What does Theosophy teach about prayer?
Many students of the original Theosophical teachings would say that Theosophy doesn’t support the practice of prayer. But that is only partially correct and seemingly stems from either inattentive reading of H. P. Blavatsky’s writings or from filtering the Theosophical teachings through one’s own preferred beliefs, ideas, and approach.
Some Theosophists might answer the question by saying that Theosophy teaches we can pray to our Higher Self and petition that highermost part of our being to help us and do things for us. But that is only partly true and for some is merely the standard religious practice of petitionary prayer with only a change of name of the One being addressed, i.e. changing the addressee from “God” to “Higher Self.”
Over the years, there have been some Theosophists who have claimed that Theosophy basically forbids people from praying. But this is not so. William Q. Judge, HPB’s most trusted co-founder and colleague, said:
“And as to prayer, if you want to pray, pray. But if you pray, and if you say you have a certain belief, live up to it. If you do not do so you are no Theosophist, nor a man, nor a proper living person. You are only a hypocrite.” (“Organized Life of The T.S.”)
THREE MAIN FORMS OF PRAYER
There is not just one single thing called prayer. We would suggest that there are three main forms of prayer, namely petitionary prayer (i.e. asking the Divine or any other unseen entity to do something, whether spiritual or material, for either ourselves or others), prayer as a vocalised or verbalised expression of inner aspiration, devotion, or gratitude and thanksgiving, and the mysterious occult type of prayer which Theosophy calls “Will-Prayer.” It is the first of these which Theosophy is generally opposed to. As to the second and third categories, it considers these perfectly right and good, provided that the motives involved are pure and unselfish.
As to why petitionary prayer is discouraged and described by H. P. Blavatsky as “fruitless and useless,” these few quotations may help to briefly explain:
“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.” (B. P. Wadia, “The Science of Prayer”)
And, as we’ll see later from “The Key to Theosophy,” HPB emphasises that the process which she calls “Will-Prayer” must also not be viewed or treated as a petition: “Let no Theosophist, if he would hold to divine, not human truth, say that this “God in secret” listens to, or is distinct from, either finite man or the infinite essence – for all are one. Nor, as just remarked, that a prayer is a petition.” (p. 68)
Petitionary prayer is also discouraged because Theosophy maintains the existence of –
“. . . the sexless, infinite, absolute Principle, the only One to be worshipped in spirit and not with rites; whose immutable laws no words of prayer or propitiation can change, and whose sunny or shadowy, beneficent or maleficent influence, grace or curse, under the form of Karma, can be determined only by the actions—not by the empty supplications—of the devotee.” (HPB, “Buddhism, Christianity and Phallicism”)
“Karma in its effects is an unfailing redresser of human injustice, and of all the failures of nature; a stern adjuster of wrongs; a retributive law which rewards and punishes with equal impartiality. It is, in the strictest sense, “no respecter of persons,” though, on the other hand, it can neither be propitiated, nor turned aside by prayer. This is a belief common to Hindus and Buddhists, who both believe in Karma.” (HPB, “The Key to Theosophy” p. 198)
But having said that, there are some prayers which sound somewhat like petitions but which Theosophy actually views highly. The Gayatri Mantra is one example. It seems that Theosophy considers such to be more of the nature of the expression of a spiritual aspiration rather than a true request for the Divine to do something for one’s benefit.
It is interesting – and, in a sense, surprising – to see that the Master Serapis, apparently associated with the Egyptian branch of the Great Brotherhood of Masters of Wisdom, both expresses and advises petitionary prayer in some of his letters to Colonel Olcott from the early days of the Theosophical Society. This Adept makes such remarks as “Unto the regents of Light I send for thee my prayer,” and requests “Pray, both of you, for our Sister [i.e. referring to HPB], she deserves it.” Perhaps the most we can conclude from this is a valuable reminder not to dogmatise and to avoid being closed minded.
HELP THROUGH MANTRAS AND GEMSTONES
But even if Theosophy does not promote prayers such as “Higher Self, please do such-and-such for me,” it does state that it is possible to “invoke” the help of our Higher Self and also of our Higher Ego. For details of the distinction and interrelation between our Higher Self and Higher Ego (terms which in English appear exactly synonymous but, in Theosophy, actually are not) please see such articles on this site as Atman – The Higher Self, Ego Is Not A Bad Word, Understanding Our Seven Principles, and Manas – The Mystery of Mind. Such invocation for their “joint help” can be done through the use of certain mantras, such as the Sanskrit mantra “Om Mani Padme Hum,” also written “Aum Mani Padme Hum,” the most well known mantra in Tibetan Buddhism.
