THEOSOPHY, Vol. 50, No. 9, July, 1962
(Pages 400-404; Size: 21K)
(Number 1 of a 9-part series)
MISUNDERSTOOD BIBLICAL TRADITIONS
WERE it possible to stand aside from the stream of human life and view its vicissitudes impersonally -- as spectator or as soul -- it would probably be seen that one of the greatest problems of this time is that of keeping alive in man his spiritual intuitions. Due to the materializing influence of Kali Yuga, or the Dark Age, which began according to Hindu chronology about five thousand years ago, man's innate feelings about God, Justice, Miracle, Salvation and Prayer, are subject almost daily to attack -- not so much from persons, creeds or organized bodies of iconoclasts, perhaps, as from the spirit and outlook of the age. Not one cherished belief has escaped the hand of time.
Who would be so bold as to affirm, for example, that the meaning of the term God, as understood and taught by organized religion today, is the same as that given by Zoroaster, Krishna, or Christ? Who would have the temerity to contend that the theoretical interpretations of miracle, as read about and discussed in Sunday School, are anything like the truth concerning that vast science of magic known and practiced by Elijah, Peter and Paul? Or that prayer, as conceived throughout Christendom in the twentieth century, bears even a close approximation to the inward communion recommended by Jesus to his disciples, wherein, "All things whatsoever ye pray and ask for ... ye shall have them"? An eminent theologian, when asked in the latter years of his life: "Do you believe in God?" replied that "The question requires not an answer, but an education." May not the same thing be said also of prayer -- that is, that men need to re-educate themselves, lest the meaning and spirit of the ancient practice be lost?
"Prove all things; hold fast that which is good," said St. Paul. "...be not children in understanding: howbeit in malice be ye children, but in understanding be men." In spite of these and other exhortations to mental and spiritual acumen, most adherents of the faith seem to have fallen under the spell, or the inertia, of what St. Paul called the "outward man." Too many, it would appear, have been content to believe only, to follow blindly what other men say or do, instead of seeing to it that "the inward man is renewed day by day." (2 Cor. 4:16). Too many of us have taken it for granted that because we have made the terms God, Christ, Spirit, Soul and Prayer intimate and workable parts of our vocabularies, we thereby understand all that these words imply -- and this is probably a great mistake. The ability to name a thing can hardly mean that one knows all about it. The terms God and Christ are only points of departure, the first steps perhaps on an endless journey of exploration, a search and discovery of the universe that leads almost to infinity. Progress on this path can proceed day by day only by self-induced and self-devised exertions, by a process of thinking and of evaluation that proceeds from within. One of the chief functions of the Theosophical Movement of this age is to stimulate such independent thought, to encourage men to hark back to origins or to principles -- and thus to rescue from degradation the kernels of truth underlying the religious doctrines of old.For the Esoteric philosophy is alone calculated to withstand, in this age of crass and illogical materialism, the repeated attacks on all and everything man holds most dear and sacred, in his inner spiritual life. (H. P. Blavatsky).But how, one may ask, is the nugget of truth in each instance to be unearthed? How is the tarnish of the ages to be removed, and in such a manner that the jewel itself shall suffer no harm? Can the devout Christian or Jew, born and bred under the tutelage of church and synagogue ritualism, be convinced that his concept of God, as an outside personal Being, and of prayer based on that concept, may be false -- without sowing in his mind the unwholesome seed of materialism? How are any of the great ideas to be stripped of their outward human garb without giving the impression that the ideas themselves are being attacked or even destroyed? Fortunately, in the case of prayer, the sincere Christian has but to search the words and practices of his own Master to convince himself that the custom, at least as an outward public observance, is a questionable one, and that the whole subject ought to be re-examined, tested and proved.
"Lord, teach us to pray," says one of the disciples in Luke 11. 1. In response, Jesus offers, as an example, what is familiarly known as The Lord's Prayer. In Matt. 6. 5-13, another version of this same prayer is given, except in the latter account the instructions on how to pray are somewhat more definite and complete.And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.Then follows the Lord's Prayer, which, in spite of the Master's warning against "vain repetitions," has probably been memorized and repeated more times per capita of the total church membership than any other section of the New Testament. Was it the intention of Jesus that either the disciples, or the millions of human beings he must have known would follow, should henceforth repeat the words of this prayer verbatim?
But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly.
But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking.
Be not ye therefore like unto them: for your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask him.
After this manner therefore pray ye ...
