On Prayer and Worship

Excerpts from a lecture on “The Science of Prayer” delivered by B. P. Wadia at the United Lodge of Theosophists in Bombay (Mumbai), India, in 1932. These were originally published in The Theosophical Movement magazine and are reproduced here thanks to the kind co-operation and assistance of the Mumbai ULT who can be visited online at www.ultindia.org.

Get rid of the notion that some great God listens to your prayer and answers it or refuses to respond to it as the case may be. There is no such being; there is no God, no Allah, no Ahuramazda, no Jehovah, nor what some badly instructed theosophists call the Solar Logos, in the sense of a Personal creator outside of Nature, and Nature’s immutable laws, who can grant you special favours.

There is no one supreme power to whom prayers can be offered and from whom responses can be expected. Theosophy rejects such a concept of God. And yet, please note, Theosophists are not Atheists as is sometimes thought. In fact, as H.P.B. so often explained, Theosophy and Theosophy alone, as a scientific system of thought, can prove the existence of a divine universal power everywhere present. It does not deny the existence of God or Deity in Nature any more than an intelligent man would deny that of the sun. But it does refuse to admit any and all so-called Gods of orthodox religions. …

We must abandon the idea of prayers as petitions to a God or Gods.

Secondly, what is called congregational worship is greatly misused because its serious dangers are not understood. … As congregational worship is the prominent institution of the Christian churches, let us look for a moment at what Jesus himself taught. As in other matters, in this too, what Jesus taught and what the churches practise are opposing things. Jesus would not allow his pupils and followers to go to public synagogues. He said, “When thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are, but enter into thine inner chamber and having shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret.”

It is a well-known experience that praying congregations mutter words about one thing, see with their eyes other things, and feel and think about not what they say, but what they see! But it is not only avoidance of hypocrisy, non-concentration, and inattentiveness which underlies the words of Jesus, but also avoidance of something more dangerous and really fundamental, something that every Yogi, every occultist is aware of.

Many Parsis and even some Hindus think it a worthy reform to follow the practice of the Christian churches – collective prayer and hymn singing. Once again there is a basis of truth in this practice, but as followed today it is degraded and its dangers are not realized. Such forms of worship awaken certain forces and unless there is knowledge and understanding they had better be left alone.

What then is true prayer? …

There are three voices in man: the voice of fleshly desires, the voice of conscience and the voice of the Soul. … In each one of us there are three voices clamouring. … We can reduce the study of our subject of prayer to order by examining it in connection with these three voices. For there is a prayer to be performed in reference to our desires, another in reference to our conscience, and third in reference to our Soul.

Repentance and penance are prayers for freeing ourselves from the Satan of desires.

Self-examination is prayer for the right execution of the injunctions given by conscience.

Contemplation is prayer for aspiring to touch the Soul, and to hear its “still, small voice.”

The first will help us to avoid the temptations of the voice of flesh; the second to unfold and strengthen the voice of conscience; the third to awaken the God within. All three practices, penance, self-examination, and contemplation, are now corrupted and degraded, and we must try and restore the correct method of the threefold prayer in our own individual lives.

As more men and women understand and apply the truth about prayer, not only they individually, but also their community and country, will feel the uplift of their wisdom. As in other matters, so in this, real reform will come as individual after individual gives up the false and adopts the true method of prayer.

Let us understand then the first type of prayer, which all of us need – repentance when we have done wrong. The first truth to grasp is that no outside force, no outside power can master us if we do not wish and do not will it to master us. Our difficulty does not lie with the tempter without, but ourselves who respond from within.

Make no mistake about it, there are forces of evil, of passion, of greed, which alas! surround humanity. Theosophy teaches the existence of the Astral Light which, like a poisonous snake, coils round humankind. What this Astral Light is, is fully explained in our books, but we have no time to go into it today. Note this, however: if within your own nature there is no food for that snake it will not affect you. …

People, carried away by their passions and desires, do fall, do make mistakes, and then it is that the power of the first kind of prayer must be used. Repentance is not confession or absolution. No priest, no one however high, has the power to absolve; no Pope can take away your sins from you. Similarly no hocus-pocus of incantation, of muttering Sanskrit, or Avesta or Latin will absolve you either.

What, then, is right penance? A clear perception of the blunder committed, a courageous and honest acceptance to ourselves that we committed it, and then an intelligent step to counteract the effects already generated. It is no confession to a religious authority, but to ourselves, and to the one whom we may have involved in our evil deed. Take a simple example. You deceive somebody by telling a story. You come home and your conscience pricks you. You confess to yourself – that is all right. But what next? Prayer offered to some God somewhere will not help. Even your resolved will not to tell untrue stories again is not sufficient. There are but false or incomplete methods of prayer. What is correct?

