Non-Theistic Prayer

Today is the national day of prayer as determined by congress in 1952, so I thought today would be a good day to respond to a blog post by Zeta over at the Devils Notebook. She is taking Frater RO’s excellent courses and is having a bit of trouble with the praying part of the work. In her mind the idea of prayer is connected with begging, grovelling, pleading, and general debasement of self underneath an external deity. I don’t think that she is alone in feeling this way, in fact I used to feel this way myself.

At the end of the post she states that she is going to” scour my library and the internet for anything that can help me understand prayer in a positive light”. To this end I have a few things to add.

I am a Buddhist, and in Vajrayana Buddhism there are a LOT of prayers. The thing is though, that there is no god. Buddhism is a non-theistic religion. There is no first creator or supreme being. So what is up with the prayer then?

Well on one level prayers can be directed to beings that are not a Supreme being. In Buddhism they are directed at Dharmapalas for protection, Buddhas and enlightened beings for blessings, local spirits like Nagas and Shidak for supplication, and most importantly to your own root Gurus who are inseparable from the Buddha. In some cases you are directing prayers at all sentient beings in the universe.

Rather than groveling your prayer might be:

  • Asking for blessings and help attaining enlightenment.
  • Asking intercession in worldly matters
  • Stating aspirations of attainment such as in the Kuntuzangpo Prayer
  • Speaking words that move the mind into a particular mind state or which bring a certain quality to awareness.
  • Spreading spiritual benefit to others.
  • Confessing our shortcomings and seeking to redress them.

Let’s take a look at each of these.

When asking for help attaining enlightenment you are definitely not groveling. You are simply acknowledging that there are beings who have attained what you seek to attain, and you are asking for their help to achieve the same. Gurdjieff once pointed out that it is hard to break out of prison without someone on the outside to assist you. This is the case with prayers like this. You are not begging a being that will always be above you for mercy. You are saying “Hey dude, you are awesome. I am planning on being awesome as well. How about a hand with that?”. Zeta in her post identifies as an LHP practitioner, and in this context the prayers to Set in the Ruby Tablet or many other Satanic Prayers to achieve the kind of remanifestation that is represented fit this bill pretty exactly as well. There is a line in the Hevajra tantra that the only worship appropriate is to become as he is…

Intercession in worldly matters can seem like begging for sure, and maybe it is, but it is really not fundamentally different than asking another person for help. If it is tied to an offering system, as it often is in Buddhism, there is more of an exchange than a one sided service.

The statement of aspiration is a reminder to the self of what you are doing and where you are heading. It is in many ways a prayer to yourself, or at least the you that is at the goal. It is there to keep you on the path.

Words to bring us into certain mind states are just that. They are perhaps prayers that address certain gods or powers, but their primary function is to effect the psyche. Take for example the Litany against fear from Dune. Is it a prayer? It is, it is just not a theistic prayer.

In Buddhism we do a lot of spreading benefit to others. At the end of every session of practice, no matter what it is, we take all the merit we accumulate from that practice and give it away to all sentient beings. People in Nepal wander the streets with malas and prayer wheels praying for the enlightenment of everyone everywhere, and of course, there is the prayers of specific magical action.

Prayers of confession can seem like groveling, especially if you were raised in a particularly oppressive Christian sect or denomination. It is not though. Even without a list of “sins” we all know that we say and do things that keep us from gnosis, from love, from compassion, and from being the people we want to be. Confessing these things is a powerful way of addressing them and starting reparations. Pretending that everything you do is perfect gets you no where.

The last note I wanted to give here is that often, the really debased groveling in much Christian Prayer actually serves a purpose. It is there to lesson the hold of the ego on the spirit, which in turn allows what is underneath that (or, if you like, the spirit of god) to shine through. It is setting aside self grasping at thoughts, so that the REAL self which is inseparable from the divine can manifest. This of course brings us to meditation and contemplation, yet another form of prayer.

