Prayer has many aspects. It also has many meanings for many people. Growing up, I understood it as some special way of speaking to God. Nowadays, I have a different understanding.
Sometimes, prayer is used as a means to gain protection. For instance, there are many instances when Buddhist may pray to protect themselves, their communities, and their nation. In Japan and other countries, it has been a tradition to pray and recite sutras to protect the sovereign.
Sometimes, prayer is a show of solidarity. I personally consider phrases such as “I’ll keep you in my prayers” as a gesture of support and goodwill.
Still, for some, prayer is seen as a form of development for the mind. The activity of prayer certainly does help create good conditions for practice because it can direct the mind to a wholesome object.
Then there is the cry for help, the petitionary prayer for when there is nothing one can do.
In my case, I cry out to the Buddha.
There is a common teaching in Japanese Pureland that the “Namo” of Namo Amida Bu is the foolish being calling out to that which is compassionate and wise, the “Amida Bu”. In this way, Amida Buddha provides a refuge to feel fear, pain, loss, sorrow and the whole range of human emotions. To cry out to Quan Yin is similar. She too embraces the humanity of the person who calls out to her, taking many forms to do so. In this way, calling out to the compassionate, is a form of prayer.
Such a prayer can be a source of relief, like opening a valve. To me, it’s preferable to holding in pain until it festers and erupts.
To pray is to be human. Humans pray for different reasons and all reasons to pray are valid ways to turn to the Dharma.
Namo Amida Bu
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