I once visited a home where there was a young baby. I was talking to the family and the mother was busy somewhere in the kitchen. The baby was playing with its toys. After a while, the baby cried a little and started putting things in its mouth, thinking that by sucking on them, it might get some milk to satisfy its hunger. A little crying, a little trying, again a little crying; this went on for a while. When it had sucked everything and not found any milk, it cried some more.

Then the mother came with a pacifier. The baby started sucking the pacifier and stopped crying. But very soon it found out that milk wasn’t coming even from the pacifier. Then it started kicking everything and really crying. This time the cry was completely different. And now the mother knew that the crying was real and came running to take the baby and feed it. That taught me a very good lesson. I used to meditate and pray a little, but my mind was on the market and the cinema. I used to go to the Himalayas, sit in front of the Ganges, close my eyes and start meditating, but I would be meditating on the cinemas of New Delhi. I would be sitting in a cave but my mind was in the city. I repeated all the prayers correctly and people who heard them said they sounded wonderful. They admired how I would sit quietly for hours and hours in meditation. But nothing came to my heart. I didn’t feel or realize anything.

When I saw the baby I understood my mistake, because I never cried, I never prayed sincerely, as the baby cried at the very end. I used to sit in prayer, but the moment I smelled some good food, I would finish quickly and go to the kitchen to eat. And when I sat down to pray, I would watch the time to make sure that I wouldn’t be late for the first show. My prayers were not answered properly because they were not real and sincere.

Then I learn to pray for the sake of prayer and not for anything else. I would not be satisfied with anything but God. If our prayers are that sincere and our interest is only in God and nothing else, then God cannot sit quietly somewhere. God has to run to us. If we need help, it is always waiting. All we need to do is to ask sincerely.

Help is not for the proud person. You must be like a baby; cry, ask for it. All of nature is ready to give to you. You need not go and praise the sun to get light; just open the window and sunlight comes in. As long as you don’t put up a barrier, you get light. Don’t allow your pride to get between you and God’s help.

Cry wholeheartedly, “Oh, God, help me. I can’t do it by myself. I am so limited, so little.” Let it be sincere. Let the eyes shed tears. Learn to cry well. Taste your tears. A hearty laugh or cry will relieve you from much tension. People who do not cry much have to go to the doctor very often. If you keep everything inside, it ferments.

When children want to show devotion to their mother, is there a restriction on how many times they should hug, how many kisses they should give? No. It comes automatically. Prayer, too, should be like that.

Of course, some people pray sincerely but ask for worldly things such as money or help on an exam. But even that is good because as their devotion develops, they think, “Why should I ask God for all these things? Won’t God know what is good for me? God will give me everything that is necessary. God is all knowing.” Then their prayer takes a different turn. They say, “God I don’t need to ask. I might even ask for something that is not good for me. You know what is good. Just do what is proper. I don’t know anything. All I need is faith and devotion in you.” That is a much higher prayer.

Devotion gradually progresses to higher levels. The Bhagavad Gita talks about four kinds of devotees. One type goes to God and asks for the removal of their suffering. Another type will ask for money or material things. A third will request liberation or release from bondage. And the fourth will not ask for anything. That one will just enjoy praying and praising God. That is the highest form of prayer.

People who don’t believe in a God ask me, ”Who is this God? Where is God? Is God hiding in a corner and pulling all the strings? What is the idea of prayer? Is God going to hear me and come running?”

To such people, I say that God is really everywhere, not in a particular form, but as an omnipresent awareness or power. God is consciousness itself. And by your concentrated, sincere prayer, you are tuning your mental radio to receive that power. If, say, there is nice music in this room, some of you may disagree and say, ”We don’t hear any music. How can you say that there is music in the room?” To you, I say get a radio, tune in properly, and you will hear the music.

By tuning the radio, you are not creating music. It is already there; your tuning merely attracts the radio waves. If your tuning is not correct, if it moves a little off that particular wavelength, you will not receive the music. But the moment you find the correct wavelength, the music comes easily.

In the same way, you’ll receive God Consciousness, God’s grace, or the Cosmic Consciousness, only when you tune your mind to the proper wavelength. Some people call that tuning “meditation,” some call it “prayer,” others call it “communion.” Some say you need not do anything but sit quietly to go into that higher state. But even sitting quietly is doing something. That God, or Self, or blissful pure Consciousness is always there. You are not creating it by your meditation. You need not do anything to get into it, but you have to do something not to disturb that below. We are not creating God’s grace, but we are removing everything that prevents the grace from coming to us.

Source:  Beyond Words by Sri Swami Satchidananda (also available as an audiobook)