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Fairly regularly people ask me to pray for them or their family members. In my understanding, Buddhist don't generally pray for things to be different than what they are. But it never seems appropriate to mention this to a person who might be upset so I just say "of course" and leave it at that.

But the truth is, outside of metta for everyone, I don't pray for such things as my neighbor's uncle's knee replacement operation or for my co-worker's daughter to advance in the state championship for soccer. So I'm lying to someone and that's uncomfortable and not a good mind state to be in.

First, is my understanding that Buddhist don't generally pray for things to be other than what they are wrong view? And if not, what might be a better way to handle prayer requests?

14

This is a great question, certainly understandable. I don't think it's right to say that prayer as an activity goes against the Buddha's teaching; certainly prayer that stems from desire is unwholesome, but prayer that stems from kindness and purity of mind, in the sense of being an expression of one's attitude towards all beings, as:

Sukhino vā khemino hontu sabbe sattā bhavantu sukhitattā "May all beings be happy and secure, with a heart full of happiness!"

(Karaniya Metta Sutta)

is proper, since it leads to tranquility of mind and an outlook based on purity of intention. The problem is only when prayer is based on a sense of need for things to be other than what they are, rather than an outlook that informs one's life (i.e. acting, speaking and thinking for benefit rather than harm)

Another "wrong" regarding prayer, according to Buddhism, would be the localization of the prayer as depending on an external entity (i.e. God). Obviously if by prayer one means the beseeching of an external entity to intervene, that is likely based on both desire and wrong view.

So, in brief, when someone asks you to pray for them or someone else, by all means, say you will if you want; just be clear that to a Buddhist, prayer is simply an expression of "May so and so be happy and well." That's all anyone wants, is for people to be thinking kindly of them, and it is certainly a means of cultivating harmony and peace, both internally and externally. Just don't succumb to desire for change or expectation of outside intervention.

9

In Mahayana Buddhism one takes a Bodhisattva Vow which in essence means that one practises in order to liberate all the sentient beings as their well-being is more important than one's own. Thus, if asked for help, those who took the vow will try to offer some sort of help.

I took the vow and renew it at least once a year. When people ask me for prayers, I reply that I will make lots of good wishes for them and that I will keep them in my heart while meditating or repeating mantras. I never make detailed wishes though. Most people, including myself, have no idea what is good to them so I just wish that the best possible will happen to people so they can reach lasting happiness. Sometimes the best for their development is passing an exam, sometimes it is actually failing it.

In that way, I do not have to lie, I do make wishes for individual people (along with my everyday wishes that all the sentient beings reach enlightenment) and people feel a relief that someone cares about them. And after some time one of my friend stopped using a word 'prayer' and now asks me for good wishes:)

3

Apart from doing Metta, Buddhists have a practice called 'Saccakiriya'. It basically uses the power of true speech. But it has to be something strong.

ex:

I have never lied in my life! If that is true, may XYZ happen!

I have never stolen in my life! If that is true, may XYZ happen!

I have never killed in my life! If that is true, may XYZ happen!

Once the Buddha instructed Venerable Angulimala to invoke his Saccakiriya to help a pregnant lady. This is what he said: "Since I was born of Aryan birth, O sister, I am not aware of having intentionally deprived any living being of his life. By this asseveration of Truth may you be well! May thy unborn child be well!"

You can also chant the virtues of the Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha and wish someone well. Or you can venerate the Bodhi tree and wish someone well.

  • Sankha, thank you for adding this, but I'm not sure I understand it. This is only for people who have told the truth always, never taken anything without permission or killed even a bug? I think it might be too late for me! That is one of the issues of having grown up with the Ten Commandments instead of the Five Precepts. In the Ten Commandments, "thou shall not kill" refers to human beings. So I don't think I qualify to practice Saccakiriya. How does one venerate the Bodhi tree? – Robin111 Jun 22 '14 at 2:53
  • 1
    Yes, the power of the Saccakiriya depends on the virtuousness associated with it. Saying that "I ate rice at least once a day" doesn't fall under Saccakiriya even though it may be true. But you can say "since the day I took refuge in the Buddha, Dhamma and the Sangha, I have never killed/stolen/lied...". You can also do good deeds like giving alms on behalf of your loved one and wish him/her well. Here's some info on Bodhi Puja: bps.lk/olib/wh/wh402-p.html#2TheBodhiPj – Sankha Kulathantille Jun 22 '14 at 7:29
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Let's say there are two ways of dealing with this:

  1. Your friend says: "Please, pray for me... I hope everything will be OK.".

  2. You say: "Such a poor person... I hope and I pray that he will make it through and ...".

It has nothing to do with the physical and ceremonial praying part.

It stems from Compassion and Kindness.

Regardless of which cases as mentioned above, your Compassion would reflect your action, not just towards the person who, before your eyes, is in need, poor, and in unfortunate situation, who you "directly" help (pray for).

It doesn't mean you would heal him or solve his problem at an instance (i.e. you become a doctor and heal him).

Instead, it goes further than that:

Your Compassion would be reflected in every little action that you have towards those in need, even if they may be trivial - it may be as simple as a smile; sharing your meal and bringing it to the neighbor, whose immobility affects his ability to cook / buy food; taking a little time even after a long day at work to speak with someone who is sick but has no-one to talk to but you take a little time even after a long day at work to speak with him; etc etc.

Along the journey, one might learn something from it as well and acquire more Compassion; a funny example:

You decide to go do some errand for this poor neighbor of yours, who is immobile due to sickness. At this supermarket, you happen to see some people standing outside of it, talking loudly and bothering passersby with their words. You are infuriated, and as strong as you are you could physically harm these "bad" guys with your might and teach them a lesson. But you didn't. Why? If it suddenly occurs to you that harming these people would put them in a situation just like your poor neighbor, your Compassion channels through, namely more than just caring for the neighbor - your Compassion becomes vast and endless and unbiased.

Through these actions, you part gradually from the "self":

"It is your problem, why me praying for you, for your karma?"

"Hey, I will try my best, but you gonna do your part"

Once the above reactions are no longer present in your mind as you help, your Compassion has arisen purely and it is no longer about "I" and "you".

Through the experiences of helping others though Compassion, one may learn as well - one would learn how to observe unbiasedly over time, and because of this, one's help to others would become selfless and truly beneficial to those in need.

Not just because "I feel great and better as a person, because I help."

Because if we do, it would be about our ego. The help to others would be about us, ourselves.

Thanks for question.

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I believe in talking with people in the vocabulary that they understand and what we do in metta meditation is like prayer, so I would say, "Of course, I will meditate for you."

Then in my compassion meditation I would include them in the appropriate circle in my compassion meditation

May you be happy
May you be healthy
May you be safe
May you live with ease

for the circles of:

  • myself
  • people I have positive feelings about
  • people I have neutral feelings about
  • people I have negative feelings about
  • everybody
  • all beings

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