Program Particulars: Approaching Prayer

Program Particulars

*Times indicated refer to web version of audio

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(1:53–03:45) Music Element

"The Multiples of One" from Awakening, performed by Joseph Curiale


(01:56) Etymology of Prayer

The term "prayer" is derived from the Latin word precare, meaning to beg or entreat. Prayer can mean many things to different individuals according to their respective traditions: formal or informal, an act of petition or intercession, a form of worship or devotion through meditation or contemplation. In many religious traditions, prayer is ingrained within daily aspects of living.

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(03:40–05:19) Music Element

"Vadanaa Trayee" from Chants of India, performed by Ravi Shankar


Ravi Shankar instructs George Harrison on playing the sitar.

(03:58) Reference to Ravi Shankar

Anoushka Shankar's father, Ravi Shankar, is considered to be one of the world's greatest sitar players and is credited with bringing India's classical musical traditions to mass audiences in the West. While playing festivals at Monterey and Woodstock, Shankar met Beatles' member George Harrison who would later produce and perform on several of Shankar's albums, including Shankar Family & Friends, Festival of India, and Chants of India.

Listen to an April 7, 2005 piece on Radio Expeditions, "Ravi Shankar, Master of the Sitar" with Susan Stamberg.

(05:18) Classic Hindu Epics

Hindus consider the Vedas a formal body of sacred knowledge that is believed to be the basis of true belief and practice. Individuals who know and read the texts are said to be able to communicate with the divine and learn the essence of overcoming all desires.

First composed between 1500–1200 BCE, the Vedas were originally transmitted orally through mantras and Brahmanas. The mantra portions were organized into collections (samhitas) and recognized as Vedas: the Rig Veda, Yajur Veda, Sama Veda, and Atharva Veda. As time passed, the Aranyakas and Upanishads were included and, along with the Brahmanas, were appended to these collections.

(05:34) Concept of Karma

The concept of karma, from the Sanskrit meaning action or deed, is the driving force behind the cycles of reincarnation and rebirth in Hinduism and many other Asian religions. Karma is a law of consequences for one's actions, which will come to bear upon the individual in this life or a future life. In essence, morally good actions will produce positive consequences while morally reprehensible deeds will produce negative results.

» Enlarge the image In Bangalore, India, an Artist from Gujarat works on a plaster statuette of the Hindu god Krishna, the eighth incarnation of Lord Vishnu.

In Bangalore, India, an Artist from Gujarat works on a plaster statuette of the Hindu god Krishna, the eighth incarnation of Lord Vishnu.

(06:18) The Hindu Trinity

The gods that compose the Hindu triad are Brahma the creator, Vishnu the preserver, and Shiva the destroyer. Brahma is associated with the color red and is depicted having four heads and four arms with the hands holding a goblet, a scepter, a bow, and the Vedas. Of the three deities, Brahma is the least worshipped.

Although Vishnu is a minor god within the Vedas, he is a major deity. He is the embodiment of goodness and mercy who preserves the universe. Vishnu is the god for all those who need help in moments of crisis and is often shown standing and holding weapons or reclining on a serpent.

Shiva is the third major deity who is associated with generation and destruction. He is known for his multifaceted nature and is often depicted with two faces representing opposites—male and female, destroyer and peacemaker. Images of Shiva usually show him with one hand in the upright position (representing protection) and the other pointing downward (indicating liberation), with the Ganges River flows through his hair.

