Pray not to the gods, for hearing they may not act; for the gods themselves are held within the bonds of cosmic law from which they may not vary. Our prayers spring from our ignorance and weakness: ignorance of our own most real needs, and weakness because we want others to do things for us that we lack courage or will to begin to do for ourselves.
I pity those poor hearts who in their simplicity think that by praying to Almighty God their prayers will be answered. Just think it over. What is the reason that so many people like to pray? They really know by experience that their prayers are unanswered. But this is why they like to pray: because it brings peace, because it brings a sense of throwing their burdens upon some other; likewise because it strengthens the ineradicable feeling of the human heart that there are spiritual powers of enormous — what may I say? — enormous constant activity in the world, and that by thinking towards these beings, we come in touch with them.
Yes, it is thus far true. And were every prayer a yearning to come into closer contact with these spiritual powers, it would be beautiful. But change the picture: Two armies meet for mutual slaughter, destruction, each side sending petitions to Almighty God for victory for its own army. Don't you see something horribly blasphemous in this, an utter lack of understanding of the divine character of the governance of the Universe?
It is the petitionary prayer that Theosophists disbelieve in: the asking God Almighty for physical and other benefits which the petitioner is either too lazy or too indifferent to his duties to endeavor to secure for himself. Such prayers are often downright immoral, secretly or even openly; as when one prays to God Almighty for selfish advantages over one's fellows.
But oh, how the human heart longs for compassion, for sympathy, for beauty, for the understanding handclasp of someone else; and we realize from our studies and our intuitions, we keenly realize the living reality of great spiritual powers in the universe, surrounding us constantly, and our infinitely faithful allies and helpers when we strive to raise ourselves spiritually and intellectually towards them. Thus we Theosophists have something oh so much more beautiful and noble than prayers to non-hearing divinities. We have something incomparably closer to our human hearts and souls, something wondrously beautiful, gentle, compassionate, always listening, always helping: the Brotherhood of Compassion and Wisdom. This Brotherhood extends upwards from us men in an unbroken chain to the chelas and the Masters, and on to the very heights of the ethery spaces. I know not how high the Hierarchy runs, certainly as high as the highest peaks of our own Galaxy; and it is along this stairway that the chela, the disciple, climbs up, up, up forever more. And marvelous tale of occult meaning, he climbs most fast, most quickly, whose hand of compassion is extended backwards in help to those behind himself. Isn't that a strange marvel?
It is these Helpers of humanity, the Masters and their chelas, and those above the Masters, who extend to us constantly the help of their always pitiful hearts, their strength, marvelous as it is, yet given to us freely. And they are very wise in their giving, for the help they give is rarely known. "Let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth." I could tell you some of the things that the Helpers do for men, unseen, unknown, even by the recipients of their compassionate bounty and benevolence: lives saved in many a way, disasters prevented in many a way; those disasters which cannot be prevented, because invoked by man's own egoism and evil-doing, softened so that their asperities and harshnesses hurt men less. Things like these are done constantly, and we men know little or naught of it. We simply see the results. This is why this Hierarchy of Compassion is called the Guardian Wall around men.
The selfish and lazy who make no efforts to regenerate their own lives do not climb the stairway leading to the Hierarchy of Compassion. Paradoxically, it is those asking the most who as a rule give the least. What gift is greater than a man's heart, than himself? Show me something nobler than that, something more practical, something that will bring about results more quickly. Why, do you know what is the matter with the world today? Men are distracted because of their own weaknesses; they have not will-power even to pursue a single path for a week at a time, or a month, still less a year. Their wills are asleep, their minds are weakened from lack of exercise and from depending upon help from without, their spirit within them has no chance to spread its wings and soar.
To say that Theosophists disbelieve in prayer is a misunderstanding of the Theosophical attitude. But most prayer, unfortunately, is petitionary, disguised or open, and prayer in this sense weakens the character. If I were the Christian God Almighty, I would say to the one who prays thus: "Son, you have the truth enshrined in your own heart. You have been taught it. Get upon your feet and be." The most beautiful prayer is aspiration transmuted into action. Then you have the real man, the real woman. No Theosophists through the ages have ever objected to prayer if it consist in inner aspiration, the will towards self-regeneration to spiritual things, and the transmuting of this inner attitude of the soul into positive action on earth. Where you have this prayer-inaction then the whole life becomes filled with the prayer of the Avatara Jesus: "Not my will, but thine be done!"