Nemo vohu nemo vahishtem Zarathushtra gaethābyo “Prayer is good, it is best, for the people of the world” – (Sarosh Yasht Hadokht, I.1)
Prayer is common to the concerns of people belonging to every faith. Though the concept of prayer and the way one prays is highly personal and subjective, the mechanics of prayers are similar across different faiths.
PEOPLE GENERALLY PRAY FOR THE FOLLOWING REASONS:
- TO FULFIL AN INHERENT NEED:
Man as a thinking animal, feels an inherent urge and need to get in touch with SOMETHING. This is is an elusive thing without which man seems incomplete. It is variously explained as own inner core/ his own inner self or the unmanifest being.
This concept of prayer implies that prayer is not a rational process, but something much higher than that. James Montgomery puts this across beautifully thus: “Prayer is the soul’s sincere desire, uttered or unexpressed, the motion of a hidden fire that trembles in the breast.”
Man’s true nature is divine. Hence there is an urge in him to connect with his divine source. This urge creates an inner unrest. It is translated in man’s need to be in harmony with the divine. Prayer is directing all conscious thoughts towards the supreme being.
The real harmony is achieved when he arrives at an inner communion with that which is greater than himself. When that happens it awakens man to a new spiritual dimension dimension in life
When the harmony is perceived it extends also to all of God’s creations. Samuel Taylor Coleridge had beautifully expressed this in his poem Ancient Mariner, “He prayeth well who loveth well, both man and bird and beast; He prayeth well who loveth well all things both great and small, for the dear God who loveth us, he made and loveth all.”
- TO EXPRESS SUBMISSION & HUMILITY TO GOD:.
Many people already realise that there is a much higher force above them. They want to submit and surrender to this force. The word bandagi comes from the word banda “servant” and hence underlines the idea of humility, submission and service to God.
- TO EXPRESS GRATITTUDE TO GOD
Expressing gratitude to God is regarded as an obligation. This gives rise to the Zoroastrian term farajyat bandagi “obligatory prayer.” Man has to express gratitude to God for several things, especially his superiority over other creations as expressed by the poet Tennyson: “For what are men better than sheep or goat, If they raise not their hands in prayer.”
The very existence of a human being becomes shameful if he does not express this sentiment, as is clear from these Persian lines: “Bandagi kun bandagi kun bandagi, Zendagi bi bandagi sharmindagi.”
- FOR INEXPLICABLE REASONS:
For most people, prayer is an all-encompassing expression which defies definition, as expressed by Lord Tennyson. “More things are wrought by prayer than the world dreams of, Wherefore let thy voice rise, like a fountain for me night and day.” This ideal of prayer comes closest to the Zoroastrian ideal.
TYPES OF PRAYERS
When people pray, they are mostly unaware of their purpose of prayer. Depending on the purpose, prayers and people are broadly divided in four groups:
- Mechanical Prayer- pray mechanically for the sake of praying;
- Animal Prayer – prays for bargaining from God;
- Human Prayer – Prays for expressing – thanks, forgiveness and seeking help from God.
- Divine Prayer – Prayers which rises above man’s self. This man does not pray for himself or for any selfish or personal purpose. He prays for attaining harmony and seeking knowledge. He devotionally and intellectually feels the prayer; and is aware and exposed to the cosmic reality.
This is the level on which prophets, saints and highly realised souls operate.
MANTHRAVANI (ZOROASTRIAN PRAYERS)
The Avesta uses several words for prayers. The words which are most often used for prayer are: MANTHRA SPENTA, NEMANGH and SENGHĀ. MANTHRA SPENTA (later Manthravani) is the word most often used for prayers in Avesta. Loosely translated, it means words which holds the mind. It is derived from Öman- “to think.” The word Spenta means beneficial.
Manthravani is sacred and divine
Manthravani is considered sacred. The Yazad Mino Marespand presides over it. Manthravani is regarded as the soul of Ahura Mazda and body of Sarosh Yazad.
Manthravani prayers have been composed by: 1. Ahura Mazda through Asha (cosmic law) so that the world can prosper and righteous men can thrive (Ys.29.7) 2. Zarathushtra (Gathas) and his immediate disciples composed the 21 Nasks and 3. Aderbad Marespand composed the Pazand Prayers
Purposes of Manthravani prayers:
Manthravani prayers have a dual purpose :
- Performative – It performs certain acts even without our conscious effort.
