Numerous paths are described in various traditions, but among these paths prayer, meditation, and contemplation have been universally accepted and verified by the ancients. Discipline of mind, action, and speech are auxiliary, preliminary, and essential steps in each of these three different approaches. Let us explain and understand each of these distinct approaches separately.
Prayer purifies the way of the soul; it is a means to expand one's consciousness within. It is not a mere petition but makes the mind aware of the dimension of life that is the very source of one's being. Prayer has immense power and can lead one to the highest state of ecstasy. It is the way of using emotional power by awakening, evoking, and transforming it. History reveals that constant prayer can transform human beings. There is no doubt that if prayer is properly practiced, positive results are imminent.
There are two types of prayer. The inferior type of prayer is egocentric prayer. It is used by the selfish person who merely desires to fulfill his wants. "I" remains the center of such prayer: "O Lord, give me this, do this for me, help me to have this object." This sort of prayer, full of wants, is used just to fulfill one's selfish ends. Though it works, it does not lead one to nearness to the Absolute. Such prayer, regularly conducted in all great religions, reduces the magnanimity of prayer to a selfish petition. It does not lead one to go beyond the mire of delusion created by the ego.
Egocentric prayer is thus discarded by the true aspirant, and then he seeks the higher way of prayer: God-centered prayer. God-centered prayer gives immense joy to the human mind. Those who practice this approach believe that God is a being who has full power to fulfill the desires of human beings. Overwhelmed with this idea, they pray to God to give them strength, wisdom, and skill so that they can discharge their duties efficiently and at the same time understand the meaning of life. In God-centered prayer one does not leave all the human responsibilities to God with the expectation that God will take care of those responsibilities, but one prays to God to give him strength so that he can understand and fulfill his duties and serve others selflessly. This type of prayer expands one's consciousness, whereas ego-centered prayer envelops on with selfish words and makes one small, petty minded, greedy, and inconsiderate.
Prayer is very useful, but at the same time it advocates and promotes the philosophy of dualism, which asserts that man and God remain forever distant. The individual always remains an individual, and there is no union with God, only a nearness to God. Dualism is an acceptance of two separate existences. There has been a great deal of debate by scholars about whether dualism is a valid philosophy. The validity of the dualistic approach is not a matter to be debated. Dualism should be understood as a stage of sadhana that provides a path that can eventually lead to the higher realm of knowledge, that of complete unity. It is valid as a preliminary stage of sadhana, as an experience on the way to the realization of the Absolute.