The Powerlessness of Prayer


It sounds nice to pray for someone in need. It sounds right. It sounds loving. It sounds spiritual. But there is nothing to show that prayer has even the slightest impact on the one being prayed for.

Prayer by Albrecht Durer

The largest and most carefully controlled study on the effect of prayer on cardiac patients (press here for the link) showed:  “Analyzing complications in the 30 days after the operations, the researchers found no differences between those patients who were prayed for and those who were not.” In fact, the study showed that those being prayed for actually did a little worse than those not being prayed for.

So why are people drawn to prayer? The answer is that we are drawn to anything that offers some modicum, however fragile, of control over challenging events in our lives and in the lives of people we care about. It is a solution we “hope” will do something beneficial for the one being prayed for.

It is, therefore, resistance to what is. And, as resistance it affirms the primacy of the ego in daily life. The false “me” experiences fear when it suspects that it has no control over its life. So what will this false me do? It will cajole, it will threaten, it will sell, and it will pray. None of these work, because this is not how the universe works. We are free to be ourselves, but we must be willing to recognize how the universe operates.

We really only need to know one basic rule; the universe doesn’t give a crap about you or me! As it is said in the Tao Te Ching:

Heaven and earth are impartial;
they see the 10,000 things as straw dogs. The sage is not sentimental;
he treats all his people as straw dogs.

Why is this so? It sounds rather cruel. It is so because the person we believe ourselves to be is found to be true among only one entity in the universe: YOU! That person is just a thought – or cluster of thoughts; nothing more. What we are is a holographic oneness with everything else in the universe in both its dimensions of time and space. We are the sick person we are praying for and so much more. When we invest independent existence in ourselves or any other object in the universe, we sustain the lie of independent existence. It just isn’t true. It is a story, a narrative.

And this is why prayer has no effect on anything, except perhaps the thought of “me”. After all, when I pray, the thought I have about myself feels good about this “me”. I’m playing the game of connection and that makes me feel good. I’ve done my good deed.

Here’s an alternative approach. See yourself and the patient as one. So find yourself in the patient. If possible, be with this ailing person. Touch yourself as the patient. That will make you both feel good and, who knows, maybe it will actually have a positive effect on the patient. I suspect it will.

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