Bodhisattvas and Buddhas accomplish most of their virtuous and enlightened actions through the power of prayer. This is one of the most important abilities we need to develop on the spiritual path. Very often we neglect this, thinking it superstitious or not really believing that it works. But if we can understand how it works, then we will see that it is possible to develop this power, and then we will be very motivated to do so. The power of prayer lies behind most miracle powers, we become a spiritual “magic-user” (sorry, I did too much Dungenons and Dragons when I was a kid!!).
What is the power of prayer? A Buddha has the ability to have all of their prayers fulfilled, whatever they pray for becomes a reality (within the constraints of how it works which will be described below). It is the principle means by which bodhisattvas and Buddhas help living beings.
So how does it work?
- Deep and stable realization of emptiness, specifically the tantra-prasangaika view. The TP view has two main recognitions: first, like the standard prasangika view, that all objects are mere mental projections of the mind; and second, like the Chittamatrins, that the nature of these projections of the mind itself (all things are only mind). When we have an experiential understanding of this view (how things actually exist), when we experience the entire universe as the body of our mind. The entire universe is a single, fully integrated organism of our mind. We experiences all objects, the whole universe, as parts of the body of our mind. Our mind is in the shape of the world, and we realize by changing the shape of our mind we can change the shape of the whole world.
- Rich in merit. Rich people have lots of resources, and with these resources they can make a lot happen. They simply spend or deploy their resources to bring about whatever it is they want to see happen. Some rich people only spend their resources on themselves, fulfilling the wishes of their self-cherishing mind. But some rich people become philanthropists who spend their resources on helping others as much as they can. They actively acquire more wealth so that they can use this wealth to help others. Bill Gates is a good example of this. A bodhisattva is a spiritual philathropist, but instead of external wealth, they rely upon internal wealth of merit and realizations. They actively acquire as much inner wealth as they can so that they can share it and give it to others. Just as externally rich people can accomplish their external wishes, internally rich people can accomplish their external and internal wishes. Why? Because ultimately all things are mere karmic appearances of mind. Their merit gives them the karma to make any good thing appear.
- A pure motivation. At present, we lack the power of prayer. But Buddhas already have this power. We can, in effect, have this power as well by tapping into and harnessing their power of prayer towards the ends of our own prayers. But this will only work if our motivation is aligned with theirs. They will not fulfill any non-pure prayers, because that is not their function. They will, however, spontaneously fulfil all pure prayers because that is their function. So our job is to align our motivation with theirs. It is like aligning the sails of a sail boat. If the sails are aligned right with the winds, then the boat will move forward. In the same way, if our motivation is aligned with that of the Buddhas, then their pure winds will push our spiritual prayers forward. To align our motivation, we simply need to think about a given situation we would like to pray for, and then ask ourselves “what would the Buddhas want from this situation?” Then, once we understand what they would want, we then from our own side try to generate the same wants and desires in the situation. In general, what do Buddhas want? They want living beings to gain realizations. Worldly beings want to be free from unpleasant feelings. This is what sometimes puts our motivation at odds with that of the Buddhas. For them, unpleasant feelings are an important condition for many different Dharma realizations (patience, renunciation, compassion, the wish to purify, etc.). But we do the internal work to want what they want, realizing that what they want out of the situation is more infused with wisdom. In terms of how to generate merit, the three most important things to do are: (1) generate a bodhichitta motivation for your every action which multiplies the power of your actions by the number of countless living beings, (2) engage in every action conjoined with guru yoga, seeing all aspects of the situation as aspects of your spiritual guide, the synthesis of all the Buddhas – this multiplies the power of your action by the number of countless Buddhas, and (3) make mandala offerings, recognizing the pure world you are offering as an offering of a promise that you will work for as long as possible to transform your dream into the pure world you offer for the benefit f all of the beings in your dream. Mandala offerings in particular are powerful in that they lay the karmic potentialities on your mind to transform your world into a pure world, where everything that arises is perfect for the enlightenment of all beings.
- Deep faith. Buddhas are as powerful as we make them. Their power for us does not exist from its own side, but arises in dependence upon the power of our faith. The more pure faith, the more power they have to fulfil our prayers. To develop a qualified faith, we primarily need to understand the mechanism by which Buddhas can accomplish their deeds. When we understand how it works, it seems perfectly doable. When it seems doable, we believe they can do it. Then faith is not fantasy wishful thinking, it is a knowledge of what is possible. So what is the mechanism by which they work? First, they are empty, in other words, they are not separate from our mind but are rather parts or aspects of our mind. Second, they have the power to activate karmic potentialities. This is their essential function. Just as water and sunlight will activate ordinary seeds to produce a crop of plants, the water and sunlight of our pure motivation and faith spontaneously function to activate the pure karmic seeds we have planted on our mind (see above in the section on merit). When this karma activates it produces karmic appearances that are the nature and function of our prayers.
If we can develop the power of prayer, there will literally be nothing we cannot do. It is the primary means of helping living beings, and thus should be our primary focus in terms of building up the skills of a Buddha.
2 thoughts on “The power of prayer”
Wow…what wonderful results comes from praying…thanks for this one.
Thank you for this post. I grew up in the southern US and the words ‘prayer’ and ‘blessing’ come with a lot of baggage for me. Your posts are always clear and logical and this one will help me shed some of that baggage!