Jesus, as even a cursory acquaintance with the four Gospels will disclose, was not favorably disposed toward some of the teachings and customs of the day in which he lived. "Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time," thus-and-so, "but I say unto you" the opposite. Public prayer, as an outward petition to an anthropomorphic God as the addressee, was inaugurated by the Jews and popularized by the Pharisees. But Jesus himself neither followed nor advocated the practice. How many Christians have demanded of their leaders an answer to the question of why it was that Jesus never prayed before the multitudes, as do the priests and clergymen of our day -- but rather, "when he had sent the multitudes away, he went up into a mountain apart to pray: and when the evening was come, he was there alone"? (Matt. 14. 23). Why, at the place called Gethsemane, did he thrice leave the company of others and go off by himself to pray? "Sit ye here," he said to his disciples, "while I go and pray yonder." (Matt. 26. 36-44). Why, at the Mount of Olives, when his disciples were following him, did he withdraw himself "from them about a stone's cast, and kneeled down, and prayed?"(1) (Lu. 22. 39-41).
Moreover, when the Master preached and taught in the synagogues, as at Nazareth, Galilee and Capernaum (Lu. 4), no mention whatsoever is made of his having prayed in either of these temples -- or in any other, for that matter -- nor did he offer supplications or proclaim benedictions of any kind when he spoke to the people at the Lake of Gennesaret. (Lu. 5. 1-4). Why, also, did Jesus not say grace when he sat down to the great feast in the house of Levi? (Lu. 5. 29-33). Indeed, on this latter occasion, the Master was questioned by the publicans on this very point of prayer: "Why do the disciples of John fast often, and make prayers, and likewise the disciples of the Pharisees; but thine eat and drink?" What else can this mean but that the disciples of Jesus, evidently following the injunctions of their Master, were never seen to be praying in public?
Only on one occasion does Jesus seem to have prayed in the company of others, and this in the presence of the disciples only, just prior to his betrayal and death (John 17). But in this farewell address, he explained why he thus prayed openly. "These things I speak in the world, that they might have my joy fulfilled in themselves ... Neither pray I for these alone, but ... that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and has loved them, as thou hast loved me." On three other occasions, in utterances of not more than two sentences each, he gave thanks to the Father, as at the tomb of Lazarus (if we wish to call these prayers) -- but even here he gave his reason for speaking openly (John 11. 41-42).(2)
The question now to be considered is why Jesus was so adamant, both in precept and in practice, against praying in public and in the synagogues? Surely, every religious man who prayed in public was not a hypocrite or a liar, so he must have had a reason -- the same reason, no doubt, that prompted H. P. Blavatsky, as a messenger from the Lodge of Masters in this age, to issue similar warning. And that is that prayer, in any of its forms, is a double-edged sword, a dangerous art, which, depending upon its use, may become either a blessing or a curse.
But, it will be asked: Did not Solomon pray in the temple, and is it not recorded that David prayed to the Lord of Hosts to help him smite the Philistines, and slay the Syrians and the Moabites, and that "the Lord preserved David whithersoever he went?" So it is recorded, but since Western peoples delight in calling themselves Christians, why should they not rather follow that which Christ says? And he distinctly commands that we follow not "them of old times," or the Mosaic law, but bids us do as he says.
According to the principle of duality which pervades the whole of the manifested universe, everything has two sides to it. Fire is both life-giving and death-dealing; water both constructs and destroys; the brilliant rays of the Sun may either heal or kill. None of these natural elements possesses any quality of itself. It becomes beneficent or maleficent according to the wisdom with which it is used. So it is, no doubt, with the practice called prayer --it may be good or bad, depending upon how prayer is defined and the way it is used. Might this be one reason why the disciples felt the need for instructions on how to pray? Demon est Deus inversus.
The sincere Christian may demur, perhaps, to statements such as these, and say that not only he and his family, but also his parents and their predecessors, have prayed devotedly throughout the whole of their lives -- with nothing but good results. "Prayer," he will affirm, "has been an essential part of our religious lives, an inexhaustible source of strength in time of need." All of which may seem to be perfectly true. But are we to ignore the equally true fact that tragedies do occur in praying families? And are we to close our eyes to the truth that many good people who never pray are equally blessed, along with their Christian brothers, with victory, wealth and peace of mind and heart?
Human nature, it seems fair to observe, is likely to be a little one-sided, or prejudiced, in such matters. And religiously-minded people, being human like everyone else, are oftentimes inclined to attribute to their prayers only the good results they feel they obtain from the practice. The common tendency is, while taking credit for the blessings, to charge off parallel tragedies, to lay the evils of life at the feet of Satan or some other outside antagonistic force. Would our Christian brothers, all of whom are parts of ourselves, and on whom no judgment is passed, feel themselves abused if asked to consider the possibility that some of the tragedies which they and their friends and relations experience, may likewise be correlated with prayer -- sincere, though in this case, ignorantly-directed, prayer? "More things are wrought by prayer," said Tennyson, "than the world dreams of."
(To be concluded)
COMPILER'S NOTE: This next related article is the one mentioned by the Editors in the first footnote. At the end of it you will find the link to the conclusion of the above article.
THEOSOPHY, Vol. 50, No. 9, July, 1962
THE GOSPELS ON PRAYER(3)
AND when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.
