Several years ago, I applied for a job and had to face a competitive examination. There were only ten posts and more than a thousand applicants. I was pitched against an army of dynamic young men with brilliant academic records. In comparison, I was a shy, young man with an introverted personality and an average academic record. However, I was selected.
The reason from my point of view was simple. Among the unselected candidates, whom I happened to meet, I noticed one common factor. They had a weak faith. In contrast, I had prayed to God for success. Having been born in a traditional Hindu family, I had heard the story about a boy who was driven out of his house by his stepmother. He had prayed to God for an unshakeable position and God made him the polestar. Another boy born in a poor family had no milk to drink. He prayed to God and obtained an ocean of milk. So it was natural for me to pray for a job. It was much later that I realised my mistake. I had used an atom bomb to kill a mosquito.
Philosophically, prayer is a much stronger weapon in comparison to sankalpa, because the sense of doer-ship is transferred from the individual to a cosmic agency. In practice also, I have found that in the performance of yoga nidra, instead of making a resolve like, 'I will achieve something', a prayer like, 'May something be achieved through me', is more effective.
The act of prayer inherently assumes faith in God or some infinite intelligence agency operation in the universe. Prayer is essentially an attempt to contact that agency. The followers of all religions of the world including Buddhism and Jainism find nothing objectionable in prayer. The Patanjali Yoga Sutras (a most authoritative text on yoga) also recommends self-surrender to God to practitioners of yoga. Even atheists, if they believe in the infinite potential of man are eligible to pay. The only difference would be that they will have to invoke their own infinitude, instead of God, through their prayers. Only advanced spiritual aspirants can pray like this, because in such a prayer it is difficult to transcend the barriers of individuality. It is only people with weak faith, either in God or in themselves, who find it difficult to pray effectively.
Almost all vedic and tantric mantras are prayers with the additional advantage that they are formed of powerful sounds which develop faith in the spiritual aspirant without his conscious effort, Even the monosyllabic mantra Om can be said to be a prayer, in the sense that its sound is an expression of the individual's desire to merge with the infinite.
In the history of the world, India, as a country, has always been recognised for its spiritual eminence. The idea of an infinite intelligence agency is deeply rooted in the chitta (something akin to racial unconscious) of an Indian. This makes me believe that if there is one common solution to all the problems of all Indians, it is prayer. Prayer will increase the faith and strengthen the individual to discover the solutions that are within.
All prayers directed towards worldly goals weaken our faith, if the worldly goal does not form part of our spiritual path. If we pray that we may become suitable instruments of the divine, our faith is definitely strengthened and we may also obtain riddhi-siddhi (health, wealth, fame etc.) if our samskaras have it in store for us.
I pray to the Lord of the Universe that He may bless all living beings with sufficient faith to enable them to pray for their spiritual development.