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I was raised in a Catholic environment, however I'm adding more and more Dhamma in my life, currently I spend much more time with Buddhists practices than Catholics.

the point is that I still keep the habit of praying to God before going to sleep (and before flying too), but if I'm not mistaken this is seen as something bad in Buddhism (wrong view/attachment to rituals)

Can someone explain what are the bad consequences, from a Buddhist's perspective of praying to God? If any.

  • I'd like to get some more info so I can edit my answer to be as helpful as possible. Do you believe in an all-powerful God? And how do you view your Buddhist practice? As a means of gaining ordinary well being or are you striving for enlightenment? – Bakmoon Oct 7 '14 at 19:48
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    Your answer was very good – konrad01 Oct 7 '14 at 19:51
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How you should consider what do to depends on your situation. Have you converted to Buddhism? Do you believe in an all powerful God? If you haven't converted to Buddhism and still believe in a God and are just adopting Buddhist practices because you find that they give you wellbeing I wouldn't worry about it too much. But if you are trying to work out the full path to awakening according to the teachings of the Buddha then there could be a problem.

If you have decided to strive for enlightenment according to the Buddhist path then belief in a God is problematic because it is in conflict with the teachings that all things apart from Nibbana are impermanent, incapable of giving true happiness, and are non-self. So if you believe in an all powerful God and pray to him that will reinforce that belief and interfere with developing right view.

Apart from interfering with right view and thus delaying the attainment of enlightenment until such view is corrected, I can't see any direct consequences. Belief in God can lead some people to be heedless thinking that God will look after them and everything will automatically turn out all right, and still others sometimes give up their consciousness to their concept of God, but the actual belief in the existence of God itself isn't going to create bad Karma directly or anything.

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Chogyam Trungpa spoke about theistic vs. non-theistic perspective:

For most people, God is a dualistic concept. Meaning, for a typical person the unspoken assumption is: "I am here and God is over there". So when I think about God, when I speak to God -- I inevitably imagine some power outside of myself. It is in this power that I place hope for good life and for salvation; it is this power that I blame for unfairness etc.

There are several problems with this approach. First by attributing to God the power to save us or to send difficulties etc. we alienate ourselves from our own power. In Buddhism (except Pure Land) our liberation is always in our hands. (As Trungpa said, no one is going to descent in the golden chariot to take care of you. In fact this very feeling of loneliness/hopelessness is one of the main ingredients for the gunpowder of Bodhi.) As long as you keep looking up to some higher power, how can you be the master of your life?

Second, by relating with external God, we confirm our own existence, our illusory ego. "I pray to God, therefore I exist." -- This is good old dependent-coarising at work. When that is, this is. From the arising of that comes the arising of this. So the more we praise God, the more we cement this little "I", the subject of God.

Instead, from the non-theistic perspective, "I" and "God" are two equally illusory ends of the same stick. It is not that I am infinite, and therefore I am God. Nor is it that "I" does not exist and everything is God. Neither is it that the little "I" is inside of, or a part of, God. Nor is it that God only exists as a concept of my mind. Rather, all of these are interpretations of the fundamental situation in which my power and the power of God is the same power, my will and the will of God is the same will, and my spontaneity and the spontaneity of God is the same spontaneity. Perhaps even this is implying too much. There is power / will / spontaneity, but no one who wields it. It just is. Using it and being used by it refers to the same activity.

Two of my teachers preferred to emphasize one side: using it. My Zen Master said: "People say, 'God bless you', but Enlightenment is when you bless God". My current teacher says: "utilize God". Both of these serve to remind us of our inherent mastery. The power is us, and we are the power.

So a regular prayer, addressing God as "You", from Buddhist perspective is counterproductive. It dependently co-creates "I", takes away our power, and leads astray from enlightenment. A better perspective is, as Jesus said, "I and the Father are one" (i.e. my true nature and the nature of God is one and the same). This corresponds to what Buddha called "a state of Brahma" (brahmapatta, AN 4.190) and praised as a valuable intermediate attainment. In Tibetan Buddhism there is this beautiful prayer, spoken from the perspective of Kuntuzangpo, the Primordial Buddha -- i.e. the nature of intrinsic awareness, before separation into beings, which is another way to refer to God. This prayer is perhaps as good as a prayer can get from Buddhist perspective.

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An archetypal Christian prayer is this one, from the Garden of Gethsemane:

And he said, Abba, Father, all things are possible unto thee; take away this cup from me: nevertheless not what I will, but what thou wilt.

You were asking about "wrong view".

