As someone that is actively seeking to be a Buddhist, how does one show emotional support for others in time of need?

Christians offer to pray for them if someone or some person is going through a difficult situation. For example, during 9/11 often leaders would pray for people and their nation who are going through loss.

Is there something in Buddhism that is similar? Is there something similar that Buddhists can offer to show that they are offering emotional or spiritual support.


Your question is on how to show that one is offering help or support. But I'm assuming that what you really meant is how to actually help or support and not just show that one is helping or supporting.

Since Buddhism does not acknowledge the existence of a God or Supreme Being to whom one can pray, prayer in the sense practised in other religions may not be applicable in Buddhism. This therefore, eliminates the need for any rites, rituals, ceremonies or prayer to any particular entity for the well being of others.

But, one can help or support others by practising Metta meditation. The effectiveness of Metta meditation depends on both the level of purity of your mind and that of the receiver. Therefore, practise of Vipassana meditation to purify one's mind may be considered to be a pre-requisite for effective Metta meditation. Metta meditation is essentially about sharing the good vibrations and energy that one generates by purifying one's own mind with others for their well being.

Wikipedia has an overview of Mettā:

The cultivation of benevolence (mettā bhāvanā) is a popular form of meditation in Buddhism. In the Theravadin Buddhist tradition, this practice begins with the meditator cultivating benevolence towards themselves, then one's loved ones, friends, teachers, strangers, enemies, and finally towards all sentient beings. In the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, this practice is associated with tonglen (cf.), whereby one breathes out ("sends") happiness and breathes in ("receives") suffering. Tibetan Buddhists also practice contemplation of the Brahmavihāras, also called the four immeasurables, which is sometimes called 'compassion meditation'.

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I guess the question a Buddhist (one like me, anyway) would ask is, what the heck good does it do to pray for someone? Even if there is a God and even if they do listen to prayers? But most especially if there isn't or they aren't listening.

Many types of Buddhism do promote what is called "determination" or "aspiration", in the sense of wishing for something to come true, e.g. "Through the power of X may Y occur." "Y" may be any good result one hopes for, but "X" is generally some wholesome quality of mind or wholesome deed one has performed. There is a sense that wholesomeness has an inherent power that can lead to positive consequences.

A common example in the commentaries is of "truth" - where the power of a statement of truth is acknowledged, especially when it describes a difficult accomplishment, or is the admission of something difficult to admit. E.g. in the Jatakas:

On hearing his words, she said: "My lord, though you do not believe me, by virtue of the truth I speak, I will heal you." So, filling a pot of water and performing an Act of Truth, she poured the water on his head and spoke this stanza:

May Truth for aye my shelter be,
As I love no man more than thee,
And by this Act of Truth, I pray,
May thy disease be healed to-day.

When she had thus performed an Act of Truth, no sooner was the water sprinkled over Sotthisena than the leprosy straightway left him, as it were copper rust washed in some acid.

-- Jāt. 519 (Cowell, trans)

But the positive result is usually physical, because Buddhism doesn't recognize the power of others to bring us emotional well-being. In fact, reliance on others is generally seen as a crutch that leads to further emotional instability. One must be an island unto oneself:

Oneself is one's own refuge; who else could a refuge be? Indeed, with a self well-tamed, one obtains a refuge difficult to obtain.

-- Dhp. 160

Buddhism is about empowerment, not dependence; an enlightened being is said to live independent, not clinging to anything in the world (MN 10).

As it was attributed to the Dalai Lama in Kundun, "You cannot liberate me... I can only liberate myself."

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Wishing well for others is in itself a prayer. In the earliest form of Buddhism, this is called metta practice.

However, this practice can be combined with various mantras to enhance the effect.

Nichiren Buddhism, the most popular sect within Mahayana Buddhism and maybe all of Buddhism in general, has the Lotus Sutra mantra which goes "Nam Myo Renge Kyo."

This mantra is associated to myriad different Buddhas, bodhisattvas, deities, mystic forces, including the Buddha nature within us all.