This mantramic phrase is literally translated as “Om [i.e. the most sacred Word or Sound of all Indic religions, said to be equivalent to the Ultimate Reality itself], the jewel in the lotus” or “the jewel in the heart of the lotus.”
H. P. Blavatsky explains:
“In esoteric philosophy Avaloki [i.e. Avalokiteshwara, literally “the Ishwara, or Lord, who observes” or “the Ishwara who is the Witness”], the “on-looker”, is the Higher Self [i.e. Atman], while Padmapâni is the Higher Ego or Manas. The mystic formula “Om mani padme hum” is specially used to invoke their joint help.” (“The Theosophical Glossary” p. 44, Entry for “Avalokiteswara”)
If one can succeed in this, it is not because one has succeeded in persuading or convincing one’s inner divine essence to “answer” but rather because one has succeeded in creating an inner attitude and receptive state of consciousness to experience and benefit from the divine help which is always present within us if only we can attune ourselves to it. There is of course also an occult vibrational aspect to mantras but as we are not given exact explanations and directions about this, we need not concern ourselves too much with it for the time being.
Although Theosophy hardly ever mentions the now popular practice of making spiritual use of crystals and gemstones, it nonetheless affirms that there is an ancient and legitimate basis to such practice. For those seeking inner divine help, HPB’s first book “Isis Unveiled” suggests that the sapphire may come in useful:
“The Hindus knew which was the most electric of all the prismatic colors [Note: Based on the preceding passage on the same page, it is the colour blue.]; moreover, the particular influence of the sapphire-stone was as well defined as that of all the other minerals. [Note: The sapphire is a gemstone which is usually the colour blue but can come in several other colours too.] Orpheus teaches how it is possible to affect a whole audience by means of a lodestone; Pythagoras pays a particular attention to the color and nature of precious stones; while Apollonius of Tyana imparts to his disciples the secret virtues of each, and changes his jewelled rings daily, using a particular stone for every day of the month and according to the laws of judicial astrology.The Buddhists assert that the sapphire produces peace of mind, equanimity, and chases all evil thoughts by establishing a healthy circulation in man. So does an electric battery, with its well-directed fluid, say our electricians. “The sapphire,” say the Buddhists, “will open barred doors and dwellings (for the spirit of man); it produces a desire for prayer, and brings with it more peace than any other gem; but he who would wear it must lead a pure and holy life.” (“Isis Unveiled” Vol. 1, p. 265)
PRAYER AS AN EXPRESSION OF INNER ASPIRATION, DEVOTION, OR THANKSGIVING
As mentioned earlier, one form of prayer with which Theosophy agrees is prayer as a vocalised or verbalised expression of inner aspiration, devotion, or gratitude and thanksgiving. We distinguish between “vocalised” and “verbalised” since some may naturally feel inclined to literally give voice to such noble internal feelings while others may only express them mentally or in thought.
While this type of prayer may occasionally appear to have some slight similarities with the abovementioned petitionary prayer, it is on the whole very different. This type of prayer is found in all the great religious and mystical traditions of the world and has often been given voice by celebrated poets of all nations, cultures, and ages.