My personal opinion is that there are not bad sentiments in this prayer:

  • "take away this cup from me" -- this cup is 'suffering'
  • "nevertheless not what I will" -- this is cessation of attachment

Other parts of the prayer don't have an obvious Buddhist corollary, i.e.:

  • Abba, Father, all things are possible unto thee

Except that, for all I know (and, to be clear, I don't know), even "prayer" (perhaps not that particular prayer) might be found in some forms of Buddhism (for example, like this). There may be a split in Buddhism which I'm not qualified to explain. Searching for someone else's description, I find e.g. this:

Nowadays, Buddhism is little more than a thing of tradition in most parts of Asia, and "Mahayana" has degenerated into a system of worship and prayer to numerous Buddhas and Bodhisattvas that hope, fear and superstition have populated the cosmos with. Ignorant of the Buddha's Teachings about Karma and the importance of developing spiritual self-reliance, people weak-mindedly turn for help and salvation to celestial beings. They imagine Buddhas and Bodhisattvas as remote from them -- somewhere in the sky, perhaps -- similar to the deities of other religions. And so, they miss the whole point of the Buddha"s parting injunction: "Work out your own salvation with diligence". Enlightenment is an intimate inner experience, not something that comes to us from outside.

It is (I still don't know) possible that the above quote is doing an injustice to what "Buddhist prayer" is.

For another point of view, you should see for example: this answer.

If you're interested, you might want to ask another question: perhaps about "Buddhist prayer", instead of about "praying to God".


One more thing, you also wanted to ask about "attachment to ritual".

I don't know how to answer that from a Buddhist perspective. Though I may be off-topic, let me try to address "Christian ritual".

The Quakers are a Christian sect who believe a number of things, an important belief being the priesthood of all believers, i.e. that you don't need a priest who intervenes between you and God.

The founder, George Fox, travelled around preaching. Margaret Fell became his wife, and this quote is her description of the first time she heard him preach. If you read it, you will see that he believes that Christ was divinely inspired, was in communion with God.

So, Jesus' prayer in Gethsemane isn't to be imagined as an empty ritual, but as an authentic, real experience. It's a description of what Jesus did.

Looking around the net for other places where this quote appears, I stumbled upon this which includes the quote,

As Jesus said, "I and the Father are one."

That quote sounds to me similar to the "already-having-been-saved" which Methexis mentioned, which is using the "Perfect tense" mentioned at the start of this answer.

Her profile links to several Buddhist (and other) blogs, which is more than I can read at the moment.

I guess my point was that according to some people, prayer isn't just ritual.

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Like you, I was raised Catholic. Like you, I now spend more time involved with the dharma than directly with Catholicism. However, I increasingly see a synergy between the two "systems", and not very much collision (the "orthodox" from both sides may disagree, but that doesn't make them right).

Crucial to me seeing this synergy was coming to see that the notion of "God" that I had in my childhood, and also the notion of God of most Buddhists I've met, is really not a very coherent notion at all. Or, put it more simply, it's wrong. If someone says Buddhists don't believe in God, it's important to know exactly what that person means by "God". Odds are they're talking about some kind of sky fairy or such like, and classic Catholicism doesn't believe in that either.

If you look a the works of St Thomas Aquinas -- maybe get yourself some commentaries first, before tackling the summae head on -- you'll find that the notion of God that is at the heart of Christianity (and, I'd add, Islam and Judaism) is far harder to pin down as something that is at odds with Buddhism. For example, trying to apply the words "permanent", "satisfying" or "self" to "God" is almost a category error.

In conclusion, I wouldn't worry about prayer and praying -- in other words, just keep doing it if you want. Or not. Don't fret either way. And if you do continue, you can even develop it, but perhaps look into the contemplative side, since that has a lot in common with many Buddhist approaches -- especially Tibetan. I recommend reading "The Seven Story Mountain" by Thomas Merton as a useful story of one man's journey. Also, look into the work of Thomas Keating, on centering prayer.

  • I'ved studied St. Thomas Aquinas and I don't really see what you mean. Aquinas understood God as having a soul or spirit, is eternal and unchanging, and that true happiness consists in the beatific vision of God himself. I don't see how that squares with Buddhism. – Bakmoon Oct 8 '14 at 15:03
  • @Bakmoon, stack exchange isn't the best place for us to discuss, so all I'll say here is that if you interpreted Aquinas as understanding God as having a soul or spirit then in my opinion you have fundamentally misinterpreted Aquinas. Also, exactly what is meant by "beatific vision" is open to interpretation, and it's not clear to me that all interpretations are problematic vis-a-vis Buddhism. But as I say, this isn't really a discussion forum. Maybe you could raise the topic as a question? – tkp Oct 8 '14 at 15:10
  • I think starting a chat on the issue might be a better format. – Bakmoon Oct 8 '14 at 15:15
  • Yep, makes sense. (Although I do have a problem in that I have ever been able to login to chat since starting my SE account -- some weird collision with an old account of mine). – tkp Oct 8 '14 at 15:19
  • I've started a chat on the subject at chat.stackexchange.com/rooms/17708/… – Bakmoon Oct 8 '14 at 15:20
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You don't have to worry about your practices, keep learning Buddhism my friend. Then You will understand the world is governed by reason and result theory instead of a god. Buddhism teach the world is governed by 5 forces called 'Niyama Dhamma'as

