A man approached the enlightened Zen Master Rinpoche. He said, “Master, I keep praying the entire day but I've got nothing so far, no divine grace and none of my wishes has ever been granted, whereas, my brother never prays and visits any temple, yet all his wishes seem to get fulfilled and he looks eternally cheerful. God seems to be partial to my brother who doesn't care a hang for Him. But He overlooks me despite knowing that I keep praying to Him. This is unjust.” Rinpoche heard the man's litany of grievances very attentively and said, “God is not partial. You don't know how to pray because when you pray to God, you take out a laundry-list of your wishes and mundane desires to be fulfilled by Him. But your brother has no such wishes and he doesn't pester God with his entreaties. His work is worship and his diligence is his prayer.”
We all take a prayer to be something like begging for alms. A prayer is not asking for quotidian things like promotion, welfare of children, the success of marriage, getting a girlfriend or a boyfriend, to name but a few. A prayer is also not a mere mono-track conversation with God or any divine, supernatural power. A true prayer reflects thankfulness for whatever one has in life. It's a manifestation of gratitude. When John Keats says, ‘The ripening breasts fold hands to the cosmos' in his lovely sonnet ‘To one who has been long in city pent ,’ he meant a humble show of profound gratitude to the vast cosmos we are all part of.
When Mughal emperor Akbar visited Salim Chishti's tomb in Fatehpur-Sikri for thirteen consecutive days, he heard a booming voice on the fourteenth day that asked him, “Akbar, have you come here to have a son?” Akbar sad, “Yes I've come here mainly for that reason.” After a pause, he again heard the same voice, “ You call yourself jahaanpanaah (one who shelters the world: An emperor), but you don't even know how to pray and ask for what you desire?” “But where have I made a mistake in a perfectly legitimate prayer?” 'Instead of saying to God that whatever He feels good for him, you prayed like a beggar for a son. Doesn't He know what you need?” that voice tersely replied and further said, “Your cheap wish (Hasrat-e-saveer: A lowly wish) will be granted but it shows that you and your subjects have no difference when it comes to praying and asking for fulfillment of wishes. You (Akbar) are as worldly as your poor subjects (are).” Even the most trusted and sycophantic Abul Fazal described this telling episode in his extremely eulogising biography of Jalaluddin Muhammad Akbar in Ainaa-e-Akbari.
A prayer is wordless and demandless. But we've made it akin to begging. A demanding and pestering prayer yields no result. When a worker never asks for a raise in salary, his master feels duty-bound and morally-driven to increase his salary. But those who keep asking for an increase in salary also get a boot! Ralph Waldo Emerson called a prayer, 'An emotive response coming from the recesses of a grateful heart.' A prayer connects the person to a higher plane, which is the manifestation of divine energy. One's simple and honest life is the most practical prayer and it results in a joy so indescribable that it's akin to describing a rainbow to a blind man. Lastly, remember the words of Cardinal O'Neil, ' Pray with no vested interests, not necessarily even to a God and see the life take a turn for the better that can be felt from within.' A true prayer is a cleansing process and it's a phenomenon that is far different and much superior than a voluble entreaty before a deity.