In contemplation one enters in Christian terms into union with the divine. In Buddhist terms one rests in the nature of their own mind which is primordial awareness. This is a state beyond formal prayer and beyond the type of topical communication that is the focus of some types of prayer.

Whatever your practice, or even if you don’t practice I hope you have a good day of prayer.

Also a good day of reason for my Atheist friends who are focused on good works today.

No reason not to do both.

 

About Inominandum

Author. Sorcerer. Consultant. I have 30 plus years of experience making magic a reality for myself, my clients, and my students. For a complete background go to www.strategicsorcery.net
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13 Responses to Non-Theistic Prayer

  1. Zorku says:

    Rather than groveling you can ask for blessings, assistance, supernatural intercession, tell them things you want, and draw attention to your flaws-
    so in other words grovel?

    Aid for enlightenment doesn’t really look like what you’ve described. If you ask somebody how to do something that they are good at and they are going to help you then they give you a little guidance and step back out of the picture. If you keep asking them over and over then they stop giving you that kind of help and typically refuse to return to the subject until you’ve gone and tried to do what they said for several weeks (“I already tried that” is taken to be argument if you respond with it very many times.)

    Unless what you’re really doing is asking yourself how to do this then there’s no reason to do it repeatedly, and in fact it’s quite rude to demand their attention over and over again without fairly lengthy breaks to go apply what you got from them. Unless you think your spiritual growth has hit such an exponential growth rate that you’re overcoming the barrier you’re asking about immediately upon praying for it (and then why the hell are you asking for help, just take care of it yourself,) then this is no way to treat other people.

    Buying the help of the not-exactly-divine is in fact groveling. Like giving some noble in a castle some place a gift before you ask him for something. If you asked for a favor and then they asked one back, later on when you could do something useful for them, then I could see this being the case.

    Stating your goals- if it’s really to yourself why not write them in a journal? That way you can go and tangibly look at it both while on the path to who you want to be and when you actually get there. Unless I suppose you die first but Buddhism sort of works on the “you can do this in a single lifetime” approach. If anything writing it down instead of praying it seems like it would show more commitment, instead of hedging your bets by trying to send your next incarnation messages.

    Putting yourself into a particular mental state isn’t so specific that I can tie it into the groveling bit above but if that is your goal then why not just meditate? (I can’t think of any good reason to call meditation a form of prayer.) I can imagine some people are kind of locked into the prayer method for trying to advance themselves spiritually but sticking with that instead of discarding the useless bits is really just a shortcut for those unwilling to rebuild their foundations.

    Spreading belief? Why would you want to? If other people want enlightenment then they can come to the belief on their own. Are you advertising it? Trying to convince them that they want it when they were really satisfied with what they already have? Distracting them from their worldly problems by convincing them to care about a different set of problems?
    To me spreading belief is a lot like having babies. If you want your genes/ideas to last then you’ve got to do it- but should it really be your primary goal? Big difference between the two though. Babies take a big resource investment direction from you until they become productive enough to set out on their own. Believers typically give you a big resource investment until they ascend into some higher form (it’s a few steps removed but assuming you achieve enlightenment you’re eventually going to be getting prayers and sacrifices from the Earth bound lot- so sort of like a fuzzy pyramid scheme I guess.)

    Sin and poor actions- if you want to repair the damage you do then you should go make it up to the people you hurt. You’re a smart person, I’m sure you can come up with suitable ways to deal with the little injustices and if you’ve got any particularly big ones that can’t exactly be undone then you can do what as much as possible (and again, appropriate,) to atone. By all means do admit these things, but admit the to the people you affect instead of some removed third party observing the whole ordeal. THAT is how you deal with this without groveling.
    Of course there are lots of times that you cannot reach all affected parties to do this for them. Maybe then all you can do is admit it to powers greater than us Earthly lot but that shouldn’t be your way of dealing with it when the people involved are available.
    Whether you want to liken it to parents, kings, the legal system, whatever- if you apologize to the sibling/peer you’ve wronged and they accept some appropriate payment for the damage then those greater systems need not become so directly involved in the matter. No, those are there for disputes that cannot be resolved, where the people will not willingly cooperate on the issue. You don’t just go up to a police officer and tell him that you’re remorseful over your actions, slip him a twenty, and then go about your way leaving some other person confused as to how their tail light was broken.