Adi Shankaracharya, very highly revered in Theosophy due to reasons described here, had a strongly devotional side to his nature which he did not consider incompatible with his staunchly non-dualistic philosophical worldview of Advaita Vedanta Hinduism. His famous Saundarya Lahari (“The Wave or Ocean of Beauty”), a hymn to the Shakti, the Devi, the Goddess, the Divine Mother of the Universe – synonymous with the Daiviprakriti or “Light of the Logos” referred to in Theosophical literature and the Bhagavad Gita – has been discussed in the article The Secret of Daiviprakriti – The Light of The Logos. In another of his celebrated devotional texts – the Sivanandalahari, literally meaning “The Wave or Ocean of the Bliss of Shiva” – he expresses himself in such ways as –
“O Kingly swan of my mind! Why do you wander in the muddy tanks of worldliness, fit only for mean creatures? Go unto the pure and perpetual lake of divine contemplation, having eternal bliss for its waters, the minds of heavenly sages for its lotus flowers, the holy men as the birds resorting to it, sins as the dirt it cleanses away, and virtuous disposition as the fragrance it emits.” (verse 48)
“O moon-crested One! By Thy grace that primordial nescience (avidya) lodged in my heart has disappeared, and the cherished divine knowledge has dawned. Always, in ecstatic thought, I worship Thy lotus feet, which are capable of conferring what is good, and which constitute the chalice of salvation.” (verse 91)
In the eleventh chapter of the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna grants his disciple Arjuna a brief yet powerful and almost overwhelming vision of what we would call the all-pervading cosmic divine form of the Logos or Universal Spirit, the manifested or dynamic Divine which powers, sustains, animates, and energises the whole of manifestation. Arjuna then cannot help – as surely no-one could – but give vocalised expression to his profound inner feelings of devotion, awe, gratitude, humble reverence, and aspiration:
“And why should they not bow down to Thee, O mahatma, greater than all and than even Brahmā, the Primal Cause? O Infinite Being, O Lord of gods, O Abode of all worlds, Thou art the Indestructible (akshara), existence (sat) and non-existence (asat), and That which is beyond.
“Thou art the Primal God (adideva), the Primordial purusha. Thou art the Supreme Haven of Rest of the entire universe. Thou art both the Knower, and the Known, and also the Supreme Abode. By Thee the whole universe is pervaded, O Thou of countless forms.
“Thou art Vayu, Yama, Agni, Varuna, the Moon and Prajapati, the Great Grandsire. Salutations! Salutations unto Thee a thousand times, and again and again. Salutations! Salutations to Thee!
“Salutations to Thee before and behind! Salutations to Thee on all sides! O All! Thou art infinite in strength, infinite in daring. Thou pervadest everything and Thou art verily the All.” (Chapter 11, verses 37-40, Concord Grove Press edition, published by the United Lodge of Theosophists, Santa Barbara)
In 1983, Concord Grove Press published on behalf of the United Lodge of Theosophists in Santa Barbara, California, a book titled “The Jewel in The Lotus” which was described as “a comprehensive collection of chants, invocations and intimations from the world’s religions and mystical traditions.” Quite a few of its hundreds of passages – compiled together and edited by Raghavan Iyer – could be described as the type of prayer we are discussing in this section. Take, for example, the following, from p. 13 of the book. Titled “GREAT MAGNET” and described as a “Druid Hymn to The Sun,” it says:
GREAT MAGNET! Thy hidden power
Draws us ever onward to spaces anew.
Secret in the earth Thy life-forces waken
Stirrings and whispers that the ear cannot hear;
Later will come birth in the fullness of Thy splendour —
Now is the time of Thy mystery of nature,
Now does the cycle of Thy great turning blend;
All that has been shall lend to what comes after,
All that will come lies hidden in Thy promise,
Foster all the good that was gleaned in the harvest,
In the days that are past, when the growing time was o’er;
High resolve let us make in the new awakened glory.
Radiant One! Radiant One! Ignite us with Thy fire!
Carry we our boughs of the symbol eternal,
Constant and verdant throughout the season’s change;
Strew we our violets on all the stony places —
Symbol of the BLESSED ONES who trod this way before.
Onward we move in the cycle’s nascent stirring,
Onward we tread following Thy course.
What do H. P. Blavatsky and William Judge say about prayer as an expression of aspiration and gratitude?
“The words “My God, my Sun, thou hast poured thy radiance upon me!” were the final words that concluded the thanksgiving prayer of the Initiate, “the Son and the glorified Elect of the Sun.” (HPB, “Facts Underlying Adept Biographies”)
“The greatest crime that was ever perpetrated upon mankind was committed on that day when the first priest invented the first prayer with a selfish object in view. A God who may be propitiated by iniquitous prayers to “bless the arms” of the worshipper, and send defeat and death to thousands of his enemies – his brethren; a Deity that can be supposed not to turn a deaf ear to chants of laudation mixed with entreaties for a “fair propitious wind” for self, and as naturally disastrous to the selves of other navigators who come from an opposite direction – it is this idea of God that has fostered selfishness in man, and deprived him of his self-reliance. Prayer is an ennobling action when it is an intense feeling, an ardent desire rushing forth from our very heart, for the good of other people, and when entirely detached from any selfish personal object; the craving for a beyond is natural and holy in man, but on the condition of sharing that bliss with others. One can understand and well appreciate the words of the “heathen” Socrates, who declared in his profound though untaught wisdom, that:
“Our prayers should be for blessings on all, in general, for the Gods know best what is good for us.”
