Monday, February 23, 2009

How Prayers are Answered

Dharmachari Seven

The Good Lord Jug, every flake shall bow

We may have been looking at this illusion our entire lives unable to "see" it! This (snarky) short video shows you the best optical illusion in the world! For more information:
And remember to pray daily to Jug Almighty. Available at supermarkets everywhere. (Now also in Soy for Buddhists!)

Buddhists Praying?

The Buddha explained that there are five very desirable things -- longevity, beauty, fame, happiness, and rebirth in better worlds [to which we might add such things as health, wealth, and influence] -- and that individuals frequently resort to "praying" [petitioning to and/or bargaining with God or devas] for these things (Numerical Discourses, Book of Fives, 43).

But he explained, if all it took were prayer, Who would not have them? Who would not pray for them if that's all it took?
Rather than praying, or at least in addition to praying, one would be wise to follow a course of action (karma) that resulted in these things! These things are the result of deeds. Therefore, whoever desires them can obtain them through right intention, right speech, and right actions.

What is "right" (samma)? Action that is ethical, harmonious, and leads to a pleasant result. Why does it lead to such a result? It does. It accords with the truth. You can argue about what "it" is, but whatever it is, then that is called "right." If praying were "right" and effective, there would be no problem calling it so. In fact, purifying one's mind is a form of mental action. It's also a form of prayer. That's right action. There are the Five Precepts:
  • Restraint in terms of not taking life
  • Restraint in terms of not taking what is not given
  • Restraint in terms of not taking liberties with those involved in committed relationships
  • Restraint in terms of not taking liberties with the truth
  • Restraint in terms of not taking intoxicants that result in careless behavior
A simpler way of putting these five ethical forms of conduct would be to say that one avoids all behavior (mental, verbal, or physical) stemming from the Three Unwholesome Roots:
  • Greed
  • Hatred
  • Delusion
An even simpler way of putting all eight of these things is to sum them up in a single word:

  • Ahimsa (harmlessness or non-harming).
Focusing on a loftier ideal -- first seen (or conceived of) and then moved towards -- is a form of meditation (mental cultivation) just as it is a form of prayer.

But what is prayer? Almost everyone today, and this video in particular, thinks it is merely petitioning. But as Gregg Braden points out in The Isaiah Effect: Decoding the Lost Science of Prayer, there are missing modes of prayer. The most powerful of these modes is "praying" by giving thanks and feeling the feelings as if the desired end had already come to pass. This idea was exploited by the movie The Secret and the wave of self-help gurus, books, and seminars hawking a Universe-as-ATM mentality. The movie left out the initial impetus for its "secret," Esther (Abraham) and Jerry Hicks' Ask And It Is Given interviews on the Law of Attraction.

The next wave of sales will come from "The Shift," a movie by author and PBS-staple Wayne Dyer, and the many copycats waiting to jump on a new bandwagon.

Even this form of mental activity is karma (action, deeds, those things willed and carried out either mentally, verbally, or physically). Therefore, it has the potential to work. But it certainly does not work for the asking. If one wishes to live longer, for example, that is obtained by performing deeds that lead to long life: helping others (and oneself), feeding others, promoting the health of others. Then EVEN WITHOUT WISHING IT, it comes to pass that one becomes long-lived here and now (or, more frequently, hereafter because action takes time to ripen).

Karma, then, is much like the "God-idea" in other religious traditions.

However, in Buddhism it is impersonal and unbiased. Even a "bad person" having done a good thing reaps a positive (and pleasant) result. There is, in fact, no such thing as someone who is ALL bad. It may be said that there are people who are all good, but this is only because they became that way (arhats, "enlightened individuals" no longer capable of falling into unethical ways, purposely harming, liable to be reborn in unfortunate destinations).

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