    …and personally I feel that when your intentions and resources cannot mend what you’ve done to someone else then one of the best ways to atone for it is to admit it to yourself, remind yourself, and carry that burden. The other person can’t recover from it so you should put yourself through at least so little guilt. You don’t need to be paralyzed by it, but you should definitely not forget. You might worry about accumulating an unbearable burden if you do this too many times but provided that you make some effort to avoid it you should be able to keep such events to a minimum. Maybe once you ascend to some state with an eternity of memories you can worry about wiping them out but carrying them at least for the length of a human lifespan still seems like the best way to learn from such grievous errors.

  2. To take just one of Zorku’s points:

    Sin and poor actions- if you want to repair the damage you do then you should go make it up to the people you hurt. You’re a smart person, I’m sure you can come up with suitable ways to deal with the little injustices and if you’ve got any particularly big ones that can’t exactly be undone then you can do what as much as possible (and again, appropriate,) to atone. By all means do admit these things, but admit the to the people you affect instead of some removed third party observing the whole ordeal. THAT is how you deal with this without groveling.
    Of course there are lots of times that you cannot reach all affected parties to do this for them. Maybe then all you can do is admit it to powers greater than us Earthly lot but that shouldn’t be your way of dealing with it when the people involved are available.

    It is, of course, better and more effective to make amends with the offended party when possible. But working from the presumption that we’re not all perfect yet (otherwise why be on a path?) sometimes this requires some practice. Such prayers can be that practice.

    Once, when I was learning the Tibetan ngöndro (the tantric preliminaries), one of my classmates asked how the mandala-offering practice—in which imaginary offerings are made to (perhaps equally imaginary) Buddhas tens of thousands of times—could possibly be of any use or value. The formal teaching had noted that this was intended to develop the paramita of dana, or generosity, but the student noted that there was no real generosity involved: all the physical offering substances were kept by the practitioner.

    The teacher responded by pointing out that we all have attachment to material possessions to some degree or another, even if we have refined it down to only being attached to our own physical bodies (and that particular attachment is addressed in the Tibetan system via the cognate practice of chöd). While giving away all of our wealth might generate great merit, that merit would be rapidly destroyed by the regret soon arising from our continued attachment to what we gave away. And so we “practice” being generous, by making imaginary offerings, until the attachment in the mind is gradually weakened to the point where we can be more generous “for real.”

    So it seems to me, similar like that, we can practice being apologetic and making amends in private, or before our gods, while we are slowly working up to being better able to do so for real and in person. Even someone who has that part down pretty well can generally stand to benefit from a little more practice. And that practice can, but need not, be called “prayer.”

    • Zorku says:

      If you want to do it as a preparatory exercise I can see value there but a LOT of people think that if they ask amends from some celestial being that they are then done with the process. It’s important to make it clear that they are not, if you are endorsing it as the trial run before the real thing.

  3. Jerry says:

    Your lesson on Prayer in SS was a real eye opener for me (Bible belt from the deep south) and created alot of flexibility and understanding where dogmatic religious authorities did not.

    Also, understanding prayer in that way helps me to deepen my “Prayer with out Ceasing” 1 Thessalonians 5:17

    Thank you,
    Jerry

  4. Inominandum says:

    Zorku- I wish I had time to answer your points this morning, but I dont. Such is life with kids :-). I will try to get to it tonight.

    There is one thing though.

    When I made my very ill-conceived and incorrect atheist post and picked up a number of new readers, I had figured that some posts that I make for our community (ie: about magic and such) would be responded to from a purely materialist perspective. That perspective is fine and logical. If I did not feel a calling as I do, or have seen some of the things I have, I would hold it myself. Since I cannot instill that feeling or experience I am not interested in the debate over it.

