New insights on Prayer

Consider the following 2 scenarios:
#1: You are celebrating Krishna Jayanti.. made several sweet and salty snacks as part of offerings to God. Needless to say that you have fasted and toiled hard the whole day. You then spread all items nicely in front of the deity and start chanting your prayers. Your family members also join. By then, you are already physically & mentally tired and also extremely hungry. Yet, you overcome the temptation and postpone tasting your sweets until all the prayers/rituals are completed! How do we manage to exercise this self-control in spite of having depleted all our physical and mental resources. After all, will it not be incredibly difficult to even resist the smallest temptation if one has just spent a long time overcoming larger ones!

#2:Consider another common scenario: You are climbing the sacred Hill of Tirupati for over 3 to 4 hours. You have reached the top but have exhausted yourself completely. And someone tells you that you need to stand in a long queue for another 4 hours for the Lord’s Darshan. Won’t you still go ahead? Most would, in spite of the physical conditions. Right? How do we manage to go that extra mile overcoming physical limitations? Would it not be incredibly difficult to go for a 1 mile jog right after one has completed a 30 mile jog?

The question is what accounts for this extreme self-control and will power against heavy odds? How does one replenish these physical & mental resources or even increase our endurance? Believers would reply that we derive that extra strength through God who is invoked through prayers. Science has a different take on this, though. In a recent research study, reported in the Journal of Social Psychology, researchers conclude that Prayer has the same effect as that of a social interaction. Social interaction? Yes, that is what the article claims. According to them Prayer is akin to an individual’s interaction with God – an imaginary conversation. It’s well-known that social interactions do give us the resources necessary to overcome physical & mental depletion. Predictably,then, the study claims that the effects of prayer are similar to what one expects from social interactions. They also state that informal or improvised prayer has more beneficial effects on our cognitive function. According to them informal or improvised prayer has a stronger impact on our cognitive function compared to formal prayers such as chanting well-known verses from our scriptures. I suppose in an informal prayer, we are putting in more conscious efforts in our conversations with our personal Gods and therfore it has a stronger social interaction value.

I would think, like all believers, that there is certainly more to prayer than a mere social interaction value. There’s always the power of the unknown operating when we all pray collectively.
That said, for me the most interesting insight from the study is the revelation that informal or personalized prayers are more beneficial than formal recitation of verses. One is reminded of Saint Thyagaraja and Tamil Azhwars who are well-known to converse with God in a variety of ways.

Published in: on December 29, 2013 at 5:38 pm  Comments (2)  
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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Prayer a Social interaction? well then, this is one interaction that completely recharges me and my mental and physical resources and puts the spring back in my step, any day of the week.Quite unlike social interactions with some humans, which can drain your energy and depress the spirits. Not all, but just a few!

    • I have further updated the post with examples of Thyagaraja and Azhwars. This is to suggest that only purposeful social interaction can be beneficial – not the kind of stuff that saps one’s energy.

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