“But official prayer – in favour of a public calamity, or for the benefit of one individual irrespective of losses to thousands – is the most ignoble of crimes, besides being an impertinent conceit and a superstition.” (HPB, “The Secrecy of Initiates”)
“The object of this prayer [i.e. the Gayatri Mantra, which, in its most accurate translation in Theosophical literature, says: “In all three worlds – terrestrial, astral, and celestial – may we meditate upon the splendour of that Divine Sun who illuminates all. May its golden light nourish our understanding and guide us on our journey to its sacred seat.”] is that we may carry out our whole duty, after becoming acquainted with the truth, while we are on our journey to thy Sacred Seat. This is our pilgrimage, not of one, not selfishly, not alone, but the whole of humanity. For the sacred seat is not the Brahmanical heaven of Indra, nor the Christian selfish heaven acquired without merit while the meritorious suffer the pains of hell. It is that place where all meet, where alone all are one. It is when and where the three great sounds of the first word of the prayer [i.e. AUM] merge into one soundless sound. This is the only proper prayer, the sole saving aspiration.” (WQJ, “A Commentary on The Gayatri”)
“That prayer or aspiration which is for spiritual light and wisdom is the highest of all, no matter to whom or what addressed. All religions teach that sort of prayer; all others are selfish and spiritually useless.” (WQJ, “Notes on The Bhagavad Gita” p. 140)
This may then raise the question of whether it is possible to receive “spiritual light and wisdom” just by asking for it. Surely not but if the words are simply the exterior clothing of an ardent internal feeling, aspiration, commitment, devotion, and effort, it is that internal aspect of it which will eventually attain the prize or goal that is sought.
Devotion is in Sanskrit the potent word “Bhakti.” That eleventh chapter of the Bhagavad Gita is part of the Bhakti Yoga section of the text (the first six chapters deal mostly with Karma Yoga, the Yoga of Action, the next six with Bhakti Yoga, the Yoga of Devotion, and the last six with Jnana Yoga, the Yoga of Spiritual Knowledge, but in fact these three primary forms of Yoga are often found interblended and synthesised, along with the Yoga of Meditation, throughout the whole book), which is called the Scripture of Yoga or Book of Yoga. Although commonly associated with worship and praise of a personal, anthropomorphic conception of God, real Bhakti is something much deeper and philosophical. It is an essential component of the spiritual life, regardless of whether one is a student of Theosophy or an adherent of a religion or whatever else.
In an article titled “Noetic Discrimination” in the March 1980 issue of the Santa Barbara ULT’s “Hermes” magazine, Raghavan Iyer commented:
“Any person who wishes to enter into the states of consciousness symbolized by the fifth [i.e. Manas, the higher mind principle, the Ego], the sixth [i.e. Buddhi, the spiritual soul principle] and the seventh [i.e. Atman, pure eternal spirit, the Higher Self, the One Universal Self of ALL] must in the fourth principle [i.e. Kama, the principle of desire and the emotional nature] create the germ of bhakti. Not only devotion, gratitude, loyalty and love, but also hunger and thirst for Divine Wisdom and Divine Life are the graces of the self-regenerated. When these become the constant, unuttered, inaudible hum of the heart, then a chela may become capable of receiving the light-energy that flows in and through every atom touched by the thought, the will and the feeling of the Mahatma. This is a profoundly sacred teaching, which draws attention to the Knowers of the Secret Doctrine (Gupta Vidya), Brahmajnanis, Tattvajnanis, Brahmarishis, Mahatmas, Dhyani Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, Manushi Buddhas, the great Teachers of all humanity. From the Teaching to the Teacher is an ancient axiom, which may be used as an infallible mantram.”
One of the most popular of the type of prayer we are presently discussing originates in the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad of Hinduism and says:
“Lead us from the unreal to the real. Lead us from darkness to light. Lead us from death to immortality.”
Our divine nature is always endeavouring to do just that. By expressing our sincere and heartfelt willingness to be so led, we may in time open and connect ourselves with that inner leading, guidance, and power.
