“Prayer is good, it is best, for the people of the world” (Sarosh Yasht Hadokht).
Prayer is common to the concerns of people belonging to every faith. Though the concept of prayer and the way one prays is personal and subjective, the mechanics of prayers works similarly for everybody.
The Persian (and later Gujarati) word for prayer is bandagi. It is derived from the word banda “servant” and hence underlines the idea of humility, submission and service to God.
The words for prayer most often used in Avesta are: manthra, nemangh and senghā. Presently the word used for prayers by Zoroastrians is Manthra (later Manthravani). Manthra loosely translated means words which help bind the thoughts. The word is derived from Öman- “to think.” beneficial.
The Zoroastrian term farajyat bandagi means “obligatory prayer.” Man has to express gratitude for his superiority over other creations as expressed by the poet Tennyson:
“For what are men better than sheep or goat, If they raise not their hands in prayer.”
The very existence of a human being becomes shameful if he does not pray, as is clear from these Persian lines: “Bandagi kun bandagi kun bandagi, Zendagi bi bandagi sharmindagi.”
Why do people pray?
Man as a thinking, feeling animal, has an inherent urge and need to get in touch with something higher than him. The celebrated poet James Montgomery puts this across beautifully thus: “Prayer is the soul’s sincere desire, uttered or unexpressed, the motion of a hidden fire that trembles in the breast.”
Man’s true nature is divine. Hence there is an urge in him to connect with his divine source. Prayer is directing all conscious thoughts towards the supreme being.
When a harmony is perceived, it extends to harmony with God’s creations, as Samuel Taylor Coleridge had expressed in his poem Ancient Mariner, “He prayeth well who loveth well, both man and bird and beast; He prayeth well who loveth well all things both great and small, for the dear God who loveth us, he made and loveth all.”
4 Stages of Prayers
People pray for different reasons. Though these different levels are connected with age, they do not necessarily change with age, if man does not evolve and change his perception.
In childhood, prayers are often done with disinterest for the sake of praying, often at the insistence of others;
During youth, prayers are – done for generally done to request favours from God – asking for success in love, job, studies etc;
In mature, adult life, prayers are done to express thanks, forgiveness and seeking help from God.
When man evolves to a higher state, prayers are done to attaining harmony and seek divine wisdom. This is the prayer of saints and realised souls.
It is sacred and divine Manthravani is considered sacred and has great significance for Zoroastrians. A Yazad – Mino Mahrespand – presides over it. It is considered the soul of Ahura Mazda (yenghe urvo manthro spento) and body of Sarosh Yazad (tanu-manthra).
Manthravani have been composed by:
i. Ahura Mazda: Ahura Mazda created the sacred word of Ahunavar and other basic Manthra through Ardibahesht Ameshaspand so that the world can prosper and righteous man can thrive (tem azutoish ahuro mathrem tashat asha hazaosho, mazdao gacoi khshvidemcha, hvo urushaiebyo spento sāsnayā Ys.29.7) ii. Zarathushtra and his immediate disciples composed the rest of the Avestan Manthra. iii. The Sasanian sage, Dastur Adarbad Marespand composed the Pazand Prayers.”
It has a dual purpose
Manthra prayers perform a dual function. Firstly and more importantly, they have a Performative purpose. They perform certain acts, just if we recite the prayers with as much concentration and sincerity as we can muster. Most importantly, the performative aspect gives us health, divine energy and a relaxed mind. This is so because these prayers have been composed o the bass of certain laws beyond the rules of grammar. These laws are traditionally referred to as Stoata Yasna, the primal laws of vibrations on the basis of which even the creations were created.
The second purpose of Manthra prayers is Informative. They inform us about the teachings of the religion and give us knowledge of the microcosm and the macrocosm. It is the knowledge of all knowledge (frahangān frahanga māthra spenta). The informative part of prayers require grammar to make the text meaningful. however it is not essential that one needs to be informed about the meaning when one is actually reciting the prayers.
Manthra prayers are formulae with special beginning and end. For instance most prayers start with the words Khshnaothra ahurahe mazdāo, they have the paragraph of Fravarane in the beginning and Yasnemcha at the end. Moreover Some prayers are chanted in particular number formations. for example, Yatha ahu vairyo are recited for 1,2,4,5,7,8,10 times; Ashem Vohu for 1, 3,4,10 times, and the combination of the two are also recited in a particular order, like 2+1, 5+3, 21+12.
Depending on the requirement and need, Manthra prayers can be recited in several ways. It can be recounted in mind (meditation), sung loudly, recited audibly or recited with ritual worship. While reciting the Manthra prayers, the body benefits by way of deep breathing, mindfulness and visualizations.
