Prayer and Meditation in a Time of Suffering

Can these things be of any help, or are they just pipe dreams?

There are two different ways of looking at prayer and meditation: We can say they are like medicine for what ails us, or we can say that they bring us peace, light, and joy.

When beset with worldly problems, we feel that in spite of believing in the things of this world, we need some relief from worry and anxiety. This is always true, but even more so in a time of world crisis, when there is much sickness and despair. At that time, no matter where we turn our eyes we see problems, problems, problems! But if we look within, if we practice prayer and meditation, then we get some relief from worry and anxiety, and we are better able to cope with the burdens of daily life. This is a practical approach, a good approach, but it does make prayer and meditation seem like medicine which we only take when we are ill.

The other approach is to make friends with the inner world, to feel that the inner world belongs to us, for us to claim as our own, in good times and in bad. We do not ignore or shun the outer world, nor do we blame it for not being perfect; only we say that the inner world has more light and truth than the outer world. Therefore we can get peace, light and joy from the inner world which we cannot get from the outer world, even under the best of circumstances.

These two different approaches are like two different attitudes toward God. In one approach, we are like children playing in a playground. We enjoy the slide, the sprinkler, and different types of games. But then if we fall down and scrape our knee, or if there are terrible thunderstorms, we run to the Playground Manager, who takes care of our injuries and consoles us so that we can go on playing.

But as we grow in maturity and gain insight, we realize that the playground is limited in what it can offer us. At the same time, something higher and deeper calls to us. God dried our tears and helped us to go on living in the worst of times, but should we only see His Face once or twice in this lifetime, during periods of crisis? He who has consoled us faithfully and unerringly is our Eternal Friend.

So, whether we turn to prayer and meditation in a time of need, to help relieve suffering, or whether we do so because we want to grow in wisdom and joy, and to be close to our Eternal Friend — either approach is right, depending on the individual. These approaches are not mutually exclusive. Often, people reach a crisis point in their lives where they desperately need spiritual help. Then, even after the crisis point has passed, they continue on with spiritual practice because they see the benefits.

Still, there are some advantages to making friends with the inner world in both good times and bad. When you are friends with someone, you have their phone number and always know how to reach them. There is a sense of familiarity and dependability which is very comforting. But if it’s more like an emergency number which you only call once in a blue moon (when the house is on fire), then you have to rifle through your belongings looking for the number, and you ask yourself: “Is this the right number? Does it still work? Will anyone answer? I haven’t called in such a long time!”

God is dependable, but we are not; so it is better, if possible, to think of God daily, even if only for five minutes. And it is better to do this in an organized way, rather than haphazardly. From this comes the idea of daily spiritual practice — not as a harsh discipline, but as something which helps us grow in joy, to claim the inner world as our own, and to help us feel close to our Eternal Friend. It is of genuine benefit. We feel it.

There are two kinds of faith: One is a pie-in-the-sky type of faith that if we practice something for a hundred years, eventually we will see the result in some other world, far distant and unknowable. The second type of faith is more practical and immediate: It tells us that if we practice prayer and meditation for even five minutes a day, gradually this will help us grow in peace and joy, and we will be better able to steer the ship of life so that it does not founder. Something more: We will begin to remember and feel a sense of familiarity with our Eternal Friend, our most beautiful Friend whom we had forgotten due to the ignorance of this world which has enveloped us and completely consumed our thoughts.

A light switch is science. You know that if you flip the switch, electricity will flow into the bulb and illuminate the room. Similarly, it takes only a little faith to believe that by practicing prayer and meditation, you can bring greater illumination into your life. You do not have to wait a hundred years.

Some people make a distinction between religion and spirituality. Religion, they feel, asks us to have faith in something which we initially see as remote and far away. Spirituality, they claim, requires no faith, but only daily practice. Still, I would say that you need a little faith: the faith that practice will lead to experience. Otherwise, you will not be inspired to practice at all! But this kind of faith is very practical. After practicing for some time and gaining experience, assurance, you see that your inner life is like a light switch. The connection is dependable.