But if your character and nature is just not at all inclined to give word or voice to any such “soul feelings” that is still perfectly fine, provided that you do indeed have such feelings. The following is from the poem “The Excursion” by William Wordsworth (1770-1850), part of which is included as the 579th entry (p. 535) in “The Jewel in The Lotus” under the title “THANKSGIVING”:
What soul was his, when, from the naked top
Of some bold headland, he beheld the sun
Rise up, and bathe the world in light! He looked –
Ocean and earth, the solid frame of earth
And ocean’s liquid mass, in gladness lay
Beneath him: – Far and wide the clouds were touched,
And in their silent faces could he read
Unutterable love. Sound needed none,
Nor any voice of joy; his spirit drank
The spectacle: sensation, soul, and form,
All melted into him; they swallowed up
His animal being; in them did he live,
And by them did he live; they were his life.
In such access of mind, in such high hour
Of visitation from the living God,
Thought was not; in enjoyment it expired.
No thanks he breathed, he proffered no request;
Rapt into still communion that transcends
The imperfect offices of prayer and praise,
His mind was a thanksgiving to the power
That made him; it was blessedness and love!
THE MYSTERY OF WILL-PRAYER
The last category of prayer that we will consider is what H. P. Blavatsky calls “Will-Prayer.”
Anyone who has read “The Key to Theosophy” will have seen it mentioned, described, and recommended there. But although HPB explains the basics of what it is, she does not directly or clearly spell out how to do it. In the absence of such instructions, anyone wishing to use this type of prayer will need to carefully study and reflect upon her words about it and then try to work out for themselves the best way in which they can apply it.
Prior to writing “The Key to Theosophy,” she had referred to the principle of Will-Prayer numerous times, as can be seen here:
“Colonel Olcott was never an atheist . . . but an esoteric Buddhist, rejecting a personal God. Nor was genuine prayer—i.e., the exercise of one’s intense will over events (commonly brought about by blind chance) to determine their direction ever repugnant to him. Even prayers as commonly understood, are not “repugnant” in his sight, but simply useless, when not absurd and ridiculous as in the case of prayers to either stop or bring about rain, etc. By “prayer” he means—WILL, the desire or command magnetically expressed that such and such a thing beneficent to ourselves or others should come to pass. . . .
“The word “prayer” received its modern significance of a supplication to a Supreme or some inferior divine being, only when its once widely known and real esoteric meaning had already become clouded with an exoteric veil; after which it soon disappeared enshrouded beneath the impenetrable shell of a badly digested anthropomorphism. The Magian knew not of any Supreme “personal” individuality. He recognized but Ahura—the “lord”—the 7th Principle in man—and “prayed,” i.e., made efforts during the hours of meditation, to assimilate with, and merge his other principles—that are dependent on the physical body and ever under the sway of Angra-Mainyu (or matter) – into the only pure, holy and eternal principle in him, his divine monad. To whom else could he pray? . . .
“Finally and undeniably Ahura-Mazda being called the chief and father of the six “Ameshâ Spentas”—or of the six principles of which he is the seventh, the question is settled. He is “Ahura” or rather Asura—the “living spirit in man,” the first of whose twenty different names he gives as “Ahmi,” “I am.” It was to impress upon his audience the full importance of the recognition of, and reliance upon (hence that of addressing it in “prayer”), this one God from whom proceed and in whom are centered Humate, Hukhte, and Huvareshte [“Purity of speech, purity of action, purity of thought.”], the sublime condensation of all human and social law, that Colonel Olcott recommended to the “Parsee youths,” the study of their prayers.” (HPB, “Zoroastrianism in The Light of Occult Philosophy,” first published in “The Theosophist” in July 1883 and nowadays published as a pamphlet by the United Lodge of Theosophists in India)
“Prayer opens the spiritual sight of man, for prayer is desire, and desire develops WILL; the magnetic emanations proceeding from the body at every effort — whether mental or physical — produce self-magnetization and ecstasy. Plotinus recommended solitude for prayer, as the most efficient means of obtaining what is asked; and Plato advised those who prayed to “remain silent in the presence of the divine ones, till they remove the cloud from thy eyes, and enable thee to see by the light which issues frorn themselves.” Apollonius always isolated himself from men during the “conversation” he held with God, and whenever he felt the necessity for divine contemplation and prayer, he wrapped himself, head and all, in the drapery of his white woolen mantle. “When thou prayest enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father in secret,” says the Nazarene, the pupil of the Essenes.” (HPB, “Isis Unveiled” Vol. 1, p. 434)
