We can pray as our heart leads us, but Lord Caitanya's special prayer
will give us complete solace.
Nestled within the nucleus of a large suburban hospital is a room of a different color. Its decor departs from the chrome-and-tile motif that slinks throughout the hallways; this room is adorned with thick red draperies, mahogany benches, somber wallpaper. A perpetual hush hangs in the air, unbroken by nurses' chatter or clanging bed trays. Yet it is in this room that the most significant utterances in the hospital find their voice. The small placard outside the door reads simply "Chapel."
On any day herein you'll find heads bowed into clasped hands, a pose rarely adopted elsewhere under the relentless scrutiny of fluorescent hospital lights. Here, tears flow without excuse, as victims of despair plead for one merciful last hope. And here, in the face of the uncontrollable, supreme will is acknowledged with poignant supplication.
My mother, who works in the hospital, confided to me that she sends people here when she senses that their human endurance has crumbled. "And you know, they always do find strength," she nods sagaciously, "when they put it in a prayer." Indeed, the solace of sincere prayer is the testament of every religious creed. Prayer draws forth with solemn clarity the essence of spiritual being. Some tremendous source of love and compassion is tapped, some sense of higher destiny revealed, if only for a brief glimpse, to the humble believer.
Now there's even scientific evidence to bolster my mother's recommendation. In an unusual study conducted by San Francisco cardiologist Dr. Randy Byrd, prayers seemed to benefit the health of the prayer's beneficiary. The 393 patients in a coronary care unit were split into equal groups of comparable age and degree of illness. Unbeknownst to both the patients and their doctors, members of one group were assigned to individuals who agreed to pray for them each day. The prayer-persons were asked to pray in any manner they chose, adding a prayer for the "beneficial healing and quick recovery" of their assigned patient.
The results showed that the health of the prayer recipients fared markedly better than that of the control group. They had fewer complications, required less antibiotics, and none of them required intubation.
Yet, interesting as this evidence might be. God is never compelled to answer anyone's prayer, however ardent, and so this "scientific" study presents a distorted image of God and prayer. The Supreme Lord is not like the genie in the lamp, awaiting our commands. After all, while these particular prayers were selfless and beneficent, other equally heartfelt prayers are less so. Some people pray, for instance, for tickets to a rock concert. Others pray, quite earnestly, for sunshine on weekends or revenge on the neighborhood bully. And what happens when the objectives of two prayers collide, such as when soldiers' wives on both sides of a battle pray for their husbands' safe return? How can both be satisfied?
Ultimately, God's inscrutable will is shrouded to our puny calculations. Sometimes He seems to lavishly reward one person while remaining fiercely implacable to another. From scriptural descriptions. however, we can gain some understanding of His transcendental dealings, for. whatever the outcome. He always has the spiritual prosperity of the petitioner at heart. From His viewpoint, our physical bodies, our complicated lives, our burning hopes and fears all constitute but a flicker in the movement of infinite time. It all comes and goes so quickly that it's really inconsequential. His concern is for the beloved spirit soul encased in the body: how to awaken his spiritual consciousness? Sometimes that awakening requires some shocking insight into the ephemeral nature of material happiness, some great pain or loss that brings us to perceive reality. If through suffering we are driven to seek out the Lord's mercy, then we are brought closer to the permanent liberation of spiritual realization.
When we pray, therefore, we might consider forgoing requests for material boons, however altruistic, that will eventually vanish anyway. All material benedictions are but patchwork remedies for an underlying spiritual disease. Our best prayer, for ourselves and others, is one that will awaken our relationship with the Supreme Lord. Thus the advice of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu is that we concentrate on one very special prayer: Hare Krsna, Hare Krsna. Krsna Krsna. Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare. This prayer is translated. "O my dear Lord, please engage me in Your service."
Loving service to the Supreme Lord, guided by knowledge of Him, removes material illusions from the heart. Thus the Hare Krsna mantra is the most powerful remedy for suffering, and it is the highest form of prayer. Yet it is so simple that it can be uttered again and again, under any circumstance, for it is always the appropriate prayer.
Since we all have a precious, unique relationship with God. our prayers are special and dear to Him. So we might pray as our heart leads us and at the same time chant Hare Krsna and cultivate a higher understanding of spiritual existence. Gradually we can be drawn into a state of exalted consciousness, untroubled even at the prospect of suffering and death, secure in spiritual trust of Him.