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The Role of Prayer in Indian Philosophy

By: Bina Gupta  

This paper concerns Advaita Vedanta, the non-dualistic school of Indian philosophy, primarily explicated by Samkara (788–820 CE). “The brahman, pure consciousness, is the only reality, the world is not real, and the empirical self and the brahman are non-different” sums up entire Advaita philosophy. The entire Advaita Vedanta philosophy is an inquiry into the nature of the self. The goal is to realize the knowledge of the non-difference from the brahman. Therefore, I pray that that knowledge may dawn upon me. Such a prayer makes perfect sense in the case of many truths that I do not know, e.g., the truths of modern physics and of Ancient history, and I can consistently pray that I acquire knowledge in these subjects, be it as a result of my own efforts or of God’s grace. For Advaita, however, the matter is not that simple because if I am a jnanarthi (that is a person who aspires for the Advaita knowledge), then no matter who or what I worship belongs to the empirical level, which is false. If, on the other hand, I am a jnani (a person who has already realized her non-difference from the brahman), then to whom I could or would pray because in that case the worshiper and the worshiped would be non-different. Hence, the question: who would pray to whom? I examine these two cases and conclude the discussion with an analysis of the role of upasana (meditation, prayer, etc.) in the process of liberation (moksa).

Prayer, Meditation, Contemplation
Religious Community and Socialization
Paper Presentation in a Themed Session



Bina Gupta

Curators’ Distinguished Professor Emerita, Philosophy, University of Missouri at Columbia, United States
United States