- Informative – The translation of the prayers inform us about teachings of the religion
Manthravani prayers are mystic in their composition and workings. There are not only grammatical rules which go into their compsoirtion but also rules of Stoata Yasna (primal laws of vibrations, based on which creations were created).
The manthravani prayers are composed like formulae with special repetitive beginning and end (Khshnaothra, fravarane, yasnemcha etc). Prayers like Yatha, Ashem etc. are chanted in particular number formations only. According to Yasna 19, Manthra Spenta are regarded as Hukhta (Good words).
Different ways of reciting Manthra:
According to Yasna 19.21 and Hoshbam , Manthravani can be recited in several ways
Drenjaya “recounting in mind (for meditation)”, Frasravaya fragāthremcha “singing loudly”,
frasraothremcha “reciting audibly”, framarethremcha “reciting by memory”, sravayeni (Ava Nyaish) “singing” , frāyashtimcha “praying with ritual worship”
Manthra spenta is referred to as frahangān frahanga , that is, “the knowledge of all knowledge”
Concept of prayer in Yasna 58
Prayer benefits and gives success. It should be done with righteousness and humility, accompanied by good thoughts, words and deeds. Such prayers protect us against evil and wicked men. When we dedicate our wealth and our body to the prayers, our soul gets protection, defence and overall fortification. We should rejoice while doing prayers, we should willingly do prayers, we should concentrate while doing prayers, we should serve while doing prayer. We should pray in all humility. (Yasna Hā 58.1-3)
WHAT IS MEDITATION???
Meditation is the focusing of the mind – either on
- Physical sensations at that moment – breathing; focusing awareness on parts of the body.
- Sound – chants (manthra), prayers. Focusing the awareness on the sound of the words blocks out external sensory perceptions, including the boundary of the self.
- Object – fire, picture, image.
Scientifically what happens at the time of prayerful meditation:
Meditation induces biochemical as well as electroencephalographic changes. There is increased alpha activity in the brain – which indicates a relaxed state.
- a) The prefrontal lobe – part of the brain dealing with positive emotions seethes with activity
- b) The parietal lobe – part of the cerebrum dealing with orientation and perception of the body in space, shows very little activity. This gives the sensation of relaxation, infinity and timelessness.
Reciting Manthra helps achieve physical, mental, emotional and spiritual well-being. No costs, no harmful side-effects, just a regular and consistent practice.
Levels of MIND
- Conscious (Manah) – sense inputs, fantasy, awareness. It is attached to senses and tangible things. It is necessary for survival but it can not be much relied upon to take us to higher states of consciousness.
Left part of the brain is involved in physical activity and Right part in abstract reasoning and spatial judgments. There are always ‘internal dialogues’ going on in the mid, which does not allow it to rest or relax.
- Subconscious – memory, suppressed memory, repressed memory part of this, also anger, resentment
- Higher conscious (Vohu Manah) which is connected to Supreme/Universal Consciousness (Vahishta Manah). The best way to reach the higher mind, to help the mind evolve, for a Zoroastrian is through words of Manthravani. Baodh is part of this.
Benefits of prayers:
- Health – the simplest way to a healthy body is a healthy mind.
Meditation gives health to the body by helping to control blood pressure, blood sugar and ulcers.
The following Zoroastrian prayers tells us that Manthravani gives health: Ardibahesht Yasht (Mathra baeshaza baeshazanam baeshazyotemo), Ahmai raeshcha and Doa Tandarosti.
- Protection to the body. Manthra acts as a shield:
Words Of prayers are for protection (Ke verethrem jā thwā poi sengha)
Kem Na Mazda prayer (Vd.).
Yatha ahu vairyo (Ahunem vairim tanum paiti).
The names of Ahura Mazda (mānayen ahe yatha hazanghrem naram oyum narem aiwyakhshoit ; yezi vashi Zarathushtra …. ayancha khshafnascha “our names protect a man just as a 100 men protecting one men during the night and day” -Hormazd Yasht).
Kashti prayers protect ( yascha me aetahmi anghavo …..avasyāt – Hormazd Yasht)
Prayers stops the contagion of Druje-Nasu coming in the body (Vd.7)
The Bāj act as a shield.
