We are taught to believe that, just as it is natural for parents to take care of the comforts of their children, God, the Universal Father, protects and suitably provides for those whom He has created. But man in his ignorance and with his ego regards himself as his own provider and protector and turns to God only when he finds himself at his wits' end.
We are further told that every one receives worldly benefits in accordance with his past Karma. Even those who wholeheartedly pray to God for relief from agony or seek worldly benefits from Him are reckoned as the Lord's devotees. In the seventh chapter of Gita, Lord Krishna says: "The virtuous ones who worship Me are of four kinds—the man in distress, the seeker of knowledge, the seeker of wealth and the man of wisdom, O Lord of the Bharatas." Thus the man who prays because he is in distress and the seeker of wealth too are counted among these who worship the Lord.
Forgiving man for his ignorance and out of His grace, the Lord might answer a devotee's prayer and grant him his wish. Fulfillment of one's wish might however sometimes have consequences altogether different from what the devotee had intended and looked forward to.
It is in this context that Thyagaraja says, as if blaming the Lord, "Oh, Rama, the Primal Cause of the Universe, whoever has enjoyed happiness, having asked you for it?" The composer implies that none has and goes on to give illustrations in support. Rama's divine contort Sita had once expressed a wish to spend some time in the Ashrams of the great sages; the result was that she was banished to the forest and had to live in the Ashram of Sage Valmiki. The great devotee Narada had once asked to be shown the Lord's power of Maya. He got what he wished to have but in the bargain he became entangled in the coils of worldly existence for a long time. Devaki and Vasudeva did penance to have the Lord born to them as their son; the wish was fulfilled; however, not only had they to live in prison but Devaki had only the travail of bearing the child. It was Yashoda who had the good fortune of bringing up the divine child and enjoying His pranks. Other examples too have been given in the Saint's composition but these are enough to make the point of how satisfaction of one's wish might come about in an altogether unforeseen and perhaps unpalatable manner.
When prayers fail:
In the mid sixties when Bhagawan Baba had more time, He was gracious enough to give me a long interview. There was no one else present. During the course of the interview, I asked Bhagawan whether it was right and proper to pray to God for satisfaction of one's worldly desires; there is hardly anyone who does not pray to God for relief from worldly troubles or for satisfaction of one's cherished worldly ambitions. The embodiment of compassion that Bhagawan is, He did not condemn the almost universal tendency of praying for mundane benefits or for relief from pain and sorrow but Baba spoke at length on the subject of the appropriate reaction of a supplicant whose suffering remains unmitigated or whose ardent wish remains unfulfilled in spite of hard endeavour and devoted prayer. In His characteristic style, Bhagawan gave me a telling example, which often comes back to my mind.
In those days, there used to be a metre gauge train running between Secunderabad and Bangalore via Guntakal. Leaving Secunderabad at night, it used to reach Guntakal next morning at breakfast time. Baba said to me: "Suppose you are travelling to Bangalore by this train; before going to bed, you tell the conductor that you want breakfast at Guntakal. On arrival at Guntakal, however, you find that no breakfast is served to you in spite of your having asked for it. It is certainly the responsibility of the Railway administration to provide you with breakfast but through some mischance you do not get it and you feel not only hungry but vexed with the Railway. Your hunger and vexation will not make you abandon your journey to Bangalore. Satisfying your hunger by whatever means come your way, you will pursue your journey to Bangalore. Not only then, but as and when there is need for it, you will continue to visit Bangalore, travelling by the same train. In a similar way, even after your hard work to attain a certain worldly object and in spite of your prayer for its realisation, your efforts and prayers might some times turn out to be futile. Nevertheless you should neither abandon your endeavour nor your faith that Providence in His grace will grant you whatever is good for you according to your deserts. Your goal is spiritual progress and you have chosen, after deliberation, to follow a certain path either on account of Swami's teachings, or the preachings of some great saint. Even when you encounter worldly disappointments and the minimum worldly comforts you seek are elusive, you ought not to give up either your longing for spiritual advancement or your chosen path for attaining it."
Baba's emphasis was thus on the way one should react to "the heart ache and the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to."
Saint Thyagaraja concludes the composition thus "Neeke daya butti brothuvo brovavo, Nee guttu bayalaaye..." Broadly it means and implies, "whether out of your grace you grant the devotee's wish or not is not known; but your secret is out. While the devotee seeks one thing, you might, while apparently fulfilling his wish, do so in an unexpected manner."
It is wise, therefore, not to ask for this or that benefit but to pray sincerely, "Thy will be done." We frail humans intellectually realise what is wise but do not cease to act otherwise.
In two essays entitled "Reflections on the Lord's Prayer" Aldous Huxley suggests that the invocation, "Give us this day our daily bread", really means a prayer to the Lord for divine and spiritual nourishment - the grace of God. In the same manner, "Ask and thou shalt be given" perhaps means not that all our worldly desires will be achieved through prayer but that divine grace can be attained through intense devotion to the Lord.