    If this debate drifts towards a “beleiver vs non-beleiver” argument I will shut it down and erase the comments as I mentioned in my last apology for the atheist post. It is not there yet, but I feel like it is headed there pretty quickly so I wanted to put that out there.Arguing the points from a purely Atheist perspective as you have done is fine, but changing it into an atheist vs belief argument is not.

    This also applies to pro-believers that want to make it an argument over the merits of atheism over belief. There are lots of forums for that – this ain’t one.

    • Zorku says:

      I can completely understand that, and I’ve even sort of been playing up to the role as I think about how to bring up points like that. I’ll try and keep myself in check~

  5. Spanish Moss says:

    Generally when I pray, it is about bridging the gap between myself and a divine will, to commune in the presence of the now. Excellent blog.

    Also, I hope you do not mind, but I added your blog to my blogroll.

    Blessings,
    -SM

  6. Frater Benedict says:

    For those of you with Jewish background, this may be interesting:
    http://www.humanistprayer.com/english_site.html

    Perhaps it may be interesting for many others as well.

  7. runeworker says:

    hmmm while I think Zorku has a clear connotation of what he thinks grovel means, I don’t think he has the denotation right.

    According to Miriam-Webster:

    1
    : to creep with the face to the ground : crawl
    2
    a : to lie or creep with the body prostrate in token of subservience or abasement b : to abase oneself
    3
    : to give oneself over to what is base or unworthy

    And since I like to be thorough

    abase:
    1
    archaic : to lower physically
    2
    : to lower in rank, office, prestige, or esteem

    In my experience, generally, one does not need to grovel or abase oneself to ask for assistance, blessings, supernatural intercession, draw attention to your flaws or make requests all the time. Especially depending upon who you are talking to or directing your speech to.

    A funny thing with persistence, eventually it does work. if you are persistent with asking someone for something, again and again and again, yes, at the beginning they may become very irritated and shut you down (if they are say the human being who is very self centered, incosiderate, and lazy) but eventually, given time, even the most stoic, resistant and recalcitrant person will eventually given to a request repeated often enough. But since the example Jason makes is one directed towards a person who is filled with love and enlightenment, so imagine a friend that you consider to be very loving and very enlightened, and see how quickly they respond to a request, and one that is repeatedly constantly. Now imagine them a million times more loving and enlightened, and well, I don’t think they will get annoyed at all, ever, and will quickly come to your assistance each time, no matter how seemingly insignificant.

    Buying the help of the not divine is groveling? you mean like how factory owners buy the help of thier workers? cause I notice factory owners, CEO’s etc… seem to grovel quite a bit. Another example? how about the way a customer enters a store and grovels to the employees to help them? oh wait, no, no groveling there. In the end, the employee gets paid (albeit indirectly from the expenditure of the customer) and the customer gets what they want. But not any groveling.

    you know, it’s funny, people do state their goals in writing, repeatedly. Even in a form of prayer. YOu know Tibetan Prayer Wheels, and prayer flags, those are stated goals, written down, and used to repeat the prayers many, many, many times. Whereas the goal statement of a business, it is written down, and then copied and shared with every employee, and maybe even posted up in a place where the public can see it, perhaps even reduced down to an advertising slogan (Nike: Just Do It) but already that written down affirmation can really prompt people to do whatever, including buying a brand.

    One form of meditation is to repeat a mantra, where you repeat a word or words over and over and over again, with the end goal of course is getting into that state of meditation. So yes, prayer as mantra to get you into a mental state is meditation.