  1. Utu niyaama
  2. Beeja nyaama
  3. Kamma nyaama
  4. dhamma nyaama
  5. chitta nyaama

They are simply explained here

So you have to realize them by yourself with allocate time to think what is the truth. Do not simply stop thinking when there is a complex matter with feeling that was done by the god. If all did so, then there will not be Science. Then after you realize that world is governed by reasons and the results, your journey to nirvana will accelerated. My dear friend we have left very little time. Don't think 80 years are big time. Worst 'bad consequences' in your practice is you are wasting your time with false concepts.

  • Hi, I'm not new to Buddhism, I have been studying it for 2 years, I did retreats and I have been to different traditions (Theravada, Mahayana...), I read at least 8 good books about it and watched thousands of videos and dhammatalks, I will tell you, it is hard to give up a few thing... I believe a buddhist converting to Christianism will not have as many problems as the other way around – konrad01 Oct 8 '14 at 2:03
  • Friend, as I know Tripitaka is not available in English. So you are reading books that summarized or partly grabbed. 2 years means you are very new. I'm learning Buddhism for 15 years. But what I know is very very little compared to what I have to know. And knowing is not enough. You will never understand those complex theories until you practice them. – Gurusinghe Oct 8 '14 at 9:22
  • I have all sutta pitaka in english, found it in Asia :) – konrad01 Oct 8 '14 at 11:26
  • And lets not forget the Buddha said time is not important, hehehe anyway I was just trying to explain I didnt find about Buddhism yesterday :) – konrad01 Oct 8 '14 at 11:47
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According to my tradition, the existance or non-existance of Creator (the G-d in Chrisitan sense) is one of the 'unanswerable quesions' to which Buddha kept 'a noble silence'.

Therefore if it makes you feel better, you are free to keep your daily rituals on.

Besides, in some Mahayana sutras Buddhas are the creators of Pure Lands (not mentioning the paradigm of Tathagatagarbha).

Therefore the answer to your questions depends mainly on how you define the Creator and prayers.

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Its nothing bad, if one, for example, would remember the virtue of beings having become gods. The benefits are following in this link. Being attached to wholesome deeds is also nothing wrong, but wise, even if they are still rituals. They can not become natural if not practiced as ritual first.

As for wrong view, yes in certain aspects, since such as believing in an external power (in the case of a creator god) rejects naturally the law of cause and effect, would not bring one beyond the circle of live. If one acts out of this wrong view unwholesome, one certainly does not prepare a good journey. How ever, Christianity, if practiced honestly, is not much different with the Buddhas teachings. It carries Dana (generosity), Sila (virtue) and even certain stages of Bhavana (meditation), and lacks just of panna (wisdom) to come out of the circle. As far as Atma had seen, most Christian serious practicing people have obviously more changes to accumulate paramis (perfections) and merits, as most of the Buddhists will actually do and doing.

Being able to listen to the good teachings of the Buddha requires conditions and one does not lower his conditions but increase them, by simply stick to good ways, what ever the "tradition" is labeled to.

Being grateful and showing gratitude, is not a wrong thing, if such are the intentions of prayers, but lesser good would be wishing, hoping, demanding... especially if one does not lead a live which would not provide such be own deeds, Mr konrad01.

(Note: this answer has not been given with the agreement to be means of trade or the purpose of/for trade and/or keep people trapped and bound. How you handle it lies in your sphere, but does not excuse the deed here either.)

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If it makes you feel better, the Buddha himself was not above syncretizing deities in from another religion, namely Hinduism. King Yama from the underworld was used in a parable about the inevitability of death.

What is the likelihood that the country and religious culture that Shakyamuni just happened to be born in, was the one that just happened to have correct name for the underworld deity? Effectively zilch. But he used that deity with that name anyway, in his parable.

A practicing Buddhist will not "believe" in any outside deity as being an intervening savior or law-giving authority over himself, but there is no reason you can't contemplate a deity anyway, at least while meditating in one of the lower jhannas. You could visualize the crucifixion of the Christ, his resurrection, etc. as a means of clarifying the mind, freeing yourself of various mundane concerns. The twenty-third psalm is helpful if you want attempt to visualize green pastures and still waters; the nineteenth psalm describes the beauty of the sun and stars; and psalm 1 is about a flourishing, sturdy tree. Plus, the first and nineteenth psalms include the word "meditate" and "meditation", respectively.

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