- Calmness (Hence less use of drugs, cigarettes, anti-depressant drugs)
- Joy (Ushta)
- Relaxation – Stress is the singlemost important factor that causes heart diseases. Since 1970s it is scientifically proven (Ageless Body,p.162) that chanting of Mantras helps one relax. Which is conducive to health, spirituality, immunity etc.
- Intuition (which is regarded as an essential management tool. A relaxed mind gives birth to clarity of thought and Intuition.
- Freedom from fear, overcoming insecurities. A relaxed mind is quick to react in perilous situations and is not prone to get stressed when faced with danger.
- Creating confidence.
- Change in value system and attitude (Prayer does not change things for you – it changes you for things)
- Positive attitude to life
- Protection of the soul from Unseen evil – It nurtures and protects the soul (food and clothing for the soul -Ys.55)
- Help from God and Divine beings.
- As a link – To yaz “to attune, to unite” with divine beings; between material and spiritual world and also links us with Ahura Mazda, Zarathushtra, Adarbad Mahraspand etc
- Purity of the soul through purity of the Mind.
- Gives Khoreh ( Khvarena, nurani, ruhani), that is, divine strength and energy. (mathrem spentem ash-kharenanghem yazamaide -Siroza 29). The store house of Khoreh is Ahura Mazda. Prayers help us to be receptive to this divine gift.
Being virtuous helps the soul cross the Bridge after death. It helps deliver the soul from vices / evil / druj. Evil thoughts and negative qualities like arrogance, lie, hatred, greed, need, wrath, envy, malice, immodesty, lust, doubt in religion, atheism, calumny carelessness and disobedience are subdued through prayer (Ys.33.4). Only after one’s vices are subdued can the road to spirituality be opened.
Man’s soul can reach Garothman by properly chanting Yatha, Ashem and Yenghe hatam. (yā ahmāt staota yasnaya …. avat āyaptem – Avan Nyaish)
Prayers help upliftment of the soul (Us moi uzareshva ahura)
- Through Manthra, a righteous man is able to give faith to wicked people. Prophet Zarathushtra says that he is able to reach out and inspire faith in those who recite Manthra
- Lightens Planetary affliction – thus helps lighten and overcomes unseen and unpredictable obstacles and act as shock absorbers of pain and magnifiers of boons, umbrella for a rainy day. Prayer creates a parallel fortune over and above the one ordained by the stars.
- Manthra prayers act as a weapon against evil: Ahura Mazda and Zarathushtra used it against Ahreman, Sarosh Yazad uses it. Yatha ashem and Yenghe hatam acts as a weapon against Ahreman.
After some time the benefits of Meditation become irrelevant and people do it just for the love of it.
HOW TO MAKE ZOROASTRIAN PRAYERS MORE EFFECTIVE
According to Zoroastrianism, daily Farazyat Bandagi is the bounden duty of all human beings.
By making prayers more effective, we can unlock the treasures of mind and spirit
Preconditions for getting results of prayers:
Simple and contented life,
Tolerance towards all
Noble, Truthful and Moral life
An innocent (G. nikhāles), sincere, Clean (G. pāk) mind
Conscious of God at all times : (Story – Narada and farmer)
Mindful of God’s greatness and our limitations and insignificance
Follow the life and footsteps of he who has got revelation in a moment of spiritual enlightenment.
Never think ill of anybody
Patience – for the outcome of our prayer
An attitude of giving and dedication (At ratam zarathushtro); fra ve rahi in Khorshed nyaish
- Attitude towards God:
OBEDIENCE (G.tābedāri), HUMILITY (G. khāksāri) and GRATITUDE to Ahura Mazda – nemo ahurāi mazdāi and nemase te ahura mazda in Khorshed Nyaish
Faith in Ahura Mazda – (Stories:1. Farmer forgot the bible, read out the alphabet 2. Bani ayi jogan layi do baigan)
- Attitude towards prayer:
We have to pray with Intensity. Benjamin Franklin had said “Pray as if you were to die tomorrow”
Pray with joy and willingness
- Rules for prayers:
Physical and Ritual purity (G.pavitrai) – (distance from ritually unclean things and persons – like menstruating women)
Head covering, feet covering, wearing of Sudreh-Kushti
Performance of Kushti
No conversation while praying
Pronunciation as flawless as possible
Proper sequence of prayer, mindful of which prayers have to be recited when.
