I continue our exploration of Buddhist prayer with a discussion of “aid-seeking” prayer, or prayer for a positive result. In particular, in this episode I cover the long-established traditions of Buddhist prayer for positive physical or external results, such as protection from danger, recovery from illness, or plentiful rain for crops. (In the next episode I’ll talk about prayer to affect change in our own practice, experience, or behavior.)
You might be surprised to know many Buddhists pray, given that Buddhism is fundamentally a nontheistic religion. It’s possible to be an avowed atheist and a devout Buddhist at the same time. In fact, such a Buddhist might even pray! I’ll explain more about how this works in this episode, which will be the first of two. I’ll introduce you to three basic reasons Buddhists pray, take you through the first two reasons, and then finish up next week by going into more detail about the third type of prayer.
Right speech is an essential part of Shakyamuni Buddha’s very first teaching of the Noble Eightfold Path, his prescription for spiritual liberation and insight. This teaching can be very useful to us in daily life, and recommends we avoid lying, divisive speech, abusive speech, and idle (unmindful) chatter. The Buddha also gave us five things to consider before speaking: Is what we’re about to say factual, helpful, kind (spoken with good-will), pleasant (“endearing”), and timely?
Buddhist practice can be seen as consisting of two sides, and both are essential. The first side is cultivating “samadhi power,” or our ability to perceive – or be awake to – the absolute aspect of reality. We do this through practices including meditation, mindfulness, and studying teachings such as impermanence and emptiness. The second side of our overall practice is working on “karma relationship,” or learning to live our daily lives in an enlightened way. We do this by working with our karma, keeping precepts, honoring relationships, and understanding how the absolute aspect of reality corresponds to the relative aspect. If we neglect either side, our practice can stagnate or go awry.
In traditional Zen practice, we have a lot of what we call “forms.” Forms are the established ways we enact our practice with our bodies… they include the ways we move in the meditation hall, sit in the meditation posture, place our shoes outside the door, chant and offer incense, show respect for one another, eat communal meals, and enact our rituals and ceremonies. Why do we have so many forms instead of just going with the flow and letting people do things the way they want to?
Is it really necessary to participate in a Sangha, or Buddhist community? What are the benefits, joys, and challenges of doing so? You may be surprised by some of the aspects of Sangha practice I talk about in this episode (it’s not all about enjoying the pleasant company of enlightened people!).
For over 2,500 years, in every form of Buddhism, you formally become a Buddhist by stating, “I take in the Three Treasures of Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha.” What are the Three Treasures, and what does it mean to take refuge in them?