(07:58) Mantras

Mantras are verses of invocation and praise consisting of a syllable or verse that is believed to be divine in origin. Some mantras may require a specific amount of time to maximize its effect; for others the amount of repetition proves significant. The resonant sound of the bija — or "Om" — serves as a source of interior, spiritual energy

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(03:40–05:19) Music Element

"Asato Maa" from Chants of India, performed by Ravi Shankar


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(09:57–10:26) Music Element

"Hari Om" from Chants of India, performed by Ravi Shankar


(Photo: Sebastian D'Souza/AFP/Getty)">In Nagapattinam, India, children wait as a Hindu priest offers a prayer to Lord Ganesha.<br><cite>(Photo: Sebastian D'Souza/AFP/Getty)</cite>

In Nagapattinam, India, children wait as a Hindu priest offers a prayer to Lord Ganesha.
(Photo: Sebastian D'Souza/AFP/Getty)

(10:48) Prayer to Lord Ganesha

In Hinduism, Ganesha, is one of the most popular Hindu gods who is commonly known as the elephant-headed god who rides a mouse (representing his power over the symbol of darkness). Invoked before most activities — a religious ceremony, a writing endeavor, or building a shopping mall — Ganesha symbolizes wisdom and good fortune. Often associated with the colors yellow and red, Ganesha is depicted with a bulbous midsection and four arms and hands holding objects such as a rope, a shell, a mace, a discus, or a sweet rice ball. Typically, his name is prefixed with the Hindu title of respect, Shri, or Lord Ganesha.

The following passage of "Vandanaa Trayee" was recorded on Chants of India:

Vakratunda Mahaakaaya Suryakotisamaprabha. Nirvighnam Kuru Me Deva Sarvakaaryeshu Sarvadaa. O, Lord Ganesha of the curved trunk and massive body, the one whose splendor is equal to millions of Suns, please bless me so that I do not face any obstacles in my endeavors.

Listen to this chant in its entirety, along with other Hindu prayers that were arranged by Ravi Shankar and conducted by Anoushka Shankar. Accompanying the audio are complete passages that were transliterated and translated into English for you to read while listening.

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(11:42–12:22) Music Element

"Vandanaa Trayee" from Chants of India, performed by Ravi Shankar


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(12:25–12:50) Music Element

"Sahanaa Vavatu" from Chants of India, performed by Ravi Shankar


(12:56) Sananaa Vavatu Prayer

The prayer "Sahanaa Vavatu" is a general prayer that's invoked for protection and strength. The following passage of the prayer was excerpted from the liner notes of Chants of India, arranged by Ravi Shankar and conducted by Anoushka Shankar. Listen to the full recording of this musical rendition and others while reading along with the complete translated text:

Om Saha Naavavatu Saha Nau Bhunaktu Saha Veeryam Karavaavahai. Tejasvi Naavadheetamastu Om Shaantih Shaantih Shaantih. May the Lord protect us together. May he nourish us together. May we work together uniting our strength for the good of humanity. May our learning be luminous and purposeful. May we never hate one another. May there be peace, peace, and perfect peace.

(Photo: Aris Messinis/AFP/Getty Images)">Ravi Shankar on stage with sitar.<br><cite>(Photo: Aris Messinis/AFP/Getty Images)</cite>

Ravi Shankar on stage with sitar.
(Photo: Aris Messinis/AFP/Getty Images)

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(15:35–16:20) Music Element

"Gaayatri" from Chants of India, performed by Ravi Shankar


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(17:15–20:47) Music Element

"Magalam" from Chants of India, performed by Ravi Shankar


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(20:58–22:12) Music Element

"Why" from Chants of India, performed by Ravi Shankar


(21:05) Reading from the Book of Psalms

Mizmór, the Hebrew word for psalm, suggests a hymn that is accompanied by string music. In the Hebrew Bible, the title is Tehillim meaning "songs of praise," and serves as a liturgical book of prayer containing hymns for thanksgiving and lament. The following translation of "Psalm 4" was taken from Stephen Mitchell's A Book of Psalms that were adapted from the Hebrew text:

Even in the midst of great pain, Lord, I praise you for that which is. I will not refuse this grief or close myself to this anguish. Let shallow men pray for ease: "Comfort us; shield us from sorrow." I pray for whatever you send me, and I ask to receive it as your gift. You have put a joy in my heart greater than all the world's riches. I lie down trusting the darkness, for I know that even now you are here.

