The helplessness that you feel in situations that you don’t like, but are unable to make the change happen, can be very frustrating. “I have tried everything in power, every trick I know. The situation still remains the same” Sound familiar? The act of prayer addresses that. Even if there were no distressing condition, when one finishes a prayer, either at home or in a temple, there is a “feel-good factor” that comes into play. These are immediately palpable results, called drushta phala.
Prayer is a totally wilful action, one where you will yourself to perform. There is no pressure from any quarter. Like a drowning man clutching at straws, it gives one the feeling that one is ‘doing something’ in the face of what looks like an insurmountable problem. It produces a good feeling by addressing the sense of helplessness, which could otherwise become most distressing.
Prayer is, however, not straw. It is perhaps the most powerful action one can perform to relieve oneself of negativities.
When you face a situation that is not to your liking, you want to do something about it. So you try what you can, using all your strengths, knowledge, skills and power. It does not seem to help. What do you do before helplessness sets in? You look for someone who has more power and/or more knowledge. If it is a legal issue, you pay a lawyer to advise you, because he has more knowledge in that area. If it is stomach ache, you go to a doctor, hoping he knows more about anatomy and the cause of the pain than you. Or, if you are stranded in a foreign land, you go to the embassy, because they have more power than you.
Everybody, be he a follower of any religion, accepts that Isvara is sarva shaktiman, sarvajnah, all power and all knowledge. You also know that you are of limited power and knowledge, alpa shaktiman, alpajnah. When you have exhausted all options that you can choose based on your own (and all the others’) power and knowledge, what do you do? Before the sense of helplessness creeps in, can you appeal to Isvara through prayers? Reduction of the feeling helplessness is the immediate benefit of prayer.
Sometimes I am asked, Swamiji, why can I not pray in my own language, in my own words? Sure you can. Isvara has no bias regarding language! When you go to someone’s birthday party, why do you take an expensive card from Archie’s or Hallmark; why not write your own words on a piece of paper? Because someone has already created a beautiful way of expressing what you want to express; so you use it (even if you have to pay for it!). If you study and understand the meaning of some of the prayers commonly used, you may not want to pray using any other words!
Think about it.