Who is speaking, and who, or what, is listening when we pray?
In my youth, I was first exposed to prayer within a Protestant Christian tradition. As the minister would lead the congregation in a group prayer, we were being educated in the language of prayer from a dualistic perspective – speaking to a distant, all-powerful deity. We were all expected to learn how to pray through this example. I remember him referring to God as being omnipresent, but I couldn’t really correlate that concept with the language being used in the prayer. Was omnipresence something like Santa Claus knowing if you have been “naughty or nice”? Was it some kind of Cosmic Big Brother keeping tabs on us all?
At the time, I don’t remember questioning the form and the language used in this method of praying. Even my father, who was an avowed agnostic, never voiced any doubt about whether this demonstration of prayer technique was valid or correct. But soon I started to question the underlying message of separation from the Divine. I wasn’t able to fully identify what the issue was, but I grew more and more aware of a feeling of inner connection within myself to something primal, universal and undeniable.
A few years later I was drawn to the practice of Kundalini Yoga which gave me a powerful connection to that same universal oneness of all. I had found a methodology to open a door of experience that confirmed my own early suspicions that the omnipresence I had sought to understand was really the connectedness of all things. Through studying the teachings of Yogi Bhajan I was brought to the words of Guru Nanak, the first Sikh Guru. Understanding his words at the beginning of Japji Sahib, “Ek ong kar” (the Universe is one creation with all things being part of that One), I had confirmation of my own awakening to the oneness of everything and everyone.
“You are all trying to find God. You have a soul. You have no relations with it. Where are you going to find God? God is in you. God and me and me and God are one. There is no duality. The day God will leave you, the soul will be gone…” – Yogi Bhajan
This concept of Oneness is essentially a non-dualistic perspective that denies any separation between the Divine and the other. In fact, it denies even the idea that there is anything separate from everything else. In this lies the realization that if there is something we recognize as Divine, then all is Divine – that you and I, and every rock, every atom, are all part of the oneness of the Universe. Everything and everyone is like a drop of ocean water that dwells for a moment as a drop before falling back into the homogenous oneness of the ocean. If we want to use the word God, then in a non-dualistic perspective, God is not a white guy with a long grey beard living in the clouds. But rather, the word God becomes a kind of short hand for the experience of a universal, connected consciousness.
“…the basic problem is between two points there is only one straight line. There cannot be two. What is two? Duality. What is one? God. The difference between one and two is not in figures, it’s a state of mind.” – Yogi Bhajan
As 21st-century society appears to be moving away from participating in the organized religions of our parents or grandparents, there is also a growing sentiment of recognition of a non- denominational oneness of all people and all things. People say, “I am not religious but I am spiritual.” Many of us see this as yet one more manifestation of a global shift happening due to the change of the Age – from the Piscean Age, into the Aquarian Age. One of the core messages to be embraced in the Aquarian Age is non-dualism – the acceptance of the oneness of all.
In Sikh Dharma there is the concept of “Ang Sang Waheguru” which means, the dynamic, living ecstasy of the universe is dancing within every limb, every cell, every atom of us. Guru Arjan, the fifth Sikh Guru, said, “Ang sang lagae dhookh bhagae pran man than sabh harae” – God is joined to me, in my very fiber; my sorrows have departed, and my body, mind and soul are all rejuvenated.
“Just understand one simple line Ang Sang Wahe Guru. With you, within you, without you, around you, for you, over you, under you, Wahe Guru is.” – Yogi Bhajan
This brings me to the question of how to pray in the Aquarian Age, with language that acknowledges the concept of Ang Sang Waheguru. Traditional dualistic prayer usually takes the form of a supplication or petition to the distant entity to fulfill a list of desires or perceived deficiencies. But in the Aquarian Age, prayer can be a dialogue with Infinite Self (God) to seek completion, to clear conflicts within yourself, to acknowledge what you need – Love, Acceptance, Happiness, Guidance or a sense of Mission; and to declare Dedication, Surrender, and Gratitude. Yogi Bhajan once explained that in the moment of prayer our voice is an embodiment of the finite expression of God, and the Divine Self is the infinite expression of God, and that they form a kind of cosmic polarity – a natural and necessary occurrence in the Universe. This polarity is a dance of intention and manifestation – a way for the Universe to expand into its own potential.