But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly. (Matt. 6: 5-6.)
And when he had sent the multitudes away, he went up into a mountain apart to pray: and when the evening was come he was there alone. (Matt. 14: 23.)
Then cometh Jesus with them unto a place called Gethsemane, and saith unto the disciples, Sit ye here [wait here], while I go and pray yonder [alone].
And he took with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to be sorrowful and very heavy.
Then saith he unto them, My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death: tarry ye here [wait here], and watch with me.
And he went a little farther [off by himself] and fell on his face, and prayed....
And he cometh unto the disciples, and findeth them asleep.... (Matt. 26: 36-40.)
He went away [off to himself] again the second time, and prayed....
And he came and found them [the disciples] asleep again: for their eyes were heavy.
And he left them, and went away [by himself] again, and prayed the third time, saying the same words. (Matt. 26: 42-44.)
And in the morning, rising up a great while before day, he went out, and departed into a solitary place, and there prayed.
And Simon and they that were with him followed after him.
And when they had found him, they said unto him, All men seek for thee. (Mark 1: 35-37.)
And when he had sent them (the people) away, [that is, when he was alone] he departed into a mountain to pray. (Mark 6: 46.)
...and great multitudes came together to hear, and to be healed by him of their infirmities.
And he withdrew himself into the wilderness, [where he could be alone] and prayed. (Luke 5: 15-16)
And it came to pass in those days, that he went out [alone] into a mountain to pray, and continued all night in prayer to God.
And when it was day, he called unto him his disciples (for they had not been with him while he prayed). (Luke 6: 12-13.)
...he took Peter and John and James, and went up into a mountain to pray.
And as he prayed, the fashion of his countenance was altered, and his raiment was white and glistening.
And, behold, there talked with him two men, which were Moses and Elias: Who appeared in glory, and spake of his decease which he should accomplish at Jerusalem.
But Peter and they that were with him were heavy with sleep [Jesus prayed alone while the disciples slept]: and when they were awake, they saw his glory, and the two men that stood with him. (Luke 9: 28-32.)
And it came to pass, as he was alone praying, his disciples were with him: and he asked them, saying, Whom say the people that I am?
They answering said, John the Baptist; but some say, Elias; and others say, that one of the old prophets is risen [re-incarnated] again. (Luke 9: 18-19.)
And it came to pass, that, as he was praying in a certain place [alone?], when he ceased, one of the disciples said unto him, Lord, teach us to pray, as John also taught his disciples. (Luke 11: 1.) [Then follows the Lord's Prayer which, note well, is not an actual prayer made at the time, but is Jesus' instructions to his disciples, a "manner" of praying (as stated in Matt. 6: 9.)]
And he came out, and went, as he was wont, to the mount of Olives: and his disciples also followed him.
And when he was at the place, he said unto them, Pray that ye enter not into temptation.
And he was withdrawn from them about a stone's cast, and kneeled down, and prayed. (Luke 22: 39-41.)
And when he rose up from prayer, and was come to his disciples [for he had been alone while he prayed], he found them sleeping for sorrow ... (Luke 22: 45.)
Then there were brought unto him little children, that he should put his hands on them, and pray: and the disciples rebuked them.
But Jesus said, Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven.
And he laid his hands on them, and departed thence. (Matt. 19: 13-15.) [But he did not pray, as had been requested.]
COMPILER'S NOTE: The following is a separate item which followed the above article but was on the same page. I felt it was useful to include it here:
DEVOTION BEYOND PRAYER
Some devotees give sacrifice to the Gods, while others, lighting the subtler fire of the Supreme Spirit offer themselves; still others make sacrifice with the senses, beginning with hearing, in the fire of self-restraint, and some give up all sense-delighting sounds, and others again, illuminated by spiritual knowledge, sacrifice all the functions of the senses and vitality in the fire of devotion through self-constraint. There are also those who perform sacrifice by wealth given in alms, by mortification, by devotion, and by silent study.
O harasser of thy foes, the sacrifice through spiritual knowledge is superior to sacrifice made with material things; every action without exception is comprehended in spiritual knowledge, O son of Pritha.
MISUNDERSTOOD BIBLICAL TRADITIONS
(Part 2 of a 9-part series)
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THREE (3) FOOTNOTES LISTED BELOW:
(1) The following article lists over a dozen instances from the Gospels in which the Master is shown to have excused himself from the presence of others, even from the company of his disciples, before praying. [Note: You will find a copy of the article mentioned by the Editors here when you come to the end of this article. --Compiler.]
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(2) It should be remembered that the Lord's Prayer, so-called, was not a real prayer, but a manner of praying, suggested by Jesus to his disciples in response to their request for instructions on how to pray (Matt. 6. 9; Lu. 11. 1-2).
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(3) NOTE.--In these quotations from the King James version of the Bible, all italics are ours. --Editors.
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