., his brain susceptibilities must be increased far beyond the low, miserable status of modern civilization, before he can become a true magician. For a pursuit of this science implies isolation, and an abnegation of self."

Who better than the ancient priests knew the relation between magic and "prayer"? For true magic is but the same exaltation of soul toward "the gods," which gods are in truth but the occult powers of potencies of Nature, personified by the learned priests themselves, in which they reverenced only the attributes of the one unknown and nameless Principle. This was the Theurgy of the Alexandrian theosophists as of their later successors during the middle ages. As Proclus ably puts it: "Ancient priests, when they considered that there is a certain alliance and sympathy in natural things to each other, and of things manifest to occult powers, and discovered that all things subsist in all, fabricated a science sacred from this mutual sympathy and similarity. And they applied for occult purposes, both celestial and terrene natures, by means of which, through a certain similitude, they deduced divine virtues into this inferior abode."

Theurgy is defined as "a communication with, and means of bringing down to earth, planetary spirits and angels -- the 'gods of Light'." Knowledge of the inner meaning of the hierarchies, and purity of life alone can lead to the acquisition of the powers necessary for communion with them. To arrive at such an exalted goal the aspirant must be absolutely worthy and unselfish. This is true magic, the science of communicating with and directing supernal, supra-mundane Potencies, as well as of commanding those of the lower spheres; a practical knowledge of the hidden nature of such powers being known to only a few, because they are so difficult to acquire, without falling into sins against nature. "If the ancients knew but little of our mode of investigations into the secrets of nature, we know still less of their mode of research." We know as little today of the fundamental nature of "prayer within one's closet."

For "prayer" once meant that ecstatic state in which the mind was liberated from its finite consciousness, becoming one and identified with the infinite. It was a condition of complete "self-possession," and he who possessed the power was able to exercise an absolute control over all his faculties, becoming one with the all, the highest state.
ONE (1) FOOTNOTE LISTED BELOW:

(1) NOTE.--Collated mostly from Theosophical sources.
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