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Buddhadharma : Fall 2017
54 buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly fall 2017 practice If It Sounds Too Good to Be True by Mark Unno When we think about prayer in a Buddhist context, we find there at least two major types: prayers for and prayers of. Prayers for are directed to future fulfill- ment of specific goals. These might include prayers for peace, prayers for health and well-being, or prayers for the fulfillment of the bodhisattva vows. Prayers of are the prayers of buddhas and bodhisattvas—that is, prayers arising out of the awakened mind. Buddhist practitioners, especially those who are new to the practice, can be susceptible to magical thinking. A practitioner may say, “I just spent ten con- tinuous days praying for my brother and now his doctors have told him his can- cer is in remission.” Or “I did two months of Buddhist prayers for my mother’s heart condition, but my practice wasn’t strong enough and she died last week.” These are examples of deluded magical thinking and unrealistic expectations. In the Mahayana in particular, there’s more emphasis on the prayer of the Buddha as an expression of buddhanature, bodhi mind, and oneness. Because of the potential confusion caused by the popular use of the term “prayer,” some Buddhist traditions avoid the word altogether. Rather than say “pray for,” one might speak of holding another in one’s thoughts. And instead of talking about the “prayer of,” one might speak of realization or awakening. Therefore, when you are concerned for another’s well-being, you might simply say, “I’m holding her in my thoughts” or “I’m holding you in my heart.” And instead of refer- ring to the power of the Buddha’s prayer of awakening, you might refer to the power of the Buddha’s realization or simply awakening itself. It’s easy to forget that the ultimate realization is boundless compassion and oneness. When we put our palms together, it is not just one pair of hands meet- ing palm to palm. Paying close attention, it is as if we can feel the gentle touch of our teacher or the Buddha herself, her palms gently caressing the back of our hands, helping bring our palms together, teaching us the feeling of bound- less compassion and wisdom. In that moment, whether we live or die, achieve health or not, become “enlightened” or not becomes secondary to knowing that the power of buddhanature is fully present—that everything we need is between our palms as we bow, that the working of great compassion is already unfold- ing, here and now. We can call that prayer if we like. Fall 2014