What’s the purpose of praying in temples?

A reader from India asked a question which deserves to be highlighted as a separate blog post.  The question was: “Many times people on their way to temples meet with accidents and die.  What is the point of praying to Deities if they cannot protect their own devotees ?  We also hear of stories where people claim that their beloved Deity saved them.  How do we know if it was the Deity who intervened.  Why does the Diety intervene in one case and not in another?”

These questions are emblematic of the modern rational mind which is ruled by science and deprived of any contact with Nature.  The rational mind disbelieves the effect of prayer; the devotional mind believes all prayers are answered.  Where lies the truth?

Sri Aurobindo gave a lucid explanation of the efficacy of prayer in the chapter on “The Godward Emotions” in the Synthesis of Yoga.  He wrote:

The efficacy of prayer is often doubted and prayer itself supposed to be a thing irrational and necessarily superfluous and ineffective. It is true that the universal will executes always its aim and cannot be deflected by egoistic propitiation and entreaty, it is true of the Transcendent who expresses himself in the universal order that, being omniscient, his larger knowledge must foresee the thing to be done and it does not need direction or stimulation by human thought and that the individual’s desires are not and cannot be in any world-order the true determining factor. But neither is that order or the execution of the universal will altogether effected by mechanical Law, but by powers and forces of which for human life at least, human will, aspiration and faith are not among the least important. Prayer is only a particular form given to that will, aspiration and faith. Its forms are very often crude and not only childlike, which is in itself no defect, but childish; but still it has a real power and significance. Its power and sense is to put the will, aspiration and faith of man into touch with the divine Will as that of a conscious Being with whom we can enter into conscious and living relations. For our will and aspiration can act either by our own strength and endeavour, which can no doubt be made a thing great and effective whether for lower or higher purposes, -and there are plenty of disciplines which put it forward as the one force to be used, — or it can act in dependence upon and with subordination to the divine or the universal Will. And this latter way, again, may either look upon that Will as responsive indeed to our aspiration, but almost mechanically, by a sort of law of energy, or at any rate quite impersonally, or else it may look upon it as responding consciously to the divine aspiration and faith of the human soul and consciously bringing to it the help, the guidance, the protection and fruition demanded, yogaksemam vahamyaham.

Prayer helps to prepare this relation for us at first on the lower plane even while it is there consistent with much that is mere egoism and self-delusion; but afterwards we can draw towards the spiritual truth which is behind it. It is not then the giving of the thing asked for that matters, but the relation itself, the contact of man’s life with God, the conscious interchange. In spiritual matters and in the seeking of spiritual gains, this conscious relation is a great power; it is a much greater power than our own entirely self-reliant struggle and effort and it brings a fuller spiritual growth and experience. Necessarily, in the end prayer either ceases in the greater thing for which it prepared us, — in fact the form we call prayer is not itself essential so long as the faith, the will, the aspiration are there, — or remains only for the joy of the relation. Also its objects, the artha or interest it seeks to realise, become higher and higher until we reach the highest motiveless devotion, which is that of divine love pure and simple without any other demand or longing.

(from http://surasa.net/aurobindo/synthesis/part-3.html#ch03)

Woman praying at the Golden Temple in Amritsar, India. Photo by Malosky. Flickr Creative Commons. Click image for source

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6 thoughts on “What’s the purpose of praying in temples?

  1. Ananya

    Prayer and Response
    “As for prayer, no hard and fast rule can be laid down. Some prayers are answered, all are not. The eldest daughter of my maternal uncle, Sri Krishna Kumar Mitra ( the editor of Sanjivani – not by any means a romantic, occult, supraphysical or even an imaginative person) was abandoned by the doctors after using every resource, all medicines were stopped as useless. The father said, ‘There is only God now, let us pray.’ He did and from that moment, the girl began to recover. The typhoid fever and all the symptoms fled, death also. I know of any number of cases like that. Well? You may ask why then should all the prayers be not answered? But why should they? It is not a machinery: put a prayer in the slot and get for your asking. Besides, considering all the contradictory things mankind is praying for at the same moment, God would be in a rather awkward hole if he had to grant all of them; it wouldn’t do.“
    – Sri Aurobindo
    Source – Reminiscences and Anecdotes of Sri Aurobindo compiled by M.P.Pandit

  2. mike

    Yes, l’ve seen prayers answered in my own case and for other people on many occasions – especially through the intervention of Sri Aurobindo and The Mother.
    l believe our Psychic Being [as a result of prayer] will go to SA and M and they will respond immediately.

  3. mike

    Also, a mature or developed Psychic Being knows when to act [when it’s a genuine prayer that is] unlike our petty, demanding ego.

  4. gopal

    the overmental zone , SA has spoken of this….., i have this belief, they are guiding, it is also said all the gods and deities collaborate with maa on specifics….. in Life……


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