The Meaning of Prayer


Nature is impartial; it cannot be flattered by prayers. It does not grant any special favours on request.

Man is not a fallen creature who begs for his needs as he awaits mercy. According to Buddhism, man is a potential master of himself. Only because of his deep ignorance does man fail to realize his full potential. Since the Buddha has shown this hidden power, man must cultivate his mind and try to develop it by realizing his innate ability.

Buddhism gives full responsibility and dignity to man. It makes man his own master. According to Buddhism, no higher being sits in judgment over his affairs and destiny. That is to say, our life, our society, our world, is what you and I want to make out of it, and not what some other unknown being wants it to be.

Remember that nature is impartial; it cannot be flattered by prayers. Nature does not grant any special favours on request. Thus in Buddhism, prayer is meditation which has self-change as its object. Prayer in meditation is the reconditioning of one's nature. It is the transforming of one's inner nature accomplished by the purification of the three faculties?thought, word, and deed. Through meditation, we can understand that 'we become what we think', in accordance with the discoveries of psychology. When we pray, we experience some relief in our minds; that is, the psychological effect that we have created through our faith and devotion. After reciting certain verses we also experience the same result. Religious names or symbols are important to the extent that they help to develop devotion and confidence.

The Buddha Himself has clearly expressed that neither the recital of holy scriptures, nor self-torture, nor sleeping on the ground, nor the repetition of prayers, penance, hymns, charms, mantras, incantations and invocations can bring the real happiness of Nibbana.

Regarding the use of prayers for attaining the final goal, the Buddha once made an analogy of a man who wants to cross a river. If he sits down and prays imploring that the far bank of the river will come to him and carry him across, then his prayer will not be answered. If he really wants to cross the river, he must makes some effort; he must find some logs and build a raft, or look for a bridge or construct a boat or perhaps swim. Somehow he must work to get across the river. Likewise, if he wants to cross the river of Samsara, prayers alone are not enough. He must work hard by living a religious life, by controlling his passion, calming his mind, and by getting rid of all the impurities and defilements in his mind. Only then can he reach the final goal. Prayer alone will never take him to the final goal.

If prayer is necessary, it should be to strengthen the mind and not to beg for gains. The following prayer of a well-known poet, teaches us how to pray, Buddhists will regard this as meditation to cultivate the mind:

'Let me not pray to be sheltered from danger,

but to be fearless in facing them.

Let me not beg for the stilling of my pain,

but for the heart to conquer it.

Let me not crave in anxious fear to be saved,

but for the patience to win my freedom.'

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