They have found out that prayer to Santa claus is similar to a repetitive activity of a nursery rhyme, whereas praying to God is like taking confidence in a friend and confiding your thoughts to him.
“It’s like talking to another human. We found no evidence of anything mystical,” lead researcher Uffe Schjodt of University of Aarhus said.
The details of this research can be read in the New Scientist report here:-
This makes me think about the kinds of prayer suggested in Hindu Dharma.
Any person tormented by life’s turmoil makes a prayer to God expecting a relief from the torment. This is common in all religions. However in Hinduism prayer does not stop with this. This is only a basic or the first level of prayer according to Hindu way of thinking.
A person must graduate from this basic prayer of speaking his problems to God to the ultimate prayer of seeking immunity from problems and pleasures as well!
Krishna Himself says in Gita that
4 types of people pray to Him. (Bhagavad Gita – 7-16)
They are those
who are distressed and seek a way out of their mundane problems (similar to what was tested in the research ),
who pray to God to get wealth and more wealth (kaamya phalan),
who pray to God to seek Knowledge (Brahma-Jingyasu / seeker of Brahman or the Ultimate)
and who pray to god as Yogi seeking release from pain and pleasure,
from birth and death etc.(seeker of Realization of Brahman or the Ultimate)
The kind of prayer of each of these is different due to the difference in the goal of the prayer.
The research has concentrated on the first level / type of prayer which is common in Christianity and with all those who seek God’s help for a redress from their sufferings.
But in the Hindu way of prayers, the content and the quality of prayer rises and differs with each subsequent level and it will throw better insights if research is done on other levels too.
Of the 4 types of prayers, the final one is the best.
The final and the 4th level is that of a Yogi.
Krishna acknowledges this type as the Supreme one (in chapter 7)
He also declares that such a Yogi is the dearest to Him,
though it is difficult to find such a Yogi.
He explains how this Yogi who wants release from the cycle of Birth does the prayer.
(from Gita -Chapter 6 – Dhyana yoga)
“11. Having in a cleanly spot established a firm seat, neither too high nor too low, with cloth, skin and Kusa grass thereon.
12. Making the mind one-pointed, with the actions of the mind and the senses controlled, let him, seated there on the seat, practice Yoga for the purification of the self.
13. Holding erect and still the body, the head and the neck, firm, gazing on the tip of his nose, without looking around;
14. Serene-minded, fearless, firm in the vow of godly life, having restrained the mind, thinking on Me and balanced let him sit, looking up to Me as the Supreme.
15. Thus always keeping the mind balanced, the Yogin, with the mind controlled, attains to the Peace abiding in Me, which culminates in Nirvana (moksha).”
What are the qualities of such a man steeped in Yogic prayer of God?
(from Gita -Chapter 6 – Dhyana yoga)
“4. When a man, renouncing all thoughts, is not attached to sense-objects and actions, then he is said to have attained to Yoga.
5. Let a man raise himself by himself, let him not lower himself; for he alone is the friend of himself, he alone is the enemy of himself.
6. To him who has conquered himself by himself, his own self is the friend of himself, but to him who has not (conquered) himself, his own self stands in the place of an enemy like the (external) foe.
7. The self-controlled and serene man’s Supreme Self is steadfast in cold and heat, in pleasure and pain, as also in honour and disgrace.
8.The Yogin whose self is satisfied with knowledge and wisdom, who remains unshaken, who has conquered the senses, he is said to be a saint – for whom a lump of earth, a stone and gold are equal.
9. He is esteemed, who is of the same mind to the good-hearted, friends, foes, the indifferent, the neutral, the hateful, relatives, the righteous and the un-righteous.
10. Let the Yogin try constantly to keep the mind steady, remaining in seclusion, alone, with the mind and body controlled, free from desire and having no possessions.”
The mind of such a person in meditation has been mapped and analyzed in Transcendental Meditation techniques.
The details of such research can be read in these links:-
The researchers of Denmark have worked on only a one-sided version of prayer.