“The Atharva-Veda teaches that the exercise of such will-power is the highest form of prayer and its instantaneous response. To desire is to realize in proportion to the intensity of the aspiration; and that, in its turn, is measured by inward purity.” (HPB, “Isis Unveiled” Vol. 2, p. 592)
“Prayer, when in earnest, is surely, at least, when accompanied by virtuous living, a mode . . . of intense WILL.” (HPB, “Christian Science”)
“Prayer and contemplation added to asceticism are the best means of discipline in order to become a Theurgist, where there is no regular initiation. For intense prayer for the accomplishment of some object is only intense will and desire, resulting in unconscious Magic.” (HPB, “Simon and His Biographer Hippolytus”)
“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.” Matt. vi. Our Father is within us “in Secret,” our 7th principle, in the “inner chamber” of our Soul perception. “The Kingdom of Heaven” and of God “is within us” says Jesus, not outside. Why are Christians so absolutely blind to the self-evident meaning of the words of wisdom they delight in mechanically repeating?” (HPB, “The Secret Doctrine” Vol. 1, p. 280)
Towards the start of “The Key to Theosophy” we find this statement which shows that there is only a very thin line between true prayer and true meditation:
“Meditation is silent and unuttered prayer, or, as Plato expressed it, “the ardent turning of the soul toward the divine; not to ask any particular good (as in the common meaning of prayer), but for good itself – for the universal Supreme Good” of which we are a part on earth, and out of the essence of which we have all emerged.” (p. 10)
Later, in the fifth section or chapter, titled “THE FUNDAMENTAL TEACHINGS OF THEOSOPHY,” we encounter this quite lengthy dialogue regarding what the Esoteric Philosophy considers to be true and effective prayer and useless prayer:
~ * ~
FROM p. 66-74 OF “THE KEY TO THEOSOPHY”
BY H. P. BLAVATSKY
IS IT NECESSARY TO PRAY?
ENQUIRER. Do you believe in prayer, and do you ever pray?
THEOSOPHIST. We do not. We act, instead of talking.
ENQ. You do not offer prayers even to the Absolute Principle?
THEO. Why should we? Being well-occupied people, we can hardly afford to lose time in addressing verbal prayers to a pure abstraction. The Unknowable is capable of relations only in its parts to each other, but is non-existent as regards any finite relations. The visible universe depends for its existence and phenomena on its mutually acting forms and their laws, not on prayer or prayers.
ENQ. Do you not believe at all in the efficacy of prayer?
THEO. Not in prayer taught in so many words and repeated externally, if by prayer you mean the outward petition to an unknown God as the addressee, which was inaugurated by the Jews and popularised by the Pharisees.
ENQ. Is there any other kind of prayer?
THEO. Most decidedly; we call it WILL-PRAYER, and it is rather an internal command than a petition.
ENQ. To whom, then, do you pray when you do so?
THEO. To “our Father in heaven” — in its esoteric meaning.
ENQ. Is that different from the one given to it in theology?
THEO. Entirely so. An Occultist or a Theosophist addresses his prayer to his Father which is in secret (read, and try to understand, ch. vi. v. 6, Matthew), not to an extra-cosmic and therefore finite God; and that “Father” is in man himself.
ENQ. Then you make of man a God?
THEO. Please say “God” and not a God. In our sense, the inner man is the only God we can have cognizance of. And how can this be otherwise? Grant us our postulate that God is a universally diffused, infinite principle, and how can man alone escape from being soaked through by, and in, the Deity? We call our “Father in heaven” that deific essence of which we are cognizant within us, in our heart and spiritual consciousness, and which has nothing to do with the anthropomorphic conception we may form of it in our physical brain or its fancy: “Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the spirit of (the absolute) God dwelleth in you?” Yet, let no man anthropomorphise that essence in us. Let no Theosophist, if he would hold to divine, not human truth, say that this “God in secret” listens to, or is distinct from, either finite man or the infinite essence — for all are one. Nor, as just remarked, that a prayer is a petition. It is a mystery rather; an occult process 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 being called “spiritual transmutation.” The intensity of our ardent aspirations changes prayer into the “philosopher’s stone,” or that which transmutes lead into pure gold. The only homogeneous essence, our “will-prayer” becomes the active or creative force, producing effects according to our desire.