Having noted your blunder, ask why you committed it; examine your motive; then go and confess to the friend to whom you told the story, expose your low motive to him, and finally, take the necessary step to speak the truth on the matter. The prayer of penance, generated by true repentance and true confession, is opposite action to the mistake made. If we merely feel sorry, regret, and do nothing about it, next time we will do greater evil; in our example we will tell bigger falsehood. Of course, it is difficult to admit we told a lie to our friend, also difficult to give him the correct story; and it will hurt our pride, but if we want to offer true penance it must be done.

We will save ourselves all the trouble in the world if we introduce into our lives the exercise of the second kind of prayer which cultivates conscience. Its name is self-examination. It is a very common phenomenon that people who go to churches and temples, or pray at home, regularly commit mistakes and are no better off than many who never go to a temple or never pray. Now why is this? Because they do not know of, or do not practise, self-examination.

Whether vicious or virtuous, those who do not examine themselves, their motives and ideas, their methods and habits, are like animals. They may live like angry tigers or happy sparrows, but they do not grow, they do not progress. What is self-examination? It has first to do with conscience; secondly, it has to do with the Soul.

Let me first describe the practice. The most suitable time for it is at the end of the day. Nature compels us to examine the whole of our life at the time of death. We then see, in full detail, the pictures of our whole life-process. It is a phenomenon in Nature, and wise people adopt its lessons, in daily life. All soul teachers have taught and still teach this self-examination as a daily exercise or prayer.

How do you perform that prayer? First, you must finish all that is to be done, get yourself ready for sleep, and be alone. Then begin to review all that you have enacted during the day that is just closing. Survey all your activities; they fall, for all of us, into four compartments – all our thoughts, all our feelings, all our words, and all our deeds. Some people begin with the first hour in the morning and proceed till they reach the last hour. Others reverse the process. They begin with the last act and go backwards. Others again do it in compartments, thoughts, feelings, words, and deeds. It does not matter what method you adopt, how you proceed to do your review of self-examination. The important thing is its observance. Examine yourself. Note your good points and your weak ones. Do not make excuses for your slips and blunders. Do not try to explain away your mistakes. Face the situation. Be true to yourself, be honest.

Noting the wrongs which can be expiated, do repent and resolve to offer penance in the right way on the next day. On the other hand, do not be elated, but express humble thankfulness, that in some matters you did the right thing, spoke the truth, felt kindly, or thought nobly.

But there will be one more difficulty. In some cases we are not sure whether it was right or wrong that we did. It is comparatively easy to note the right, and face the wrong, avoiding both elation and depression, but what shall we do when we are not sure, when we are in doubt? Even when we are not sure of our position we often find later on that we were wrong! It is very necessary therefore that we have good basis, to justify, or to criticize ourselves. Do not be an advocate or a lawyer, do not try to get your client, your lower self, to escape the punishment of his misdeeds, nor to make excuse for him. Be a judge, impartial, wise, who decides – not now – not according to his feelings but according to Law. And that brings us to a most important point. To be a good judge, to deliver correct judgments, you must possess knowledge. It is here, at this place and juncture, that we see the great value, the uttermost necessity, of study.

Our review, our self-examination, will be somewhat barren unless knowledge of the laws of life, of growth, of good and evil, are understood. Therefore, the Buddha taught his Bhikkus to examine their conduct by the light of the Divine Paramitas, the Virtues inherent in Nature, which can be understood by a study of the Laws of Nature. Just as paying heed and attention to conscience and obeying its dictates saves us from falling prey to the voice of flesh, so on the other hand, putting our mind en rapport with great and noble ideas, and especially with the Laws of Nature, which are just, infallible, and unalterable, we are drawn towards the higher voice of our Heart, the voice of the Soul, the Voice of the God within us.

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“Neither the collective Host (Demiurgos), nor any of the working powers individually, are proper subjects for divine honours or worship. All are entitled to the grateful reverence of Humanity, however, and man ought to be ever striving to help the divine evolution of Ideas, by becoming to the best of his ability a co-worker with nature in the cyclic task. The ever unknowable and incognizable Karana alone, the Causeless Cause of all causes, should have its shrine and altar on the holy and ever untrodden ground of our heart – invisible, intangible, unmentioned, save through “the still small voice” of our spiritual consciousness. Those who worship before it, ought to do so in the silence and the sanctified solitude of their Souls; making their spirit the sole mediator between them and the Universal Spirit, their good actions the only priests, and their sinful intentions the only visible and objective sacrificial victims to the Presence.”

– H. P. Blavatsky, “The Secret Doctrine” Vol. 1, p. 280 –


Theosophy on Prayer, Daily Self-Study and Self-Examination, and The Theosophical Guide To Meditation

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