Some people pray once in a blue moon; some people pray every day; some people pray many times a day, over and over. Are we bothering God to repeat the same prayer over and over? Do we become a nuisance to the universe? On the other hand, Tibetan Buddhists use prayer wheels to generate a continuous wall of repeating prayer so as to create an energy field of intention. What does it mean for a prayer to be answered if this is God speaking to God? Rather than using the word “answered”, perhaps it can be clearer and less dualistic if we use the idea to “empower”, or to “activate” a prayer.
Within the tradition of Sikh Dharma there is a strong practice of group prayer or Ardas. We begin or end almost every important event or observation with the Ardas. It gives voice to the highest intentions of the group consciousness. Those of us who have learned to understand the Siri Guru Granth Sahib through the translation of the original language into English have had a Victorian Christian orientation imposed onto the underlying concepts expressed there. In trying to imitate a British scholarly tradition, these translations have introduced gender biased language along with the dualistic language of Puritanical Protestantism. But once aware of this, it is on each of us to rise above this limitation and go to the original words for inspired new language – new words to express the oneness and universalism actually there in the words of the Gurus.
“The concept of prayer is to tap your own unknown for your known. When the known and unknown are united in the oneness of the self, God is alive.” – Yogi Bhajan
This comes back to my opening question of who is praying and who, or what, is listening. From a non-dualistic perspective my voice or your voice is, by inclusion in the oneness of all, the voice of that oneness, the voice of the Divine. The intelligence or consciousness to which we pray is also, by inclusion in the oneness of all, the Divine or Infinite Self. Therefore, when we pray in Aquarian consciousness, we are the Infinite Divine Consciousness speaking to that same Infinite Divine Consciousness – like God talking to Herself! How does that work? And what language would we use?
It appears that prayer is a global universal human behavior found present in every culture. Even many atheists will admit to praying sometimes. But if God is mostly unknown, how do we refer to that experience? In Western Judeo-Christian language, most people simply use the word “God”. When we can give something a name, we are more able to have a relationship, more able to feel intimate. Most of us seem to have a hard time speaking directly to the vast unknown or the infinite universal consciousness. It is common to use a construct of some intermediary to solve this language problem; relying on a familiar relationship like “Father”. We even recycle the feudal model by using the word, “Lord”. The intention seems to be to imply respect, but don’t these words put us in a secondary position as “child” or “serf”? Mostly, words like this interject dualism and separation from the divine universal consciousness, or God.
Within the teachings of Guru Nanak is the concept of the “Naam”, sometime translated as the name of God. Sikhs use several words to refer to the infinite universal consciousness: Sat Nam (the essential truth of the identity of oneness of all things), Waheguru (the undefinable vastness of universal consciousness), Karta Purkh (the personification of infinite consciousness). In fact, Guru Nanak repeatedly reminds Sikhs to repeat the name of God. It is accepted as a fundamental practice to elevate one’s consciousness, to align with the Divine. This use of mantra becomes another form of prayer with no other words needed as we hold silent intention while repeating the sounds.
Guru Arjan said, “Mangana Mangan nika, har jas gur te mangana” – Praying and praying, the best prayer is to be reminded to chant Har. In other words, you can ask for many things, but the most valuable is the blessing of being activated into self-initiation through your own actions. This is where we realize that we must be a participant in our own salvation. It is childish to only “wish” for something. We cannot simply pray for a miracle, we must also make a plan and initiate that plan. Like the story of the man who prayed to God every day that he should win the lottery. After 20 years of daily prayer, a frustrated and angry God finally appeared before the man and said, “Enough! I can’t arrange for you to win unless you enter the contest. You have to buy a damn lottery ticket”.
