In all religious traditions, prayer may be defined as the universally accepted mode of communication between the devotee and the divine.
Regarding the prevalence of prayer, we find it to be universal because no elaborate preparation, materialistically, is required. Even though one may be illiterate, ugly, or downtrodden, they still have the opportunity to pray. God has no distinction amongst the devotees regarding race, religion, nationality, or any other external criteria. The only real instrument that is required to approach God is divine love, which is untainted by selfish motives or falsehoods. In its purest form prayer is the pouring out of our heart before God.
Jainism firmly believes in the doctrine of Karma and puts sole reliance on the development of the spiritual force by one's own personal efforts. Jainism further exhorts its followers to develop Asharan-Bhävanä (none other can save us). The question that naturally arises now is “What is the place of prayers in Jainism?” Since the Jains do not believe in God or in the existence of any outside Divinity controlling our fate, it seems that any idea of prayer would be irrelevant to them for two main reasons.
If prayers could please Siddha (a liberated soul), then some prayers could also displease Siddha. The soul, when it has become Siddha, has no desires or motivations left. Its character is purely that of a knower and a seer. Thus, if Siddha could bestow favors, then attributing such human frailties to a Siddha (liberated soul) is to deny the soul's liberation.
Once we accept the doctrine of Karma, all results must be sought in that doctrine and therefore unless the prayers are adjusted in the Karma doctrine, they remain totally non-productive.
However, it would be totally wrong to say that prayers have no place in Jain philosophy. Jains do not consider prayers as a means of seeking favors from Siddha or even Arihantas. True Jain prayers are nothing but the appreciation and adoration of the virtues possessed by the supreme beings and the expression of ardent desire to achieve these virtues in one's own life. It is for this reason that Jain scriptures have actually enumerated the virtues of supreme souls such as Arihanta, Siddha, Ächärya, Upädhyäy and Sädhu.
It is basic to the Jain belief that the Tirthankars (prophets) and their teachings are only to point out to us the way to achieve liberation. However, how to acquire liberation and how to put these teachings into the practice, is entirely left to us. We achieve only to the extent to which we exert. However, the path shown by those who have achieved liberation must be studied with utmost respect and sincerity, because it is the proven path, which they have actually taken during their lives and have obtained the results. We feel very thankful to these great souls for providing us such useful guidance. Therefore, in prayer we express our gratitude, praise, and enumerate their virtues and wish that such virtues might also develop in our life. Such prayers constantly remind us what made them great and in turn help us to develop such virtues in us. This, in Jain philosophy, is the true process of prayers and it is in this manner that one also gets the fruits of his prayers.
It is a truth that human mind gets oriented to the thoughts which it entertains constantly. Oriented and conditioned mind always impels the physical senses of the body to follow the pursuits of its liking. Therefore, being convinced of the teaching of the great seers, if we totally surrender ourselves to these teachings, constantly bear in mind the efficacy of these teachings and try to put them in practice, it is the best prayer we can offer and if such type of prayer yields some results, we would surely be justified in saying that the results that were so yielded were due to the ‘favor' of the great masters who showed the path to us. For indeed the masters have shown favor to us, as to the whole humanity, in pointing out to the right way to obtain salvation.
Illustrative of this line of thinking is the prayer offered by the great Ächärya Samantabhadra in the following words:
‘Oh lord, you are really a Vitaräga (one who has shed all passions) and so you are not pleased by prayers nor you displeased by adverse criticism, because you have destroyed all types of adversary feelings. All the same, the remembrance of your merits purifies one's mind from all the sins'.
A prayer of this type is the best Karma (action) one can resort to, and according to the doctrine of Karma, we must get the fruits of our actions.
It is interesting to note that the most outstanding Jain prayer, known as Navakär Mantra, is not referred to any individual person or sect and asks for nothing in return. It does nothing more than offering sincere veneration to those souls, who are already liberated or are on the path of liberation.
Arihantas are those blessed souls who have successfully shed off all the destructive karmas (Ghäti karmas), which blur the potency of the soul. Siddhas are those souls who have achieved the final liberation and have attained a state of pure bliss. Ächäryas are those merciful souls who teach us about the path to salvation, Upädhyäys, Sädhus and Sädhvis are those saints those who are themselves on the path to salvation and are striving for the liberation.
These five are called Pancha-Paramesthi, five supreme beings, those who have been liberated and those who are on the path of liberation. A Jain bows down to them all, not necessarily because they have followed or are following a particular type of religion but because they have already attained what was worth attaining, self- realization (Samyag Darshan) or because they are striving to attain what is worth attaining- liberation (Moksha). As Ächärya Hemchandra puts it:
"I bow down to him whose all passions like attachment and malice, which sow the seeds of birth and rebirth, have been destroyed. It doesn't matter whether he is Brahma, Vishnu, Shankar or Jinä."
Jain prayer plays a very significant role on the life of a devotee who observes rites, rituals and worship of God with passionate devotion. Jain prayer, though it is not to please God, is certainly an important moral act. It expresses inspiration to the soul, peace to the mind and purity to the active life. On one hand the metaphysics, the doctrine and theories, enjoys due importance in Jainism as a system, but then on the other hand Jainism being theistic in more than one aspect, the God of its theism, the Arihanta and Siddha always triumphs completely over all the legalism of its doctrines and theories. It is not fully correct that there is no 'divine grace' or 'God's grace' in Jainism. In fact, one may get numerous evidences in support of the grace if we survey the Jain Yoga and Ärädhanä.
The three main ways to approach Divine are physical, vocal, and mental prayers.
Adoration, bowing down before the image, performing the ritual called Pujä with various materials like water, flowers, sandal wood, incense burning, waving of light before the deity, dance, food offering are different forms of physical prayers.
It is the main form of prayer. It may be in the form of prose or poetry, very short mantra, form of a hymn (Stotra) or quite elaborate as in various forms of Pujä. In all these forms, the devotee invokes purer thoughts in his mind through the medium of sound, which have a close cause and effect relationship with some of the most sublime emotional feelings that can be produced in the human mind.
This is the highest form of prayer from the spiritual point of view. It is usually carried out silently along with various forms of meditation and contemplation. The practice of this form is possible for an advanced aspirant who is well versed in right spiritual tenets and has good control over his mind and senses. Normally, when the prayer starts it is vocal in nature and later on when the mind of the aspirant becomes steadier the vocal prayer ends and silent prayer takes over.
Prayer means a mode of communication between the devotees, and divine which can be physical, vocal and mental. The devotee could be distressed, desired, inquisitive or an enlightened soul. The only real instrument that is required to approach Him is divine love untainted by selfish motive or falsehood.
Jains believe that Arihanta and Siddha have no attachment or hatred. They cannot give anything to anybody and one is responsible for his own deeds. In prayer, one has the appreciation and adoration of Lord's virtues and one desires to achieve the same virtues in one's own life.