Time and place of the prayer also makes a difference
Time: Best time of prayer is Bāmdād/ Hoshbam, as at this time, the mind is quiet, little external disturbance, spiritual flow of currents undisturbed. Guru Nanak called it amrut vela. The great poet Narsinh Mehta called this time – 2 hours 24 minutes before sunrise) brahma muhrat. According to the Hindus, Rishis, Maharshis , Siddhas and Devs all pray during this time.
Other wise anytime is good for prayer, except when stated otherwise like in the case of Ava Nyaish, Sarosh Yasht and Khorshed Meher Nyaish. (Avan Yasht is specifically forbidden to be recited after sunset (Avan Yasht Kardeh 21) where it is stated that prayers offered to Avan after sunset pleases demons) However, traditionally the two hours between Aiwisruthrem and Ushahin Geh is considered Gashak – Bad time for prayers.
Place: When prayers are directed towards creations (esp. the Nyaish) one needs to make a kebla of that creation, otherwise one can pray in any place that is clean and ritually pure, facing the sun or any natural/artificial light. Preferably a fire temple.
Preferably same time and place for prayers has to be maintained
III. Concentration :
1: Being aware of each word and sound, of your own voice.
2: Visulaising on divine beings and trying to attune (yaz- be in union) with the divine beings, whose names occur in the prayers.
3: Concentration on images like fire or the picture of Zarathushtra.
Breathing, posture and visualization are known to beat stress.
While praying we have to make use of the tools of Breathing, Meditation and Visualisation to get the most out of Manthra.
Breathing– by praying with proper pronunciation and punctuations. The long vowel endings have to be emphasised.
Meditation – By being mindful and aware of the words of prayers. To pray not just by the lungs and vocal chords, but by the mind.
Visualisation –One has to visualize the broad concept of the prayer and about divine beings presiding over the prayer.
QUESTIONS ABOUT MATHRA PRAYERS:
- Why in Avesta language:
Difficulty in translation: Translation will lose the essence and meaning after some time. There is no single word which can give the exact meaning of the very first word of our smallest prayer Ashem Vohu. Moreover the very purpose of chanting prayer is lost in translation.
Mystic nature of Manthravani: Prayer in known language is a rational activity, so relaxation of the mind is not accomplished (Differentiate between mental and spiritual). While translating from Avesta, the essence is lost. Moreover, some words have esoteric effect. Words have greater power than thoughts. Words are first steps to a relationship between two individuals, then things can be relayed by silence. Words are intermediate steps from the physical to the psychological to the spiritual world.
The Mathravani prayers help us meditate and concentrate.
The sound, due to the language of the prayers has an intrinsic force in itself which can perform acts – like healing, protection, calming and soothing. Thus the effect of prayers on the body is like that of medicine or exercise – you don’t have to think how it will help. Do it in the right manner and be assured of the best results.
Link – Chanting the Avesta language serves as a link between us and those who composed the prayers – like prophet Zarathushtra and Adarbād Mahraspand. We establish a link through first Sarosh Yazad whose body is made of mathra (tanu-mathra). Hence Sarosh Baj before any other prayer.
- Should Prayers Be Understood:
It is good if we understand them, but it is not necessary that we should understand what we pray. The understanding of the religion and prayers can be done in rest of the waking hours. Also both have their relative importance. Understanding meaning while chanting prayers help plant good thoughts in the subconscious mind. It also helps visualization. Partial or complete understanding is preferable.
Just chanting the prayer has its own benefits. It calms and relaxes th econcious mind, from which follow many benefits. Like Kharena, health, protection and proximity to the divine beings.
Through all our waking hours our mind is working and active, it is only during prayers that a mind can relax and let the higher forces take over and guide it. The very fact that at several places we have to pray different numbers of Ashem and Yatha, ranging from 1 to 21 or even 100 in higher rituals, shows that Avesta is more about chanting than understanding.
- Can Good deeds or ethics substitute prayer?
No Prayers is like the our shield against evil in the battle of life where good deeds are our weapons against evil. Hence both are as necessary. Manthravani prayers more so when you are good as you are then the prime target of the evil
To give another analogy, good deeds, are like the oxygen we live by. Prayers is the food – which is also necessary for existence. And rituals are the special food.
Manthra is so important that Ahura Mazda, Zarathushtra, Adarbad Mahraspand, Kookadaru used it to beneficial effects.
Devoting 30 minutes in prayer (around 2% of the day) will not only be a rich investment for a glowing day, but for a glowing life as well.