What is prayer?

What is prayer? A Puranic story sheds light on the matter and offers some valuable insights.

The sage Narada was an ardent devotee of Lord Vishnu. Almost all he said was first preceded by the invocation, ‘Narayana, Narayana’. The day came when he felt that no one loved God more than he did. Confident of being the chosen one, he dared to ask Vishnu who loved Him the best. It did not take Lord Vishnu long to single out a farmer who lived on the banks of the Ganges. Narada was shocked and pained. Seeing his disappointment, Vishnu told Narada that he could check it out for himself.

Narada discovered that the farmer was a poor man who rose early in the morning, pronounced the name of Vishnu once and then, shouldering his plough, went out to work all day in his field. In the evening he came back exhausted, had a meager meal and, calling out to Vishnu once again, fell fast asleep. ‘How can this fellow be called a devotee of Vishnu? He uttered his name just twice in the day. All day he was immersed in worldly occupations!’ thought Narada.

He returned to Vishnu, but before he could voice his thoughts, the Lord said, ‘Narada, I have a piece of work for you. Fill a bowl to the very brim with milk and walk all around the city without spilling a drop.’ Joyfully Narada did as he was told and went to Vishnu once again. ‘How many times in the course of your walk did you remember me?’ asked Vishnu.

‘Not once, Lord,’ replied Narada. ‘How could I when you had commanded me to watch the milk?’ And the Lord said, ‘That bowl so absorbed you that you forgot me altogether.

Those who remember me while doing their duties are dearer to me than those who set aside all work and chant my name night and day.’ Three significant points emerge from this story. The first is that though rituals are an integral part of spiritual discipline, they need not be long, complex and time-consuming. What is important is to discharge your work in a spirit of devotion.

It necessarily follows that you engage yourself in constructive work and refrain from activities that harm others. True devotion as well as happiness lies in doing your work to the best of your ability and discharging all your responsibilities honorably.

Last but not least is humility of outlook.

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