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Prayer in a tale

All religions have a system of prayers designed with a view to having a direct communion with the Creator, but does a prayer always have to conform to any strict construct or structure?

delhi Updated: May 06, 2010 00:45 IST

All religions have a system of prayers designed with a view to having a direct communion with the Creator, but does a prayer always have to conform to any strict construct or structure? This was dealt with by Leo Tolstoy in a story, which forms part of his immortal ‘Twenty-Three Tales’. Reading that tale itself was a prayer.

Tolstoy speaks about a preacher who was on a boat. Someone told him that in the nearby island there lived three hermits. The priest requested that the boat be taken to the island. On the island, sure enough, he was welcomed by three men. The preacher asked them what was the prayer they used. They said they did not know any formal prayer, but they said, "You are three, we are three; have mercy on us Lord". The preacher said that was not the way to pray and he would teach them the Lord's prayer. They said they were extremely grateful, but being ignorant, they may not be able to remember the prayer.

The preacher, with great patience, taught them the prayer and took leave. It was night by now, and the boat was about a couple of miles from the island. Suddenly someone pointed out that three pillars of light were advancing, riding the waves.

The preacher also saw in amazement three tall columns of light approaching. When they reached the boat, the preacher recognised they were the same men engulfed in light, whom he had taught the Lord’s prayer! They said they were illiterate and ignorant and had forgotten the words of the prayer, and would he again teach them. The preacher was dumbfounded. He realised that those close to God do not require a formal structure of praying, for such persons were for ever in His presence.

On this, Lord Krishna has a word. He says he likes those with single-pointed devotion. Prayer is, thus, placement of faith in the Lord. And the right time for it is now, and the place here.