Paramhansa Yogananda wrote Whispers from Eternity to show us the attitudes of the soul that draw God’s response to prayers. Often, we pray desperately to be relieved of a situation that we’re experiencing, or to have an opportunity come to us, and we wonder why God doesn’t answer. Yet Yogananda says it’s a very good thing that we don’t get what we want, because often what we pray for has little to do with our everlasting happiness.

There are several hundred prayers in Whispers—prayers for dealing with material needs, for overcoming trials, for transcending greed, to mention only a few.  Yet not one prayer says, “Give me a good job.” “Help me to find an apartment.”  Yogananda wrote Whispers for sincere seekers on the path of Self-realization, and he’s showing us how to pray with Self-realization as the goal.

The correct way to pray

To be effective, our prayer has to be that we get in tune with the Divine—that we have the courage, no matter what comes, to live in attunement with God’s will. Yogananda shows us over and over that “successful” prayers are those that uplift and expand our consciousness to an awareness of our oneness with the Divine.

Yogananda’s “Demand for Prosperity” is instructive. The prayer asks not for money or goods but for the understanding that “I am Thy child, and as such, have the right of possession over all things… Rescue my consciousness, shipwrecked on the tiny island of my body.”

Yogananda is showing us here that to meet the material demands of life, we must overcome any consciousness of “lack” or that “I am tiny and separate from God.” We don’t beg God to solve our problems for us; we pray for the consciousness that empowers us to attract what we need. A “begging” prayer actually limits the power of the soul to draw what it needs.

What pulls us down in life is not our circumstances, but our attitude toward those circumstances. Yogananda said that circumstances are always neutral; whether we see them as happy or sad depends entirely on our attitude. If we hold the right attitude, we can handle anything.

Without the right attitude, our consciousness is pulled down and we forget God. In Whispers, Yogananda shows us that, more than anything else, we need to pray for right attitude.

Learning to express divine consciousness

Thus, if harsh words or cruel behavior threaten to pull us down, we pray for an attitude of Christ-like forgiveness—to be able to “behave like the orange which, though crushed and bitten, fails not to impart its sweetness.” Or if we are facing seemingly insurmountable trials, we ask God not to remove the trials, but to turn us into warriors—“burn away all the dross of weakness in me; bring out the steel of endurance, and harden me into the strength of calmness.”

In other words, we pray for the will power, the energy, or the devotion needed to live in attunement with our divine nature.

The need for focused energy

Yogananda’s guidance on how to use his prayer demands breaks down into ten distinct steps. (See sidebar below) He tells us first to select a prayer that has personal meaning for us. It’s important to pick something that we’re in tune with and don’t resist with part of our mind.

Then we need to calm ourselves so that we can relate to the prayer deeply. Most prayers don’t work because we’re not focused enough. One of the ways to calm and focus our minds is by using the prayer itself, repeating it slowly and concentrating deeply on each word.

The power of visualization

Once we’ve grasped the prayer’s meaning, then in meditation we visualize that meaning as clearly as we can, as if we were living through it. “Prayer at Noon,” for example, describes God’s energy as the sun shining down on us: “Thou are invisible yet Thine energy flows through the rays of sunshine….”

It’s one thing to understand intellectually that God’s power flows into us as continuously as the sun shines on earth. But it’s another to take that meaning so deeply into our hearts that there’s absolutely no doubt. To do that, we need to picture ourselves in various situations.

For example, we need to think of all the circumstances that we’re ever in and ask, “is there ever a time when God’s invisible rays are not coming into me?

If I’m in the grocery store, can God’s rays penetrate to me there? When I’m driving my car on the freeway and hit a traffic jam—are God’s invisible rays present then?”

If in meditation we visualize God’s energy as the sun shining down in a variety of situations, then one day when we see the sun shining down—suddenly, it’s God’s rays coming into us. The two images begin to merge.

Nearly all of the prayers in Whispers describe ordinary realities: walking down a crowded street when the sun is shining; seeing a honey bee gathering nectar; going to the movies; swimming in the sea. Over and over Yogananda is telling us that if we want to progress spiritually, we must learn to see God in everyday life. Before we can transcend this level of reality, we must first spiritualize it.

We have to become “hungry”

To understand the meaning of a prayer, we must also take that meaning so deeply into our hearts we awaken our longing for the Divine. The key is to repeatedly “saturate” the prayer with devotion.

In meditating on the sun’s rays coming into us, it’s helpful to try to feel those rays coming into our heart and to receive them with great gratitude. If we are truly grateful for the sun’s rays, it’s but a short step to feeling that it’s Divine Mother’s loving presence shining down on us through the sun.

If devotion remains a challenge, the solution is to find a prayer-demand that speaks to that need. As devotees, one of the most important attitudes we can hold is devotion. A relationship of deep love and intimacy with the Divine removes any sense of separation between our lives and God.

Don’t dig up the prayer plant

Yogananda says to “Imbue yourself with faith that your heart’s craving is being felt by God.” He tells us to feel that God is listening and then, afterwards, “Be fully convinced that he has listened.” One of the best ways to do this is to visualize one of the Masters sitting with you when you pray, or to feel that God is inside of you.

Don’t doubt. Don’t go digging up the prayer plant by saying, “Well, I wonder if it’s going to come true.” We must accept that we’ve done our best, and that it’s in God’s hands. This attitude requires discipline because we’re fighting against the inclination to believe ourselves small and separate from God.

Sometimes we have to accept the fact that, by not answering, God has answered our prayer. His answer is that we must go through the trial or other difficulty and learn our lessons through that experience. Ultimately, to pray correctly, we must learn to see everything as coming from God.

These prayers have the power to re-educate our subconscious minds on a profound level. The more continuously and deeply we use them, the sooner we break through the limiting power of words and the power of Spirit begins to flows into all areas of our lives.

Yogananda’s 10 steps for using prayer demands

1)  Select a demand according to
your need.

2) Calm your mind.

3)  Meditate on the meaning of the
demand until it becomes a part
of you.

4)  Saturate the demand with
devotion and meditate upon it.

5)  Meditate more deeply, increase
your devotion, offer the demand
as your own heart’s outburst.

6)  Imbue yourself with faith that
your heart’s craving is being felt
by God.

7)  Feel that God is listening to the
silent words of your soul.

8)  Be thoroughly convinced that
He has listened to you.

9)  Go about your duties, seeking
not to know whether God will
grant your demand.

10)  Unceasingly meditate on God.

Excerpted from a November-December 2002 class series. Asha Nayaswami is one of the spiritual directors of Ananda Palo Alto.

Related reading Whispers from Eternity by Paramhansa Yogananda, edited by Swami Kriyananda. Available from Crystal Clarity Publishers.

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