In search of Miracles
The threat of suffering, disease, and death contradicts our desire to be happy and is a fact of life that we find hard to accept. When we are sick we consult doctors. We follow their advice for remedies, but also simultaneously seek cures from other possible sources, such as God, saints or angels. In particular, when we are unable to solve a problem on our own, we tend to pray on behalf of ourselves or those we love, because at those times we are most in need of something bigger than ourselves.
Prayer, either in words or in thoughts, is a means to talk to God. Teresa of Avila (1) gives us an impactful definition of it: “Prayer is nothing else but being on terms of friendship with God, frequently conversing in secret with him.”
There are various forms of prayer, they may be recited from memory, read from a book of prayers, or composed spontaneously as we pray. They may be said, chanted, or sung. Every tradition has its own unique set of prayers. “Om Hrim Ritam” and “Khandana Bhava Bandhana’” are two beautiful hymn prayers written by Swami Vivekananda that are a part of arati rituals in the Ramakrishna tradition. They are prayers of submission, reverence, and adoration. Confessional prayers are another type of prayer. We express our gratitude for the sun rising every morning or for helping us to remember that happiness is not always a choice! These are prayers of thanksgiving and gratitude. Another type of prayer is the direct petition or supplication prayer, which is the most popular type. We beg God for specific favors, making him seem like a cosmic Santa Claus. However, most of the time, these prayers are desperate attempts to find hope in the midst of sorrow.
Lord may I be healed
Through modern media, mass prayers for healing by evangelists can be seen in countries all over the world. The modern music, raised hands, and bodies flying through the air and hitting the floor are typical elements of such gatherings. A typical type of faith healing in Christianity involves praying over someone while placing hands on them. There is a hypermarket today for the extrasensory. A rough estimate places the number of mediums, fake healers, tarot card readers, and clairvoyants solely in the West at over 1,000,000. The last decades we have been witnessing a resurgence of sorcery, witchcraft, and magic, often combined with a superstitious use of religion.
When it comes to supernatural phenomena -demons, miracles, apparitions and private revelations- the Roman Catholic church walks a very fine line. Catholics believe that prayers, particularly those made to Mary, the saints, and the angels, have the power to heal the sick or perform miracles. Asking them to mediate with God is referred to as intercessory prayer. Therefore, for both physical and spiritual healing, millions of pilgrims travel to Lourdes, France, where cures are said to occur due to the intercession of the Virgin Mary. Do medical miracles truly happen? Surely, in modern rational mentality, it is difficult to say that something is “inexplicable”. But life-changing healings -that scientifically cannot be explained- actually happen as a result of ‘a healing power’ beyond medicine and human means.
Sickness, mental disease, possession, “natural” and “miraculous” healings cannot be distinguished clearly from one another. The possibility of deception is always present. To avoid mistakes, one must exercise discernment and be prudent. As a result, every healing case in Lourdes, that is attributed to intercession, is scientifically studied by international medical teams of the church! To date, there have been 70 officially confirmed miracles at Lourdes since the first apparition (2) in 1858. But more than 7,000 miraculous ‘unofficial’ recoveries have been attributed since then to the intercession of Mary at the sanctuary in France!!
Healing the sick through miracles, raising the dead, and driving out evil spirits are not just practices associated with Jesus and Christianity but can also be found in the lives of all the great saviors, prophets, saints and seers throughout all faith traditions according to Swami Paramananda in his book “Spiritual Healing”. The Buddha is known to have worked many miracles, and so are Mahavira, Guru Nanak (3).
India, land of wonders
People seeking treatment in India will travel long distances to pray at a shrine, hug a tree, or touch the feet of a holy man in the hope that the manifestation of Divine power will free them from depression, possession by evil spirits, the negative effects of bad planets, obstacles in marriage, protection from adversaries, or provide opportunities. Mantras, or repetitive prayers of invocation, are used by people to for the help of the divine and to request protection, relief from pain, and deliverance.
