Thursday, June 16, 2011

The Efficacy Of Prayer

Also in Pitsanalok, I revisited the local big temple, called, appropriately, Wat Yai (“big temple”). The nave was filled with people offering prayers, usually accompanied by lotus flowers, joss sticks and a candle. I couldn’t help wondering what they were praying for. I’m fascinated by prayer, and I usually come to the same conclusion, in varying degrees, depending on my mood.

In my opinion, prayers in which the supplicant asks the perceived deity for something, or for some favor, are at best useless and at worst counterproductive. If nothing and no one hears the prayers, well then it is just embarrassing. If indeed some deity hears the prayers, they may be an affront to that deity. If the prayers are for a benefit to the supplicant, they are selfish and should certainly be found wanting; if they are for a benefit to someone other than the supplicant, they may be somewhat more worthy, but the point remains that God, if God there is, already knows what will happen, has already quite made up his mind, and probably does not wish to be bothered.

My opinion regarding prayers of thanksgiving, however, has risen over the years, and today I’m in a generous mood. These may actually be useful, by any set of rules that may apply to the two parties that are connected by the prayer.

If there is a God who hears prayers, these prayers will almost certainly be found worthy. Indeed, if God is as human as he is generally portrayed to be, future benefit may accrue to those who regularly express their gratitude.

Even in the absence of God, prayers of thanks may have their utility. At the very minimum, they focus the attention of the obeisant on his own good fortune. There is real profit in this. One can compare one’s own experience to that of others and meditate on one’s relative good fortune. Anyone who has lived more than a painful month after being born has, after all, something to be thankful for. Anyone who has made it to adulthood in good health is very fortunate indeed. To have gone further in good health, and to have experienced the joys of marriage and child rearing, is, strictly speaking, a dream of avarice. A little appreciation is in order.

So pray, by all means. Pray to acknowledge something greater than yourself; or pray in gratitude for your blessings; or pray for assistance in discovering the futility of grudges and vendettas. Those things are fine, according to me, the self-appointed expert in these matters. But pray to receive the things that you desire at your peril. At best, it appears a bit foolish, and at worst, it may be a sin in the eyes of the real expert.

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