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(20:58–22:12) Music Element

"Bayaty" from Gurdjieff, Tsabropoulos: Chants, Hymns, and Dances, performed by Anja Lechner


(24:15) Reading from the Book of Job

Mitchell thinks of the following passage from the Book of Job as a koan. A koan, or riddle, is often used during Zen training in which the teacher challenges the pupil to answer a phrase or a question that presents a paradox or a puzzle. It isn't a word problem that can be arrived at through conventional logic, but an enigmatic construction that requires a pupil to access a different understanding in order for the student to progress toward a state of enlightenment. A familiar koan might be: "What is the sound of one hand clapping?"

Here is that passage from what Stephen Mitchell calls his free translation, or improvisation, of the The Book of Job:

Where were you when I planned the earth? Tell me, if you are so wise. Do you know who took its dimensions, measuring its length with a cord? What were its pillars built on? Who laid down its cornerstone, while the morning stars burst out singing and the angels shouted for joy! Were you there when I stopped the waters, as they issued gushing from the womb? when I wrapped the ocean in clouds and swaddled the sea in shadows? when I closed it in with barriers and set its boundaries, saying, "Here you may come, but no farther; here shall your proud waves break." Have you ever commanded morning or guided dawn to its place— to hold the corners of the sky and shake off the last few stars? All things are touched with color; the whole world is changed.

(26:24) Hasidic Judaism

Hasidism grew as a Jewish mystical movement among persecuted European Jews in the 18th century. At first, Orthodox Jewish leaders thought the movement's mystical bent would detract from the study of the Torah, but by the mid-19th century it was generally accepted as a branch of Judaism.

Out of this tradition, a belief in the power of stories emerged. Since much of Hasidic social life revolves around a charismatic leader, the zaddik—meaning "righteous man" in Hebrew—stories of present and past zaddikim compose a significant part of the group's mythology. Worship is characterized by joy, and manifests itself in song and dance as well as prayer. Hasidic Jews believe that all creation is an embodiment of the divine; sorrow and despair have no true reality in this world.

To hear the compelling role Hasidism played in Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel's life, listen to the On Being program "The Tragedy of the Believer."

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(30:34–31:48) Music Element

"Prayer" from Gurdjieff, Tsabropoulos: Chants, Hymns, and Dances, performed by Anja Lechner


(31:00) Reading from Rilke

Rainer Maria Rilke's poem "Ich liebe dich, du sanftestes Gesetz" was excerpted from Rilke's Book of Hours: Love Poems to God, translated by Anita Barrows and Joanna Macy:

I love you, gentlest of Ways, who ripened us as we wrestled with you. You, the great homesickness we could never shake off, you, the forest that always surrounded us, you, the song we sang in every silence, you dark net threading through us, on the day you made us you created yourself, and we grew sturdy in your sunlight.… Let your hand rest on the rim of Heaven now and mutely bear the darkness we bring over you.

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(34:00–36:13) Music Element

"Letter from Home" from LAGQ's Guitar Heroes, performed by Los Angeles Guitar Quarted (LAGQ)


(34:24) Recitation of Poem

"The Summer Day" by Mary Oliver was originally published in her 1992 book, New and Selected Poems:

Who made the world? Who made the swan, and the black bear? Who made the grasshopper? This grasshopper, I mean— the one who has flung herself out of the grass, the one who is eating sugar out of my hand, who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down— who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes. Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face. Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away. I don't know exactly what a prayer is. I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass, how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields, which is what I have been doing all day. Tell me, what else should I have done? Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon? Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?