The cause of disease
In the Roman Catholic tradition, sickness is linked to sin, a direct consequence of the Christian dogma of original sin. God sends disease as a punishment for sin or to cleanse the soul. As a result, the Catholic tradition of deliverance from evil spirits, which involves healing prayer to remove sin, is still very much in practice. In more or less the same vein, rude or inappropriate behaviour is regarded in Dharma as weakening the individual’s character and causing bad karma and sickness. Or it might originate from ancestral lines or past lifetimes. Hindus believe that self-imposed penance and prayer to God not only produces good karma but also greatly diminish the severity of the karmic punishments that would otherwise be suffered. According to Ma Sarada, “a man who, as a result of his past karma, is destined to lose his leg, may instead suffer from the prick of a thorn in his foot.” In other words, we can work out our karmic tendencies.
Where does healing power come from?
From the balm of devotion. Hinduism and Christianity both follow the same path of loving devotion when it comes to spiritual care, despite their seeming differences. Both traditions share the belief that anybody who approaches the Divine with earnest devotion and a humble heart can experience grace.
Keeping in touch with a higher power through prayer will bring great assistance in the healing process. Both for patients and healers. It goes without saying that you must be healed yourself before you use the gift of healing as the healing does not come from the healer, but through him. Before to be able to fully believe and surrender to God, patients and healers must go through a sincere, lengthy and slow process of devotional service.
Vedanta and healing would seem at opposite ends of the spectrum. Vedanta is typically associated with Shankara’s non-dualism and his ‘world-denying’ tradition: that all is Brahman and healing has the duality of the body-mind-complex as its focus. However, there are five further schools of thought that see Vedanta as basically a theology of God! Considering what I understand, these schools are in no way less deserving of recognition as teachers of Vedanta, than Shankara, according to Swami Tapasyananda’s expert analysis of the lives and philosophies of the other Vedantic teachers. Ramanuja, Madhva, Nimbarka, Vallabha and Caitanya (4) all base their teachings on the Prasthana Traya, the threefold canon of Vedanta (5). Their focus on Bhakti —the path of Divine Love— is what sets these teachings apart from the doctrine of Advaita Vedanta.
The way to healing
As said, the prayer for healing requires a devotional mindset. While many external factors, such as diet and exercise, might be helpful, it’s the attitude that matters. Devotion creates a setting that allows interaction with the supernatural. The devotional mindset is essential for the efficacy of healing prayer. “He serves those who surrender themselves,” says the Bhagavadgita, 4.12. When one maintains a constant connection with God through worship and active prayer -while refraining from the temptations of greed, fortune, name, fame, and power- it positively affects our life. Healing is a spiritual process that, as mentioned, requires time in addition to a certain attitude, both for the healer and the patient. There are times when prayer immediately results in improvement, but in general you need to have the determination to keep going. Speaking to our inner voice and listening to, requires faith and courage. Before our prayers are answered, we may need to spread them out over several days, weeks, months, or even years.
Prayer and Self-Realization
“Prayer is the expression of both actual Realization and the desire for a higher state of consciousness…” Swami Premananda defined it eloquently. You might start by attempting to address a health issue or need, but the path of Divine Love, as ecstatically rewarding as it may be, is merely a means by which our own Divinity might be made manifest. What underlies all of our misery is the mistaken belief that we are our limited, labeled selves: banker, woman, asian, catholic, vedantist. The following clearly demonstrates that, notwithstanding Ramakrishna’s preference for the path of devotion, his ultimate objective transcends whatever religion or school of thought: Advaita that reveals the reality of the Self.
“Satcidananda is like an infinite oecan. Intense cold freezes the water into ice, which floats on the ocean in blocks of various forms. Likewise through the cooling influence of Bhakti, one sees forms of God in the Ocean of the Absolute. These forms are meant for the Bhaktas, lovers of God. But when the Sun of Knowledge rises, the ice melts; it becomes the same water it was before — water above and water below, everywhere nothing but water!” Ramakrishna (6)
We can truly heal by acknowledging the greatest miracle that we are and have always been one with our darkest and brightest sides, God: that doesn’t judge, that is untainted by thoughts and actions, right and wrong, fear and pain, joy and peace. This Self awareness is the key to resolving the core causes of nearly all of our health problems: conflicts, stress, worry, and anxiety. There will be no more difficulties left to tackle once we have returned to our true nature. Aham Aarogyam. Aham Brahmasmi. I am healthy. I am God.
Roberto Jahn lives in Spain. Earlier he lived in USA, Surinaam and Holland. He is a student of Advaita Vedanta.