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Buddhadharma : Fall 2014
36 BUDDHADHARMA: THE PRACTITIONER’S QUARTERLY FALL 2 0 1 4 and everything we do in life matters. It takes a big mind to live in the heart of this paradox— to be awake and responsive while accepting the indeterminate nature of things. This is the spirit of prayer. We can pray for anything. But what we pray for influences the direction we go in and the transformative nature of the practice. Praying for happiness and to get rid of our suffering keeps us within the boundaries of ordinary mind. Prayers don’t have the same poignancy and liberation when we are trying to avoid life and not feel the world around us. If we move out of our indi- vidual desire to be free from suffering and into the bigger view where we acknowledge that suf- fering is part of living in this body and world, we experience the profundity of prayer. So what does it mean to pray without the limi- tations of our individual preferences? It means we’re praying for a deep unconditional wakeful- ness not based upon the preferences of the ego. Just in asking we experience a mind full of awe and humility. We allow life to touch us and feel the longing to move forward with compassion and love. Twice a year, my community gathers for a group retreat called drupcho, where we recite a hundred thousand prayers by the renowned meditation master of our lineage, Kunchyen Jigme Lingpa. Because this is a group practice, and we recite the prayer aloud again and again, it demands a lot of energy and focus. When we don’t pay attention, our practice becomes rote and the energy in the room sags. Other times prayers flow effortlessly. When that happens in a group, the whole atmosphere comes alive and the power of prayer is palpable and strong. In our retreats, we invite prayer requests. Peo- ple send them via email and once a day we read them aloud while everyone listens attentively. It always surprises me how many requests we receive, how personal they are, and how much courage people have in asking. When we listen to the requests, we feel the presence of all those people as if they sat gathered among us. Their prayers touch us and open up our practice, gen- erating an atmosphere of healing. When you pray, it might be to an image of the Buddha or your teacher. Or you could pray to the nature of your own mind, as inseparable from the nature of the deity. Sometimes you might not even know to whom you are praying, but the asking itself has its own power. In fact, if you think about it, do you really have to know? And can you? The nature of the Buddha, the teacher, or anything in this world is fathomless, mysteri- ous, and doesn’t lend itself to being known in a conclusive way. This is particularly important to reflect upon, because in the modern world, praying to an object often seems contrived. We might want to believe in a deity or the Buddha, but it feels artificial. One of the most essential and unique aspects of this tradition is the understanding that nothing possesses intrinsic existence. Often we assume that we—the real one—are praying to an imaginary deity. But in fact, even that which we call “self” manifests from an infinite complex of relationships arising and falling away each moment. Everything is imaginary, in that it resists definition and is dynamic and open to interpreta- tion—or in Buddhist terms, everything is empty. Prayer is a means to help us move forward with some sanity—a practice that helps us uti- lize the world to wake up. We can pray to our teacher or the Buddha as a way to move forward on our path. We don’t necessarily have to see this dualism as a problem. In fact, to see dualism as a problem is dualistic. What we call path is a way of navigating dualism by engaging our life and experience in a positive way. And prayer helps us do that. ELIZABETH MATTIS- NAMGYEL is a teacher in the Vajrayana tradition and spent six years in solitary retreat. She is the author of The Power of an Open Question. BRONYAAGASTO