Monday, November 15, 2010

Say A Little Prayer

Yesterday one of my friends took me to her Nichiren Buddhism chanting class. Though she is a practising Hindu she has been attending this class for a year. She says this has helped her tremendously. Chanting, she feels, has made her serene and tranquil. Out of sheer curiosity, I decided to go there to figure out what made her so enthusiastic about Buddhist chanting.

The class started with a chant of  Nam Myoho Renge Kyo, (I bow down to the mystic laws of cause and effect). The group, which consisted of women between 30 to 50, also chanted some other prayers, which went completely over my head. They were all in Japanese.

I am not very religious, though religion fascinates me. I do not perform  Puja every day. I rarely go to the temple. I do not believe in rituals. But I do have a strong faith. I believe there is a power above. I firmly believe if offered sincerely, prayers come true. I have experienced it many times myself. For me, understanding the language of that prayer is very important.Though the chants were mesmerising and sounded really beautiful, I felt completely out of place.

The leader of the group, who thankfully did not take offence at my scepticism, asked me if I understood all the Sanskrit prayers that I was more used to hearing. Most Hindu prayers are from the Vedas or the Upanishads. They are in Sanskrit which has been dead for centuries. If I could place my faith blindly in them, why could I not show the same faith in this. In my defense, I did point out that I do not chant mantras blindly. The few shlokas that I know and chant, I know their meaning. Moreover, even now, in India, there are people who can explain the philosophy behind these mantras. Sanskrit is still not so dead that we do not have teachers. How many people would I find who can explain some 13th century Buddhist texts in Japanese?

But the whole session did make me think. Is language really important when it comes to religion? How many Muslims are there in India who can fully understand the Koranic verses which are in Arabic? How many Hindus have studied the Vedas or the Geeta which are in Sanskrit? But does that make these people less devout? Do they really need to connect with the language before they connect with the faith?

You decide. All I know is that though God is universal, my relation with Him/Her is private. My prayers are unique. They are not found in any religious texts. When I chant some prayers, I want to know what they exactly mean. I pray because I want to be a better human being. I pray for strength. I pray to be a better mother. I pray for the well being of the society that we live in. I pray for my family and for my near and dear ones. What good is it to me if I do not understand that prayer?


ZB said...

Great Post. very well said-"my relation with Him/Her is private"........all boils down to ways one looks at the world, his existence, philosophy, ego etc....

I feel its important to have a spiritual outlook in life-about our existence, time, space etc. Last month i fasted for 3 days and i am a changed man. No food, just water for 3days and i experience something which i hadn't in my 30 years of life. I passed through stages-from great hunger, headache, nausea, then to a stage when i had no hunger and absolute clear mind. The mind was so focused that i felt i had gone mad.A focused mind is absolute bliss. TC, had a great time reading.:)

ZB said...

and religion fascinates me too. If one studies Advaita vedanta, its so advanced that its shocking how spiritually advanced our forefather were. Adi Shankara was probably the GREATEST philosopher mankind has had.

Ire said...

Very thought provoking. Religion, of course is fascinating but it is the interpretation of the same that is most important, according to me. :D

Nupur said...

the last paragraph is ditto what I believe in...Also I'm a believer of God but I'm against of showing of your religion and your prayers and what all you do to 'please' God !

Prayers are personal.You're absolutely right :)

Sarmistha said...

You are absolutely right when you said "My relationship with Him is private" and that there is a supreme one who hears me when I call.That is the only prayer and faith that exists.

SM said...

very well written
ask him the history why Buddhism spread outside India and not in India.

Kavita Saharia said...

"Maala To Kar Mein Phire, Jeebh Phire Mukh Mahin
Manua To Chahun Dish Phire, Yeh To Simran Nahin ." ....your post reminds me of this doha by Kabir.

Unknown said...

Nice Article very useful for me.Thank you

sujata sengupta said...

I like my God up there, I dont interfere with his work and I dont want him to interfere with my work. Thats the sort of relation I have with him. I dont chant, nor do I pray, but yes I know God exists, or atleast my belief in God exists.

Unknown said...

If we make religion 'showy', nothing good comes out of it.

