Vows, commitments and modern life: Not acting to dispel suffering (with an explanation of the power of prayer)

Whenever we see another suffering living beings we should feel compassion and consider how we can help them.  If we are unable to be of any practical assistance, we should at least pray for them.  If we do nothing we incur a secondary downfall.

We are normally so busy that we don’t even notice other’s problems, much less stop to help.  If there is something we can do to help and we fail to do so without a good reason, we are in effect abandoning others to their suffering.  Would we want to be treated in the same way?  Karmically speaking, every person we see is a future emanation of ourself.  By helping them now, we are karmically helping ourselves in the future when we face a similar problem.  By abandoning others now, we are karmically abandoning ourself in the future.  Who in life are we the most grateful towards?  Surely it is those who were there for us when nobody else was.  Venerable Tharchin explains our ability to help others depends on two things:  first, we have some useful realizations to share; and second, the closeness of our karmic connection with the person.  By being there for others in their hour of greatest need, we build very deep and very pure karmic bonds with them.  We may not be able to give them Dharma now, but if we dedicate appropriately the day will come in this life or a future one, where we will be able to use our close relationship with them to help them along the path.

We may look at our life and say we don’t have many opportunities to really help others.  But Venerable Tharchin explains that our desire to help and the opportunities to do so are mutually dependent.  In other words, it is by maintaining a constant desire to help that we create the karmic causes to have opportunities to do so.  If we do not currently have many opportunities to actually help others, we can generate the constant wish to be of greatest possible service to others.  In dependence upon this wish, our karma will be reorganized and opportunities will begin to appear.  This desire to help also gives us special wisdom eyes to see opportunities where before we say none. 

Ultimately, though, the best way we can help others is through our prayers.  Many people come into the Kadampa path in rejection of the touchy-feely sides of other religions, especially this whole prayer thing which strikes as superstition.  It says in many sadhanas, “Through the force of my intention, through the force of the blessings of the Tathagatas, and Through the force of the truth of all phenomena, may any suitable purpose that I wish to come about be accomplished without obstruction.”  This verse explains the power of prayer.

“Through the force of my intention” means our intention for praying is a spiritual one.  At a minimum, it means we pray for the sake of the other person, not for selfish reasons.  The highest intention is great compassion and bodhichitta, wishing that the person be free from all suffering.  But that does not mean a lesser spiritual intention is wrong.  If we see somebody who often gets angry, we can remind ourself that they are constantly creating the causes to be reborn in hell.  Wishing to protect them from such a fate we can pray that they learn to control their anger and find their patient acceptance.  “Through the force of the blessings of the Tathagatas” means the way in which our prayers are accomplished is through the power of the blessings of the Buddhas.  From our own side, of course, we have no power to bless other’s minds.  But we are able to pray to the Buddhas to bless others minds for us.  In dependence upon our faith in the Buddha and our karmic relationship with the person we are praying for, the Buddhas can bless their mind.  Even if they themselves have little karma with the Buddhas, our karma can serve as a bridge into their mind.  What is a blessing?  A blessing is the ripening of a karmic seed within the mind of a living being that functions to send that mind in the direction of enlightenment.  The difficult external situation may remain, but the mind of the person experiencing it will move in response towards enlightenment.

“Through the force of the truth of all phenomena” means emptiness.  It is emptiness that makes the power of prayer possible.  Ultimately, it is all dream.  Others do not exist separately from our mind, the Buddhas do not exist separately from our mind and what we pray for does not exist separately from our mind.  All are equally part of the dream.  When we grasp at others as being separate from us, or we grasp at the Buddhas as being separate from us, then it is quite natural to think prayers cannot work and are just superstitious happy thought.  But when we understand the equal emptiness of the other person, the Buddha, the blessings and our prayer then all is possible.  Nagarjuna said, “for whom emptiness is possible, everything is possible.”  In fact, the more we understand emptiness the more we realize prayer is simply the most effective way possible of accomplishing anything – arguably it is the only way possible.  In any case, it is clear that external methods have no power to alter the mind of another, so externally we do what we can to improve the external situation, and internally we pray to help improve the internal situation.

“May any suitable purpose that I wish to come about” means our prayers must be informed by wisdom of what is in fact suitable.  Many people mistakenly pray for specific external outcomes, and then lose faith when those outcomes do not materialize.  This happens in all religious traditions.  Suitable prayer is prayer conjoined with the humility that we might not know what is in fact best.  Perhaps the external hardship is exactly what the person needs to fundamentally alter the trajectory of their mental continuum.  So we pray, “please arrange whatever is best” and we pray, “please bless their mind so that this experience becomes a cause of their enlightenment.”  Such prayers open up the possibility for the external situation to remain exactly the same.  If it does, then we know it is “for the best” and we can accept it as such.  Our acceptance then helps the other person likewise accept their circumstance.  Acceptance and suffering are opposites – the more we accept, the less we suffer.  We suffer only because we do not accept. 

“Be accomplished without obstruction” is fairly self-explanatory, but has a deep meaning.  Obviously the meaning is that the prayer be fulfilled easily and fully, but the deeper meaning is the only thing that obstructs this from happening are “delusion obstructions” and “karmic obstructions.”  So implicitly, this is praying that the mind of the person be free from all delusions and that any karma that stands in the way of the fulfillment of the prayer be quickly purified.

If we understand the above, we understand how prayer works.  Such understanding gives us great confidence that prayers do work.  The teachings on karma say “if the cause is created, the effect is guaranteed.”  The above explains how to create the proper causes, so if we pray in a qualified way the effects of our prayers are guaranteed.  The only thing we do not know is the timing.  It may be years, or even lifetimes, before the prayer will be answered.  This is not a problem for us because we know for a fact that it is coming and that our prayer will definitely help.


5 thoughts on “Vows, commitments and modern life: Not acting to dispel suffering (with an explanation of the power of prayer)

  1. Another practical helpful and important teaching article from Kadampa Ryan. Thank you so much. It’s so important to know these points when we make prayers.

  2. Self and other are imputations. Every person is never, ever separate from mind. We respond and act as though they are. So our actions towards others will be karmically reflected back to us within our mind. We can say that we ourselves are an emanation of our previous self. We have arisen from the source of previous actions. As others are reflections of the actions of previous selves. Essentially, manifesting or emanating from a self grasping mind. How is form emanated?

    Technically emanations are commonly thought of from an enlightened source, but it’s helpful to think of how we emanate self, what source does that come from. Something mistaken and deceptive or something non mistaken? How will that self manifest in the future? How will it manifest in 5 minutes?

    Emanations according to Buddhas are understood somewhat differently as they are controlled and are non mistaken. They arise from wisdom. Within that exalted wisdom self and others are equally empty. They can appear as mundane and ordinary or supra mundane.
    Definition: Animate or inanimate form manifested by Buddhas or high Bodhisattvas to benefit others.

    Apparently, when enlightenment is attained or when we reach the high bodhisattva grounds then we can emanate various form. Anyone interested in form should study the four profundities.

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