Praying in Public
In praying before the public we exaggerate our feelings. If we pray for a thing without desiring it in our heart of hearts, that is, if our head and heart do not wish earnestly for a thing, our prayer is nothing but a public and futile repetition of words. But if our prayers are sincere, and we wish for a thing from our heart, then the Lord – on hearing our prayer – grants it. Can the recital of prayers in public, which have no relation to the feelings of the heart, bear any fruit? Can the words we utter reach that omnipotent Lord more rapidly than our inner feelings? No, never. Audible prayers become mere formalities. They do not arouse our feelings, nor do we become absorbed in them. The prayers that spring from the heart of someone else cannot by repetition achieve their object unless they come from our hearts also. These prayers cannot be beneficial and cannot change our lives for good. The arrow which is shot without the bow being drawn to the breast cannot hit the target. Similarly, words which are not spoken from the heart do not reach the Lord. He knows our real needs even before we speak.
The Vedas, the holy Quran and other religious scriptures, all insist on congregational prayers for the good of all. Can such prayers be of any benefit? Yes, certainly. If a number of persons offer prayers for the common good in humility and with sincere hearts, they get the Grace of the Lord and the prayers are never in vain. To wish for the common good is to live within the Will of the Lord. Many benefits come from it. It is a good way of keeping nations and societies awakened. It is customary amongst the Sikhs to offer common prayers. It is specially mentioned in their scriptures.
Nanak, praised be the Name. May all prosper by Thy will.
The Gurus give examples of such prayers and these will be mentioned later.
In Sura-i-al-i-Imran1 it is stated,
Oh our Sustainer, keep us on the right path. Do not let our minds wander. Shower Thy mercy on us. Surely, no one can exceed You in Grace.
In the same Sura the following prayer occurs:
Oh our Sustainer, forgive us for our lapses; overlook the excesses we have committed. Keep us steady on the right path, and give us victory over the forces of the infidels.
What is the purpose of our offering such prayers? We pray in order to elevate ourselves, or to benefit the hearers, or to put before the Lord the sufferings and needs of all, or to tell the people of our devotion. The prayers of the last kind are useless.
There is a mention of such a specific prayer in Sura-i-Bakar2.
Oh our Sustainer! If there has been any default or mistake on our part, do not take us to task; forgive us. Oh Lord! do not place on us the restrictions and limitations which You imposed on those who preceded us. Oh Lord! do not subject us to a burden we cannot bear. Oh God! forgive and pardon us. Have mercy on us. You are our Lord and Master. Give us victory and success against the infidels.
Footnote: 1) The third Sura in the Quran. 2) al-Baqara, the second Sura in the Quran.