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(36:12–37:10) Music Element

"Veni Sancte Spiritus" from Chant, performed by The Benedictine Monks of Santo Domingo de Silos


(37:35) Christian Abbas and Ammas

The Desert Fathers and Mothers (from the Semitic words Abbas and Ammas) were a group of early Christian monks who lived in Egypt and Syria during the 3rd through the 5th centuries CE. Their ascetic manner of living emphasized quiet contemplation, self denial, and devotion. Founded on the New Testament story of Jesus spending 40 days in the desert, this monastic tradition embraces the extreme spiritual struggle that Jesus experienced externally and internally. Dependence on God through prayer and devotion in such extreme conditions helps one reach a peaceful existence. For all that, the Abbas and Ammas were known for the salty, humorous, and psychologically savvy tone of the wisdom they dispensed in the desert.

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(43:15–44:35) Music Element

"Woodsong C" from Inner Voices, performed by R. Carlos Nakai


(43:58) Reading of Abba Zeno

The following passage of Abba Zeno was excerpted from Benedicta Ward's translation, The Sayings of the Desert Fathers:

If a man wants God to hear his prayer quickly, then before he prays for anything else, even his own soul, when he stands and stretches out his hands towards God, he must pray with all his heart for his enemies. Through this action, God will hear everything that he asks.

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(45:30–46:40) Music Element

"Sarabande from Suite No. 2 in D Minor" from The Cello Suites: Inspired by Bach, performed by Yo-Yo Ma


(45:38) Reading of Jacob Wrestling with the Angel

The reading was excerpted from the Book of Genesis 32: 23-32:

That same night Jacob arose and took his two wives and his two maids and his 11 children, and crossed the ford at the Jabbok. He took them and sent them across the stream, and likewise everything that he had. And Jacob was left alone. And a man wrestled with him until the breaking of the day. When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he touched the hollow of his thigh. And Jacob's thigh was put out of joint as he wrestled with him. Then he said, "Let me go, for the day is breaking." But Jacob said, "I will not let you go unless you bless me." And he said to him, "What is your name?" And he said, "Jacob." Then he said, "Your name shall no more be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with man and have prevailed," and there he blessed him.

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(48:15–49:07) Music Element

"I can go? I can go to my father? And I'll keep this ring on." / "Movement 3" from Open Veins: Music of Robert Moran, performed by Piano Circus Band


">Author Patricia Hampl</cite>

Author Patricia Hampl

(48:50) Reading from Hampl's Book

The following extended version of the reading was excerpted from Patricia Hampl's book Virgin Time: In Search of the Contemplative Life.

What is prayer? I make a list: Praise Gratitude Begging/pleading/cutting deals Fruitless whining and puling Focus There the list breaks off; I had found my word. Prayer only looks like an act of language; fundamentally it is a position, a placement of oneself. Focus. Get there, and all that's left to say is the words. They come: from ancient times (here, the round of Psalms, wheeling through the seasons endlessly in the Office), from the surprisingly eloquent heart (taciturn Thomas last night with his intercession, precise as a poet), from the gush and chatter of the day's detail longing to be rendered. So what is silence? Silence speaks, the contemplatives say. But really, I think, silence sorts. An ordering instinct sends people into the hush where the voice can be heard. This is the sorting intelligence of poetry, marked by the unbroken certainty of rhythm, perfect pitch, the placing of things in right order as in metrical form. Not rigid categories, but the recognition of a shape always there but ordinarily obscured by—what? By noise, which is ourselves trying to do the sorting in an order that may be a heroic effort but is bound to be a fantasy. Silence, that inspired dealer, takes the day's deck, the life, all in a crazy heap, lays it out, and plays its flawless hand of solitaire, every card in place. Scoops them up, and does it all over again. And the dark night of the soul? Is the joker constantly turning up? It's in every hand.

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(50:44–53:00) Music Element

"I Denna Lijuva Sommartid (In This Lovely Summertime)" from Summer Song, performed by Frifot


Voices on the Radio

is a musician, actress, and author of Bapi, The Love of My Life.

is the author and translator of many books, including the Tao Te Ching and the Bhagavad Gita.

is professor emeritus of Church History at Emory University and author of A Place to Pray.

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