ENQ. Do you mean to say that prayer is an occult process bringing about physical results?
THEO. I do. Will-Power becomes a living power. But 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. Unfortunately, all this is the favourite occupation of our Christian statesmen and generals, especially when the latter are sending two armies to murder each other. Both indulge before action in a bit of such sorcery, by offering respectively prayers to the same God of Hosts, each entreating his help to cut its enemies’ throats.
ENQ. David prayed to the Lord of Hosts to help him smite the Philistines and slay the Syrians and the Moabites, and “the Lord preserved David whithersoever he went.” In that we only follow what we find in the Bible.
THEO. Of course you do. But since you delight in calling yourselves Christians, not Israelites or Jews, as far as we know, why do you not rather follow that which Christ says? And he distinctly commands you not to follow “them of old times,” or the Mosaic law, but bids you do as he tells you, and warns those who would kill by the sword, that they, too, will perish by the sword. Christ has given you one prayer of which you have made a lip prayer and a boast, and which none but the true Occultist understands, In it you say, in your dead-sense meaning: “Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors,” which you never do. Again, he told you to love your enemies and do good to them that hate you. It is surely not the “meek prophet of Nazareth” who taught you to pray to your “Father” to slay, and give you victory over your enemies! This is why we reject what you call “prayers.”
ENQ. But how do you explain the universal fact that all nations and peoples have prayed to, and worshipped a God or Gods? Some have adored and propitiated devils and harmful spirits, but this only proves the universality of the belief in the efficacy of prayer.
THEO. It is explained by that other fact that prayer has several other meanings besides that given it by the Christians. It means not only a pleading or petition, but meant, in days of old, far more an invocation and incantation. The mantra, or the rhythmically chanted prayer of the Hindus, has precisely such a meaning, as the Brahmins hold themselves higher than the common devas or “Gods.” 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. And as 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 (the memorialists only) 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. I repeat, that 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 centre, a state, called during life Samadhi, and after death, Nirvana. We refuse to pray to created finite beings — i. e., gods, saints, angels, etc., because we regard it as idolatry. We cannot pray to the ABSOLUTE for reasons explained before; therefore, we try to replace fruitless and useless prayer by meritorious and good-producing actions.
ENQ. Christians would call it pride and blasphemy. Are they wrong?
THEO. Entirely so. It is they, on the contrary, who show Satanic pride in their belief that the Absolute or the Infinite, even if there was such a thing as the possibility of any relation between the unconditioned and the conditioned — will stoop to listen to every foolish or egotistical prayer. And it is they again, who virtually blaspheme, in teaching that an Omniscient and Omnipotent God needs uttered prayers to know what he has to do! This — understood esoterically — is corroborated by both Buddha and Jesus. The one says “seek nought from the helpless Gods — pray not! but rather act; for darkness will not brighten. Ask nought from silence, for it can neither speak nor hear.” And the other — Jesus — recommends: “Whatsoever ye shall ask in my name (that of Christos) that will I do.” Of course, this quotation, if taken in its literal sense, goes against our argument. But if we accept it esoterically, with the full knowledge of the meaning of the term, “Christos,” which to us represents Atma-Buddhi-Manas, the “SELF,” it comes to this: the only God we must recognise and pray to, or rather act in unison with, is that spirit of God of which our body is the temple, and in which it dwelleth.
PRAYER KILLS SELF-RELIANCE
ENQ. But did not Christ himself pray and recommend prayer?
THEO. It is so recorded, but those “prayers” are precisely of that kind of communion just mentioned with one’s “Father in secret.” Otherwise, and if we identify Jesus with the universal deity, there would be something too absurdly illogical in the inevitable conclusion that he, the “very God himself” prayed to himself, and separated the will of that God from his own!
ENQ. One argument more; an argument, moreover, much used by some Christians. They say, “I feel that I am not able to conquer any passions and weaknesses in my own strength. But when I pray to Jesus Christ I feel that he gives me strength and that in His power I am able to conquer.”