Our mind works at several levels, but the three most conspicuous levels are the conscious, subconscious and super conscious. The conscious layer is attached to senses and is the most often used part of the mind. Manthravani prayers help the mind to work at the subconscious as well as the super conscious levels. The. Manthra sounds act as vehicles to gradually lead the conscious thinking mind out of its normal thinking process and allow it to connect to the deeper recesses as well as the higher mind.
While chanting Manthra, the mind remains awake and the body goes into a deep relaxed state, which is as peaceful as deep sleep and yet the body is alert. If we can think thoughts noble thoughts and thoughts linked with the prayers, those could be ‘planted’ into the subconscious mind while one is reciting prayers.
Benefits of Manthra Prayers
According to Yasna Hā 58.1-3, when manthra prayers are done willfully with righteousness, dedication and humility, and are combined with good thoughts, words and deeds, they can benefit us by giving success, protection, joy and concentration.
The benefits of such prayers are threefold:
Physical: It gives us health, since a relaxed mind helps control blood pressure, blood sugar, hypertension and ulcers. It also increases immunity. The yatha ahu vairyo protects the body and so does the Kasti ritual.
Mental: Prayers calm and relax the mind, and gives it joy. It brings intuition and divine guidance which helps in taking decisions in everyday course of action. It also increases the understanding and tolerance level of the person, as a result of which the person becomes more loving and caring.
Prayers also bring confidence and allay fears and insecurities. A confident mind is quick to react in perilous situations and is not prone to get stressed when faced with difficulties, problems and danger. Most importantly of all it imbues one with a sense of power and a positive attitude for life.
Spiritual: Prayers uplifts the soul. It also protects the soul from unseen evil and acts as a weapon against evil: Most importantly it facilitates the coming of “Divine energy” (Khoreh/Khvarena) which helps people realise the purpose of their life on earth.
Making Manthra Prayers More Effective
Prayers need to be done with intensity, joy and willingness. By making prayers more effective, we can better unlock the treasures of mind and spirit.
There are certain pre-conditions, which, if observed enhance the benefits manthra prayers:
1. Physical and Ritual purity: One has to pray in a clean place and maintain distance from any type of impurity as well as ritually unacceptable things and persons.
2. Basic rules: Some basic rules to be followed while doing Manthra prayers are covering the head, covering the feet preferably with a leather or cotton foot covering, wearing the Sudreh-Kushti and doing the Kushti ritual before starting the prayers. It is also necessary that one should not talk while praying and make efforts to see that the pronunciations are as flawless as possible. One also has to be mindful of the proper sequence of prayer, mindful of which prayers have to be recited when.
Proper time and place
Time: Best time of prayer is about 70 minutes before and after sunrise (Bāmdād) as at this time, the cosmic spiritual currents are undisturbed. Moreover the mind is quiet at this time as there is little external disturbance. In other traditions this time is referred to as amrut vela and brahma muhrat. Otherwise anytime is good for prayer, except when stated otherwise like in the case of Ava Nyaish, Sarosh Yasht and Khorshed Meher Nyaish. (Avan Yasht is specifically forbidden to be recited after sunset (Avan Yasht Kardeh 21) where it is stated that prayers offered to Avan after sunset pleases demons). Traditionally the first two hours between Aiwisruthrem and Ushahin Geh, i.e. 12:00 midnight to 2:00 a.m., are considered Gashak “bad time” for prayers. it is okay to do the Kasti at this time, but one should not do the daily prayers during this time.
Place: When prayers are directed towards creations (esp. the Nyaish) one needs to make a kebla of that creation, otherwise one can pray in any place that is clean and ritually pure, facing the sun or any natural/artificial light. Preferably a fire temple.
Preferably same time and place for prayers has to be maintained
1. Being aware of each word and sound, of your own voice.
2. Visualising on divine beings and trying to attune (yaz “to be attuned” be in union) with the divine beings, whose names occur in the prayers.
3. Concentration on images like fire or the picture of Zarathushtra. Breathing, posture and visualization are known to beat stress.
Reciting Manthra helps achieve physical, mental, emotional and spiritual well-being. The Zoroastrian ideal of prayer can be best expressed in these words of poet-laureate Wordsworth. “More things are wrought by prayer than the world dreams of, Therefore let thy voice rise, like a fountain for me night and day.” Daily devoting about 30 minutes to prayers, that is around 2% of the day, will be a rich investment for a glowing day, and a glorious life.