Anuradha Shankar said...

very interesting, Aparna.... i am one of those who visit temple, pray, perform rituals, yet have my own ideas of God... Yes, for me it is the unexplainable power above us, who is apparent in not just nature but all the things and people and talent around us... it is to Him i pray to... the rituals and prayers are more of a way of life than anything else.... But then again, I never recite a prayer i cant understand...somehow reciting just the words without understanding them doesnt give me the satisfaction of prayer.. but then again, the prescribed words arent really necessary for me either... sometimes i go somewhere.. it may just be some place or an old dilapidated temple,but then i feel the presence of the power and dont need words to express it... the feeling itself is enough of prayer!

Onkar said...

I agree, it helps if you know the meaning. Otherwise, you cannot be fully into it.

BK Chowla, said...

Dont worry, God understands all the languages.All He expects is a clear and honest effort to reach Him

trao sem said...

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Gymnast said...

I like Sujata's point of view.

If there is a God or not , nobody can ever say..

I do not pray nor do i think he/she can influence my life..

Destiny's child... said...

Apart from a few verses of the Bible I have not read any religious book nor do I know any shloka. But I strongly believe in the concept of God. It gives me strength and courage.

Aparna said...

ZB, I do not know whether I'll ever be able to fast. Just the thought makes me hungry. But I'd like to try.
I recently read Tattva Bodha by Adi Shankaracharya. Read it if you haven't. simple concepts, simply explained. But so much wisdom.

Nikita, most of us interpret the texts wrong, that creates all the problems.

Scribbler, I firmly believe my religion is mine and I do not care to flaunt it. But I guess every body is different.

Sharmishtha, yes, when I call, He/She is there, and that's what matters.

Kavita, I love Kabir. So much wisdom in so few words.

Mari, thank you.

Sujata, total non-interference from Him? That's a bit too much!

Keats the sunshine girl, if by 'showy' you mean flaunting our faith and our way of praying, you are absolutely right.

Anu, I think prayers are intensely personal and if done with complete sincerity, they always work.

Onkar, glad you agreed with me.

BK Chowla, I know He does!

Trao sem,thank you.

Gymnast, Does God exist? Who knows... but I'd like to believe He/She does.

Destiny's child, I like to read about different religion. It changes my outlook. It is fascinating how the same thoughts are expressed in different ways by different people.

Anonymous said...

Thought-provoking question, Aparna.

I, too, like to know the meaning of the prayers that I am chanting.

I agree that everyone will not be able to read a prayer in the original language, or may not understand the meaning even if it is translated.

If that is the case, perhaps the answer would be to rely upon the interpretation of a scholar/teacher whom one trusts? Someone who one feels will give a balanced interpretation?

dr.antony said...

We dont need any language to communicate with God.So why do we have to chant written down prayers? I dont believe in blabbering something which I dont understand.Prayer is supposed to be a communication with God.If you believe in God, then He is someone who reads even your thoughts.Do we need a language to cry?

The Holy Lama said...

Try to view the recent Malayalam movie Pranchiettan with some Malayali to translate.
I will give you a hint:
There is is this scene where Mammotty prays to St. Antony who reveals himself to Mammootty ad speaks in Armaic or syrian. Mammooty asks in Malayalam and he replies in the Biblical language. Exasperated finally, Mammootty comments,"So, all this while we Malayalis were praying and you don't even understand a word of it"


Anonymous said...

I agree with The Holy Lama. Watch the movie. :) Everyone believes that GOD understands their language.:)

I think I know only the "Gayathri Mantra", does that make me less of a Hindu. I rarely used to say anything to God, even though I used to light a lamp morning and evening.

Now, I just accept what HE gives. No asking, no complaining and no hopes. So there is no need for a prayer anymore. Definitely not a Japanese one! :)

JP said...

Language doesn't matter, but you should know what you are praying to God :)

radha said...

Very true. My prayers are in English. And I recite some mantras ( to me, this indicates ageing, but it gives me peace). I am not a regular temple goer. I finish all my cooking on festival days and then go for a bath ( I am hoping since this is an old post no one will read this and get shocked). But I hope the power above will realise this is an effort on my part to appease Him!