THEO. No wonder. If “Christ Jesus” is God, and one independent and separate from him who prays, of course everything is, and must be possible to “a mighty God.” But, then, where’s the merit, or justice either, of such a conquest? Why should the pseudo-conqueror be rewarded for something done which has cost him only prayers? Would you, even a simple mortal man, pay your labourer a full day’s wage if you did most of his work for him, he sitting under an apple tree, and praying to you to do so, all the while? This idea of passing one’s whole life in moral idleness, and having one’s hardest work and duty done by another — whether God or man — is most revolting to us, as it is most degrading to human dignity. . . .
Buddhists . . . do not believe in either God or a future reward, outside of this earth. They do not pray, neither priests nor laymen. “Pray!” they would exclaim in wonder, “to whom, or what?”
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“This is why Jesus recommends prayer in the solitude of one’s closet.This secret prayer is but the paravidya of the Vedantic philosopher: “He who knows his soul (inner self) daily retires to the region of Swarga (the heavenly realm) in his own heart,” says the Brihad-Aranyaka. The Vedantic philosopher recognizes the Âtman, the spiritual self, as the sole and Supreme God.” (HPB, “Isis Unveiled” Vol. 2, p. 565-566)
Question: “Is it possible by a strong desire [i.e. this relates to WILL] before sleep to receive from the Higher Self in dream an answer to questions respecting right thought and conduct?”
Answer: “Man has three principal states or conditions – waking, dreaming, and dreamless or deep slumber. In the last it is held that communion is enjoyed with the Spirit, and that the inner man returning or changing from that condition goes into a dream, short or long, from which he changes into the waking state. The influences of Sushupti [i.e. dreamless sleep]are highly spiritual. They are common to all men. The greatest villain on the earth, as well as the most virtuous man, goes into Sushupti and receives benefit from it. If it were not so, wickedness would triumph in the earth through the overpowering influence of the body and its constant downward tendency. Now, if this is believed and the reality of the Higher Self admitted, it follows from what is called the mysterious power of meditation that a sincerely devoted man who earnestly calls upon the Higher Self for aid in right conduct will receive in the dream state that succeeds the condition of Sushupti the aid asked for. In other words, one can make the dream impressions received out of the highest – or Sushupti – statemore clear and valuable than is usual with those who think nothing about it. But the questions asked and impressions desired must be high and altruistic, because the Higher Self has no concern with material things nor with any temporal affairs. This power will of course vary with each man according to his nature and the various combinations between his physical, astral, and psychical planes.” (William Q. Judge, “Forum Answers” p. 7-8)
The subject of the will, willpower, and what is called the true will or the spiritual will, is considered very important in Theosophy. Those who may wish to explore and understand it further are invited to read the article Willpower and The Spiritual Will.
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Hopefully we have now provided a comprehensive answer to the question “What does Theosophy teach about prayer?” No two human beings are exactly alike in terms of their personalities and personal characteristics and inclinations but it is certain that all who seek a genuinely Theosophical form of prayer can find something that will suit them and help them in what we have shared above.
In closing – and for those who can appreciate such humour – here is a sarcastic “prayer” written by H. P. Blavatsky regarding the Salvation Army, which in her era was much more fanatical and Pentecostal-like than it usually is nowadays: “And to this we may add our own prayer: “Oh Lord, how easy it would be for you to ‘smash’ the devil at once without any ‘Hall’ or ‘Army’ and so extirpate evil and misery for ever from this world of sorrow! Oh, Lord, it is because, alleged Omniscient, and Omnipotent and JUST (!!) you have nevertheless ever refused to do so, or even to give us a sign of your existence, and that you are now allowing instead, a whole ‘Army’ of fanatical zealots, who ought to be at home mending their shoes and stockings, and wiping their children’s noses, to roam about—an army of lunatics caricaturing their religion—that so many good people reject the devil and even doubt your own Being. Whose fault is it, Oh, Lord? Not ours, that is evident, but rather that of the brains you have furnished our heads and REASON you have endowed man with.” (“Miscellaneous Notes”)
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“We think that work is prayer.”
(H. P. Blavatsky)
In addition to the articles already linked to above, you may like to read
The Theosophical Guide To Meditation, On Prayer and Worship, Prayer, Karma, and Compassion, Daily Self-Study and Self-Examination, and The Raja Yoga of Theosophy.
~ BlavatskyTheosophy.com ~