The Hindu way of prayer has different layers –
the ultimate of which will yield mind-boggling results if analysed with modern tools.
From a jyothishic point of view,
I myself am a witness to what yogic meditation does
by way of regular japas with concentration on specific mantras.
In my 30 year observation of many, many palms,
I have noticed the formation of Ring of Solomon in a few persons
who were engaged in selfless meditation as part of their daily chores.
Ring of Solomon is the ring that is seen as a semi circle below the index finger
running from the side of the hand and the gap between index and middle finger.
This ring is said to be the Ring of Wisdom!
In practical application, I have seen these persons having intuitive ability –
something like God in possession of their Minds!
Whatever they say or do seems to emanate directly from an Inner Wisdom (or God),
which they do effortlessly and without any ‘thought’ or ‘deliberate thinking’.
It appears that they are like Arjunas controlled by Krishna directly!
This is the Ultimate of God- realization!
This is the result of Ultimate prayer.
They are jeevan Mukhthas for whom one-ness with God is delayed by mortal death.
Certainly such types of prayers enunciated in Hindu Dharma have no match
with any other religion.
Praying to God is like talking to a friend
12 April 2009 by Andy Coghlan
IS PRAYER just another kind of friendly conversation? Yes, says Uffe Schjødt, who used MRI to scan the brains of 20 devout Christians. "It's like talking to another human. We found no evidence of anything mystical."
Schjødt, of the University of Aarhus, Denmark, and colleagues, asked volunteers to carry out two tasks involving both religious and "secular" activities. In the first task, they silently recited the Lord's Prayer, then a nursery rhyme. Identical brain areas, typically associated with rehearsal and repetition, were activated.
In the second, they improvised personal prayers before making requests to Santa Claus. Improvised prayers triggered patterns that match those seen when people communicate with each other, and activated circuitry that is linked with the theory of mind - an awareness that other individuals have their own independent motivations and intentions (Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, DOI: 10.1093/scan/nsn050).
Two of the activated regions are thought to process desire and consider how another individual - in this case God - might react. Also activated were part of the prefrontal cortex linked to the consideration of another person's intentions, and an area thought to help access memories of previous encounters with that person.
The prefrontal cortex is key to theory of mind. Crucially, this area was inactive during the Santa Claus task, suggesting volunteers viewed Santa as fictitious but God as a real individual.
Previous studies have found that the prefrontal cortex is not activated when people interact with inanimate objects, such as a computer game. "The brain doesn't activate these areas because they don't expect reciprocity, nor find it necessary to think about the computer's intentions," says Schjødt.
He says the results show people believe they are talking to someone when they pray, an outcome that pleased both atheists and Christians: "Atheists said it shows that it's all an illusion," says Schjødt, while Christians said it was evidence that God is real.
Brain scans reveal that people believe they are talking to someone when they pray
Robin Dunbar at the University of Oxford points out that the study proves neither: "This has nothing to do with whether God exists or not, only with subjects' beliefs about whether God exists."
Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience Advance Access published online on February 25, 2009
Highly religious participants recruit areas of social cognition in personal prayer
Uffe Schjoedt1,2,3, Hans Stødkilde-Jørgensen2, Armin W. Geertz1 and Andreas Roepstorff3,4
1Department of the Study of Religion, 2MR-Research Centre, 3Center of Functionally Integrative Neuroscience and 4Department of Social Anthropology, University of Aarhus, Denmark
We used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to investigate how performing formalized and improvised forms of praying changed the evoked BOLD response in a group of Danish Christians. Distinct from formalized praying and secular controls, improvised praying activated a strong response in the temporopolar region, the medial prefrontal cortex, the temporo-parietal junction and precuneus. This finding supports our hypothesis that religious subjects, who consider their God to be ‘real’ and capable of reciprocating requests, recruit areas of social cognition when they pray. We argue that praying to God is an intersubjective experience comparable to ‘normal’ interpersonal interaction.