Prayer should be part of our spiritual journey that transforms confusion into clarity, alienation into interconnectedness, and suffering into joy. However, some mistakenly believe that the Absolute is separate and/or different from us. Believing this, their prayers ask for favors, such as health, salvation, fame, victory or the winning weekly lottery numbers. They use prayer in order to manipulate their God or gods to work for their benefit. Sometimes their prayers request their God or gods to even play favorites as they beg to be blessed by Him at the expense of others. However, this attitude defeats the power of prayer. We believe that in order for prayer to be effective it must be devoid of any self-centeredness and calculation, relying strictly on the Great Compassion. As a consequence, it should be done to strengthen and open our hearts for the benefit all beings, seen or unseen, near or far way. Therefore, Buddhist prayer has nothing to do with begging for personal worldly or heavenly praise or gains.
Buddhist prayer is a practice to awaken our inherent inner capacities of wisdom and compassion rather than to petition external forces based on fear, idolizing, and worldly and/or heavenly praise or gain. Buddhist prayer is a form of meditation that unifies the mind, body, and speech in one-thought moment of oneness. Being a deeply spiritual practice of inner reconditioning, Buddhist prayer replaces the negative with the virtuous and points us to the blessings of Life.
For Shin Buddhists, prayer expresses an aspiration to pull something into one’s life, like some new energy or purifying influence with the intention of sharing it with all beings. That is to say, prayer inspires our hearts towards wisdom and compassion for others and ourselves. It allows us to turn our hearts and minds to the beneficial, rousing our thoughts and actions towards Awakening. If we believe in something enough, it will take hold of us. In other words, believing in it, we will become what we believe. As the Buddha once taught, “The mind is the forerunner of all things”. Our ability to be touched like this is evidence of the working of Great Compassion within us.
What’s more, it can a function as a form of self-talking or self-therapy in which one mentally talks through a problem, or talks through it aloud, in the hope that some new insight will come or a better decision can be made. Prayer therefore frequently has the function of being part of a decision-making process.
Everywhere and Anytime
The wonderful thing about prayer practice is that we can do it everywhere and anytime, transforming the ordinary and mundane into the Path of Awakening. Prayer enriches our lives with deep spiritual connection and makes every moment special, unfolding a little of spark of Pure Land here and now.
Below is an example of our most popular prayer adapted from Shantideva’s 8th century Indian prayer.
Metta Karuna Prayer
Oneness of Life and Light,
Entrusting in your Great Compassion,
May you shed the foolishness in myself,
Transforming me into a conduit of Love.
May I be a medicine for the sick and 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 through Other Power
and realize Supreme Nirvana.
Namu Amida Butsu
The Four Immeasurable Minds Prayer
Through the working of the Great Compassion in their hearts,
May all beings have happiness and the causes of happiness,
May all be free from sorrow and the causes of sorrow;
May all never be separated from the sacred happiness which is sorrowless;
May all come to peace without too much attachment and too much aversion,
And live believing in the equality of all beings.
Namu Amida Butsu.
Copyright 2006. Rev. Daishin Senpai M.A., All Rights Reserved.
The author grants permission to copy this document for personal use only.