By Hazrat Inayat Khan
There is another kind of prayer, which is greater still. It is the way followed by philosophers and mystics. Advancement on this spiritual path is gradual. One cannot use this way without first having practiced the other kinds of prayer. This way is that of invocation of the nature of God, of the truth of His Being. These are symbolic names, and in their meaning there is a subtlety. God's nature is explained in this form of prayer […] The benefit of this prayer is perceived when a person has arrived on this plane. The benefit is that he has passed from being a human being (as in the prayers of thanksgiving, for forgiveness, and for one's needs), through being a holy being (as in the prayer by which one praises God), to become a God-conscious man. Why? – Because this kind of prayer is meant to bring man still closer to God. Not only does this prayer draw him closer to God, but it makes him forget his limited self until it is entirely forgotten in the end, leaving only the Self of God; and this has been the only ideal and aim of all teachers. Man can not arrive at his ideal goal until he has used prayer to help him to this stage.
By this prayer he tries to get near to God, to become one with God, and to forget his false personality, in other words to deny his false identity and to establish the identity of God in its place. This prayer is a miracle. It can turn a bubble into a sea; it is this prayer which brings perfection to the imperfect one.
It is the work of the teacher, the guide on the spiritual path, to give people a certain prayer to repeat. But there have also been prayers belonging to each of the prophetic cycles. Thus, when Moses or Christ or Muhammad or Krishna gave a prayer, that prayer was intended for humanity collectively at that particular time. Saying that prayer lifted the souls up and gave them all that was needed during that particular cycle. But it is of course not the scrupulous repetition of prayer but the faith and devotion that one puts into it that counts.
There was a preacher who addressed some peasants, and he told them about a wonderful prayer which, when one repeated it, gave one the power to walk on the water. One of the peasants was very interested in this prayer, and after saying it he walked across the river and back again, and he was very happy. So he went to this preacher and asked him in all humility to come and dine with him, he was so grateful for what the preacher had given him. The preacher accepted. When he went to dine with the peasant there was a river to cross. The preacher said, 'Where is the boat?' The man said, 'I have listened to your lesson, and since then I have not used my boat any more. We shall say the prayer and walk on the water. Since you told me of it, that is what I have done.' The preacher watched him doing it and felt ashamed. He had only talked about it; but now he realized that it is not knowing but believing that counts.
A thousand people may say the same prayer; but one person's prayer said with such faith and belief is equal to the prayers of a thousand people, because that prayer is not mechanical. Man is mechanical and he generally says his prayers mechanically too. If he is genuine and if he has faith and belief and devotion, all he says has an effect; and that effect will perform miracles.
When we look at things from a mystical point of view we shall find that there is one single straight line, which is called aim. That line represents the line of the life of any being; the upper end is God, the lower end is man. The line is one. Though that line is one to the mystic and the philosopher in the realization of the truth, yet the line is unlimited at the upper end, and limited at the other. One end is immortality, the other is mortality.
The innermost yearning of life is to see the ends brought together. It is this prayer which draws the end which is man near to the end which is God. When he invokes the names of God man forgets his limitations and impresses his soul with the thought of the Unlimited, which brings him to the ideal of limitlessness. This is the secret of life's attainment […]
[Extracted from the section titled “Prayer” in Hazrat Inayat Khan, The Unity of Religious Ideals (The Sufi Message Vol IX)]