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The Role of Prayer in Buddhism

The Role of Prayer in Buddhism

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Published by Charles Day
This essay discusses various roles of prayer and meditation in Buddhism and compares them with prayer in Christianity,
This essay discusses various roles of prayer and meditation in Buddhism and compares them with prayer in Christianity,

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Published by: Charles Day on Oct 23, 2008
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09/21/2010

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Dharma Talk - The Role of Prayer in BuddhismCharles Day*www.desmoinesmeditation.org(This dharma talk is an expanded version of a talk originallypresented at the “Prayer in America Workshop,” October 18, 2007, inDes Moines, sponsored by Iowa Public Television.)Let me preface my remarks by emphasizing that Buddha, who lived inIndia from 563 to 483 BC, six centuries before Christ, consideredhimself a fully awakened human being, not a god. He taught that allhuman beings are capable of realizing their already enlightenednature. His teachings are considered guidelines, not commandments,and difficulty in following them is due to ignorance andmisunderstanding, not sin. Buddha studied and meditated intensivelyfor six years with the specific purpose of determining what causedhuman suffering and how to alleviate and end it, and this is what hetaught for the 45 years following his enlightenment at age 35.Buddha emphasized that to discover our own divinity - our Christ-consciousness, Buddha-nature, or enlightened nature – we must lookwithin and not to some external source. Jesus, I submit, came to thesame conclusion, as reflected in his teachings that, “The kingdom of heaven is within,” “My Father and I are one,” and “Love your neighbor as yourself.”There are many traditions and sects within Buddhism, just as thereare many divisions and denominations within Christianity. DifferentBuddhist traditions differ in their rites, rituals, and practices, but theyall share the same basic teachings of the Buddha, summarized in hislecture on the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path, which I willnot be discussing in this talk. My purpose here is to discuss the roleof prayer in Buddhism.In doing so, I’d like to share several quotes from different Buddhisttraditions and teachers, and then present some of my ownobservations. Keep in mind that the word “meditation” is used far more frequently than the word “prayer” in Buddhism. But both words
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are intended to describe a similar personal spiritual practice, althoughthere are differences in purpose and structure, which I’ll explain later.The first quote is by Tibetan Buddhist Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche fromhis book The Joy of Living. “No matter how long you meditate, or what technique you use, every technique of Buddhism meditationultimately generates compassion, whether we’re aware of it or not.Whenever you look at your mind, you can’t help but recognize your similarity to those around you. When you see your own desire to behappy, you can’t avoid seeing the same desire in others, and whenyou look clearly at your own fear, anger, or aversion, you can’t helpbut see that everyone around you feels the same fear, anger, andaversion. When you look at your mind, all the imaginary differencesbetween yourself and others automatically dissolve and the ancientprayer of the Four Immeasurables becomes as natural and persistentas your own heartbeat:“May all beings have happiness and its causes.May all beings be free from suffering and its causes.May all beings constantly dwell in joy, transcending sorrow.May all beings remain in great peace, free from attachment andaversion.”This next quote is from Prayer in Buddhism by G.R. Lewis, a ShinBuddhist. (buddhistfaith.tripod.com/pureland_sangha/id41.html):“Buddhist prayer is a practice to awaken our inherent inner capacitiesof strength, compassion, and wisdom, rather than to petition externalforces based on fear, idolizing, and worldly and/or heavenly gain.Buddhist prayer is a form of meditation; it is a practice of inner reconditioning. Buddhist prayer replaces the negative with thevirtuous, and points us to the blessings of life."Lewis offers, as an example, the following Lovingkindness andCompassion Prayer adapted from Shantideva, an 8th century IndianBuddhist:“Oneness of Life and LightEntrusting in your Great CompassionMay you shed the foolishness in myself,
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Transforming me into a conduit of Love.May I be a medicine for the sick and the weary,Nursing their afflictions until they are cured.May I become food and drink during time of famine.May I protect the helpless and the poor.May I be a lamp for those who need your Light.May I be a bed for those who need rest,and guide all seekers to the other shore.May all find happiness through my actions,and let no one suffer because of me.Whether they love or hate me,Whether they hurt or wrong me,May they all realize true entrusting.”The parallels are obvious between this Buddhist prayer and thePrayer of St. Francis of Assisi. The noteworthy difference is that thePrayer of St. Francis of Assisi is directed outwardly toward “Lord” and“O Divine Master” while this Buddhist prayer is directed inwardlytoward the “Oneness of Life and Light.”This difference reflects Buddha’s emphasis on the selfless,interdependent nature of all reality, including the illusory sense of anindependent, autonomous, controlling self that is separate fromothers and the rest of existence. Buddha internalizes rather thanexternalizes the source of all being, regardless of what it is called,God, Yahweh, Allah, Cosmic Consciousness, Emptiness, Unity,Oneness, Ground of Being, or the simply the Imponderable Mystery.The following quote is from the Dalai Lama:(community.palouse.net/lotus/Prayers.htm). "Most of the prayers thatwe recite contain meanings to be reflected upon....There is a type of chant which is done to invoke the compassionate attention of theBuddha, (but) the difference between this and worshipping a god isdetermined by the motivation and the recognition of what one isdoing. Whenever a Mahayana Buddhist makes an offering or a prayer to the Buddhas or Bodhisattavas he is asking guidance and aid (fromone’s inner divine qualities) to attain enlightenment for the benefit of all sentient beings."
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