There was a period in my life when I (somewhat half-heartedly) prayed that a community swimming pool should be built in the empty lot behind my house. Years later I had a cardiac event. Soon afterward, with no effort or intention of my own, a community walking track was built in that same empty lot. Was God saying, “get the hell off your couch and get walking”? Sometimes our prayers manifest in ways we did not envision – better ways. The universal divine infinite consciousness (God) often seems to choose a different outcome, beyond the narrow vision we cling to. It is up to us to release the attachment we may hold for only one outcome so that we can see the infinite consciousness in what has actually shown up in our life.
There is a parable in the Siri Guru Granth Sahib that says, “When the roof of your house is on fire is not the time to begin digging the well.” Effective prayer is not waiting to pray until there is a problem, but rather, it is about praying often for the insight to see clearly so as to prevent something becoming a problem. In our efforts to live in consciousness, prayer should not be our last resort, it should be our first thought.
“Let the vibration go out of you… [From your heart, not your head!] It is your prayer. It will meet all challenges unto Infinity. Let your soul touch the unlimited shores.” – Yogi Bhajan
Although Buddhism does not acknowledge a Supreme Being, some Buddhists pray to bodhisattvas or enlightened beings as a way to seek help or a blessing. Some Sikhs also pray to specific Gurus with hope of intersession and protection. But in reality, this may be more about activating an archetype that manifests, within the person praying, the same virtues as the bodhisattva or Guru mentioned in the prayer, such as courage or compassion. Therefore, perhaps the ideal prayer is not to call on some other identity to intercede, but to call on the Self to embody the strength and wisdom needed to endure or succeed. But here we are not calling on our Ego to impose itself. Instead, we are calling on our Higher Self to rise to a challenge.
Form and structure are a part of most formal prayer traditions. But using Aquarian Age sensibilities, spontaneity and authenticity are much more important than any rules of form. It is time to give up the games of the intellect and the ego where we try to impress with our righteousness. Now it is time to speak from the heart, using the fullness of our sensory awareness. What the head (intellect) only measures, the heart can accept or embrace. The intellect can offer us options of the words to use but the choosing happens most powerfully when we give voice to our highest awareness, compassion, kindness and acceptance.
“Prayer is when your heart prays, not your head. When your head bows and your heart prays, that is a prayer of Sikh Dharma.” – Yogi Bhajan
There is a story about a spiritual teacher who asked some children: “Where is God?” The first child said, “Everywhere.” And then the teacher asked, “Where is everywhere?” The second child said, “Here.” The teacher asked, “Where is here?” The third child said, “In your heart.” And the teacher asked, “Where is my heart?” The fourth child said, “In my heart,” and pointed to his own heart.
An Aquarian prayer can sometimes simply be a statement of an aspiration for something to come into being, like when we say, “may peace prevail”. This calls on the universal consciousness to manifest something as a kind of consensus or alignment of intention. Perhaps the one thing we all seem to agree on is that an Aquarian prayer must come from the heart. This means that it has love or compassion at its core. We cannot expect a prayer to be empowered when we know it may hurt someone.
The ideal Aquarian prayer would project an outcome that would create the highest benefit for all. And while it may be a challenge to find Aquarian language as we pray, the very act of seeking a new way of dialoging with the Divine within us is, in itself, a process of personal spiritual transformation. As we confront the patterns of the past within ourselves and embrace the challenge of endeavoring to elevate our own language, we have entered into a new sense of who we are and how we fit in the Universe. Each of us must walk this road in our own way, exploring the language that speaks to our understanding of the relationship between our finite self and the Infinite Self.
I close this discussion with an Aquarian prayer from Yogi Bhajan:
“May the hand of the divine bless you. May the consciousness of the Divine guide you. May the uplifting, clean spirit of God raise you to realms of consciousness where you will not find any duality. May your sincerity and devotion come through. May your dedication and offering accept that gift. May you always be pure, simple and honest. Sat Nam.”
Pritpal Singh currently serves as the Director of Dharmic Education for Sikh Dharma International, organizing and leading educational events. He has been a student of Yogi Bhajan since 1972 and is a KRI-certified Lead Teacher Trainer of Kundalini Yoga leading trainings in the US and other countries. As a long-time performer and teacher of kirtan (devotional music) he has released several recordings and has performed and taught kirtan around the world.