This kind of faith is not a pipe dream or pie-in-the-sky. It is only the slender faith needed to begin and continue onward. Then, gradually you will see that prayer and meditation are very practical. Their benefits prove themselves to you in the inner world, just as a scientist can prove his or her theories in the outer world. The answer, then, is to begin from where you are now, even if you are in suffering.

During periods when the entire world is suffering, such as a world war or a pandemic, it is not just health which breaks down, or the economy which breaks down. Our sense of reality also breaks down. We may suddenly be confronted with a palpable sense, a frightening sense, that so much of what we believed to be true and beneficial was, in fact, false and unsustainable. In this way, world crisis also leads to spiritual crisis for individuals. But this crisis, painful as it is, is also an opportunity.

Make no mistake, we do not want anyone to suffer. We will not welcome suffering; we will try to alleviate suffering; we will try to heal the sick. But despite our best efforts, some suffering is unavoidable. A loved one has died. At some point, we have to accept this. Worldly philosophies are cold comfort. Even spiritual readings alone, unaided, may fail to answer our questions about life and death and the nature of suffering. But if, along with spiritual readings, we also practice prayer and meditation, then we may receive consolation-light.

Consolation-light. What is it? Sri Chinmoy, the great and good spiritual master from India, writes:

O consolation-light,
You are my prayer.
O consolation-light,
You are my adoration.
O consolation-light,
You are my delight.
O consolation-light,
You are never deception.
You are Reality itself.

– Sri Chinmoy, from Pole-Star Promise-Light Songbook, 1977

When we go to God for consolation, He does not give us some dry philosophy, or platitudes warmed over from a book. He gives of Himself, of His own Soul. He consoles us, but not in a false way. In His consolation there is light and delight. In His consolation, there is Reality and never deception.

God consoles us in a way which no ordinary human being can, a way which reaches to the very depths of our heart. This is His consolation-light. It is freely given, but we have to know how to receive it. That is why prayer and meditation are very helpful, not just in general, but at a time when the world is filled with unbearable suffering. Sri Chinmoy says:

How to conquer despair? Never cry for outer consolation. Ever cry for inner compassion. Inner compassion is the flood of light. It is also the flood of perfection’s realisation.

Here, I have been speaking of God in the masculine, but Sri Chinmoy explains:

Question: Why do you always speak of God in masculine terms?

Sri Chinmoy: When I say “Father,” I do not exclude the Mother. God is both masculine and feminine. It is only that the term “Father” is more familiar in the Western world because the Christ always said “Father.” So I use the term Father because it is familiar to you. In the East we approach the feminine aspect quite often. We think of the Supreme Goddess, the Divine Mother. We have so many goddesses: Mahakali, Mahalakshmi, Mahasaraswati and Maheshwari, so it is very easy for us to think of God in feminine terms. But when I am with you, I have to use a term which is quite familiar to you, for I feel that this will make it easier for you to share my experiences. In truth, God is both masculine and feminine. Again, He is neither masculine nor feminine; He transcends both. He is what He eternally is: His Vision and His Reality. This Reality transcends both the masculine and the feminine form and, at the same time, it embodies both the masculine and the feminine.

– Sri Chinmoy, from God, Avatars and Yogis, 1977

He also writes:

No capacity have I, no merit have I.
Therefore I cry for more, for much
affection, much love from You.
Everyone appreciates and admires
the man of capacity.
Everyone touches the feet of a Yogi.
It is for a man like me who has no capacity
That the Eyes of the Mother are eternally awake.
All you wish to know about me, ask Her.
Without Her Affection and Love,
I do not exist.

– Sri Chinmoy, from The Garden of Love-Light Songbook, Part 2, 1975

Book Cover Project

Here are the book covers for this post, courtesy Sri Chinmoy Libary:

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