One can chant this but there are many other mantras that are indeed powerful. I won't go into which ones but here are the ones that have had a strong positive impact on my own life and others: zhunti mantra (recommended by Master Huai-Chin Nan), Amitofo mantra, Kuan yin mantra, surangama mantra, and many more. All of them have a beautiful vibratory effect within your heart after you have reached a level of affinity with them. :)

The important thing is the metta practice itself (as well as the other brahmaviharas) because no chanting will have any effect without the heart behind it.

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Many Tibetan Buddhist practices are for the benefit of both oneself and others. In the book, How to Meditate: A Practical Guide, by Kathleen McDonald is such a practice, using the enlightened figure Tara, who is particularly dedicated to health and long life. It is composed by Lama Zopa Rinpoche, co-founder and head of the Foundation for the Preservation of the Mahayana Tradition (FPMT).

Below is the crucial part of this practice. You might acquire the book to see the full practice. It's a lovely, widely used book, with much practical advice on meditation in the Tibetan forms, plus many actual meditations in a variety of styles: on mind, analytical meditations on important topics such as impermanence, visualizations, prayers and devotional practices (like this one).

Now recall any special request you want to make—success in your spiritual or worldly activities, the health and long life of your relatives, friends, or yourself, or anything at all that you want. With these needs in mind, recite the short prayer to Tara as many times as you can, while either remaining seated or making prostrations.

    Om I prostrate to the goddess foe destroyer, liberating lady Tara,
    Homage to tare, savioress, heroine,
    With tuttare dispelling all fears,
    Granting all benefits with ture,
    To her with sound svaha, I bow.

As you recite the prayer visualize rays of light with nectar running down them (like raindrops running down a wire) emanating from the point where Tara’s left thumb and ring finger touch. The rays and nectar flow continuously, reaching you and all the beings surrounding you, purifying your hindrances to Dharma practice and the obscurations to liberation and enlightenment.

Remember the problems of all the people you are praying for. Think also of the sufferings and troubles being experienced by the sentient beings surrounding you: people fighting wars, feeling ill or lonely; those full of anger, pride, or jealousy. As the rays and nectar enter their bodies and minds, their suffering and the causes of their suffering are completely extinguished. All sentient beings become totally liberated.

Think with deep conviction that Tara has accepted your requests and answered your prayers. During the first half of your recitation you can visualize the purification described above, and during the second half you can visualize that you and all beings become one with Tara: with each prayer an identical Tara emanates from the Tara visualized in front of you and dissolves into you and everyone else. You all become completely one with Tara’s holy body, speech, and mind.

Addendum -- Sept 7

To the very valid observation that one must liberate oneself we can add that, like all things, liberation is the result of countless causes and conditions, including the kindness of others. The kindness of the teacher is particularly important, but so are the material conditions that provide the leisures and endowments needed to practice Buddhadharma: adequate food and shelter, good health, the support of the sangha, the availability of texts and teachings, and so on. So the idea that one liberates oneself does not exclude the fact that that we must help each other.

Thus we can view lesser goals such as recovery from illness, pain or deprivation as the causes and conditions for liberation. The crucial factor is motivation -- all acts, prayers and practices done with the motivation of liberation for oneself and others are positive and help create wholesome karma that impels us toward that goal. That is why the above practice weaves together lesser goals with the motivation for enlightenment, and is therefore a legitimate, effective Buddhist practice.

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Many Westerners wish to remove the spiritual aspects of Buddhism. That is inconsistent with the practices common in Asia. Having spent time in both Hong Kong and Thailand I have participated in ceremonies that were highly aspirational. In the Tibetan tradition truly emptying the mind has the potential to achieve something that differs from Metta, something powerful.

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  • Welcome to the site. If you'd like to expand on that answer, a "good answer" is based on something, perhaps either a reference or personal experience. You wrote "yes, I have participated in ceremonies that were highly aspirational" -- perhaps that isn't quite enough of a description or detail, explanation, for a reader (or for the OP) to really get what you were talking about! – ChrisW Jul 31 '19 at 9:13

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