BBC Radio 2 - Prayer for the Day
No. 1 Saturday, 28th October 2000
Good morning. All this week, Hindus have been celebrating the various festivities connected with Diwali, the festival of lights. These included family get-togethers, fireworks, gifts of new clothes and sweets, ceremonies to invoke good fortune and also the start of the Hindu New Year.
The origin of Diwali is the welcome return of Lord Ram to his capital city, Ayodhya. The citizens of Ayodhya had suffered deep loss during Ram’s absence and consoled themselves with faith and a commitment to serving his wishes. When Ram returned, the citizens felt they had been brought back from the dead. This is understood as a celebration of receiving God into our lives. The lamps used to decorate Ayodhya symbolise our re-established relationship with God.
This same theme was developed by the sixteenth century saint, Sri Chaitanya. He transformed the Hindu religion by his enthusiastic teaching that God can be realised by anyone simply by cultivating loving devotion within our hearts. Although his followers transcribed much of his teaching, he left only eight written verses, known as the Sikshatakam.
The first of these verses reminds us just how easy it is to approach God:-
“Let there be all glory for singing the holy names of God. It cleanses the mirror of our mind, allowing us to see truth. It extinguishes the fire of material miseries. It cools our burning passions and immerses us in unlimited spiritual pleasure. Chanting the name of God is like the waxing moon. Its luminance opens the lotus of good fortune for all creation. It is the essence of all learning. It awakens us to real spiritual life and enables us to taste ecstasy at every moment.”
We, therefore, pray :-
“Dear Lord. There are many of us who, in the midst of the bustle of life, feel an emptiness in our hearts. If we call out your holy name and take one step towards you, may you respond as you promise and take one thousand steps towards us.”
No. 2 Monday, 30th October 2000
Good morning. Invasions and domination by military rule are a regular feature of human history. In the sixteenth century, much of India was under the rule of the Moghul Empire. In India, as elsewhere, this involved horrible atrocities and subjugation of local culture and religion. And, this creates the unfortunate pattern of injury followed by retaliation and counter-retaliation and so, the hurt and wounds can last centuries.
Sri Caitanya was a saint and social reformer in the midst of the Moghul rule. However, in his efforts to revitalise people in their spiritual life, he never undermined another’s faith. Rather he would build upon the common themes of the various religious traditions to try and unite everyone in the shared experience of spiritual devotion. Particularly, he noted how all religions stress the recitation of the name of God as a means for communing with God.
In the second of the his eight key verses, known as the Sikshastakam, he wrote:-
“Oh, my Lord, your holy name brings all good fortune for everyone. Therefore, You have many names by which You are known. They are all equally powerful and You respond to them all. There are no special rules for singing the names of God. It may be done by anyone anywhere and at anytime.”
He then continues with a personal lament:-
“But, although You have been so kind to give us the opportunity to know You through Your holy names, I am so unfortunate, that I become distracted and keep neglecting to take advantage of something so simple and so wonderful.”
We therefore pray:-
“Our dear Lord, may we come to realise the immense blessing that You have provided by allowing us to know You through simply reciting Your holy name. May our realisations unite us in the understanding that although You are known by many different names and in diverse experiences, you are the one God for all of us – the Father who wishes us all to live peacefully as brothers and sisters.”
No. 3 Tuesday, 31st October 2000
Good morning. One of my children’s favourite stories is The Giving Tree - about how a tree showed friendship to a young boy. At first the tree gave the lad shelter, fruit and play. Later, when the grown man wished to travel the seas, the tree gave his body to build the ship.
Sri Chaitanya said:-
“When a tree is cut down, it does not protest. When drying up it does not ask for water. It tolerates summer’s heat and winter’s cold, yet it always offers shelter to others. It delivers its fruits, flowers and whatever it possesses to everyone. In the same way, we should never expect honour from others, but always offer all respect to them, knowing that God is also within their hearts. In this humble frame of mind, it is possible to chant the name of God without impediment.”
In the third of his Shikshatakam verses, the Hindu saint, Sri Chaitanya also praises trees – particularly for their qualities of humility and tolerance. Sri Chaitanya wonders if this is the key to the successful performance of our devotional practices. However diligent we may be in spiritual life, the natural awakening of our relationship with God may be obstructed by a sense of pride. We are all, indeed, special and dear to God in a unique way, but that cannot allow us to consider ourselves superior to or more deserving than anyone else.
“Our dear Lord, May we find solace in our relationship with You. May we never cause any anxiety for other living beings, either by our actions, our words or our thoughts. May we respect all others and devote ourselves to their welfare and to Your service.”
No. 4 Wednesday, 1st November 2000
As part of my work, I meet many people involved in the field of personal development seminars. Generally, the focus is on helping people to fulfil their potential in life, to achieve their deepest desires. Often, the seminars involve a spiritual dimension. I have heard comments that this seems an easy type of spirituality – one that is concerned with getting rather than giving.
However, wish-fulfilment generally carries a caveat. “Beware of what you wish for - it may come true!” One friend of mine was desperate for promotion within her company, but when it came, she found herself ostracised from all her colleagues.
In the fourth verse of his Sikshastakam prayers, the sixteenth century Hindu teacher, Sri Chaitanya recommends we cultivate a desire for serving others, rather than obtaining material possessions. Worldly things are temporary and are only an anxiety. We worry that we haven’t got them. We worry when we haven’t got them. He isn’t suggesting that money and possessions aren’t important, but they are not the most crucial factors for our happiness.
“I do not desire material wealth. Nor do I want many followers or beautiful women. Nor do I want any of the fantastic delights promised in poetic visions of paradise. Nor do I even want liberation or a place in the kingdom of God. But, there is one thing that I do pray for, even though I am totally undeserving – and that is to be able to serve You with devotion, life after life.”
May we also pray:-
“You have provided amply for everyone’s needs, but there can
never be enough for everyone’s greed.
Please open our eyes to what is essential for our happiness, so that we
become satisfied with what comes easily to us.
Please open our hearts to the joy of sharing what You have placed in our
care in the service of others less fortunate.”
© BBC This script was commissioned by the BBC for broadcast as “Prayer for the Day” on Radio 2.