    Not quite sure where you got spreading belief from. I suppose you misread the “spreading benefit to others” as “spreading belief to others” but they are different things. Spreading benefit to others does not mean that they need to believe as you do, but that doesn’t mean that you can pray for the benefit of all people, whether you like them, know them, or agree with them. We can all benefit from benefit. It’s kinda like the idea of paying it forward. Someone does a good deed, and so someone sees it and does a good deed, and that good deed spawns more good deeds and suddenly everyone is doing good deeds. It can work negatively too, but generally when you are trying to spread the benefit, you aren’t wanting to hurt people.

    So, you did someone wrong, and you are trying to go right by them, and make amends. But what about the people you wrong that you didn’t actually do anything to them directly. For example, the person who is still jobless because you got the job and they didn’t? Or the person who came in after you did to get a flu shot, but can’t because you got the last one? Or what about the people who suffer work conditions in third world countries that would never allow to happen in the 1st world, but because they make out clothing for very cheap, so we can buy it at the price that we think is acceptable, but you are never aware of those people and how you hurt them? Or what about the animal you just deprived of a meal, or of a life? You can’t just go back and make amends to them, because you needed those things as well. And carrying around the reminder that you have done all this is also unproductive. But yet, even while you cannot take a physical action, and you really can’t carrying around the internal guilt of having denied something to someone or anything else, you can still express contriteness, and perhaps actually grovel, but it is a grovelling that reminds yourself that you are just as human and limited and mortal as they are, and maybe next time, either in this life or the next, you won’t do those things. Maybe next time you get your shirt mended instead of buying a new one cause it’s “cheap.” Or next time you decide to forego the flu shot because you are young and healthy and it won’t really hurt you badly. And maybe next time, instead of taking the knowing willful action that hurts somebody, you will pass it by and instead do the right thing, because you have recognized the shared humanity between you and another person.

    • Zorku says:

      With the payment issue I see offerings to the enlightened as gifts, not a contractual obligation to exchange goods or services. Are you saying that they do not have the option of rejecting your offerings? Of not giving you whatever you request?
      *The customer service things that store employees do actually sort of is groveling. The employee in many stores is greatly encouraged to kiss the customer’s ass. Both the transparency of being a yes man to them and the desire to maintain some personal respect tend to limit it in certain ways but the foundation of it all really is to ingratiate a customer to them just for the chance that they will offer their patronage via a purchase at that store.

      With the repeated requests for help you do run into a lot of people that won’t take any action of their own other than to just keep asking. With enlightenment I can see it being very easy to phrase questions in the form of “how do I do x” but never really accepting the advice or guidance. This is specifically the greatest part of your nature working against enlightenment after you’ve already set out in search of it.

      Come such a time as the enlightened individual recognizes that you are not just stuck in this trap but that you are also making no grounds toward even recognizing it well enough for the moment to actually apply some of the wisdom they have conveyed to you then a very effective course of action is to withhold further guidance as a sort of ultimatum. This doesn’t need to come from a lack of patience- I frequently choose this sort of option myself when I am in the enlightened position (ever so slightly, I’m not trying to play myself up there. It’s just that some times I have a lot more knowledge and experience with some situation/issue,) but have yet to exhaust even half of my patience for dealing with a stubborn individual. I often see people taking advantage of an advise giver as a way to placate themselves in the face of a problem instead of progressing toward the resolution of the problem- giving them an infinite supply of kind words often makes you somewhat complicit in their actions, and given the recognition of this you simply need some other course of action that you can apply appropriately.

      I did specifically mention cases where you cannot seek personal apology, and even accepted prayer as a decent way of dealing with those. I focused on more atrocious behavior as I thought that the most important objection people might have up to that point, but I recall at least a tip of the hat to these kinds of little problems that echo through society that you can’t keep so much as track down to begin with.
      As for your examples being an excellent employee so that the company will grow and open more positions, and donations to such groups as produce and administer flu shots, are both ways that you can try to at least minimize that scarcity that caused the slights in the first place. You haven’t directly harmed those people so indirectly making amends seems more appropriate than otherwise. I can see why this is still not a complete abrogation of your prior actions but neither is a prayer, and the only thing stopping you from doing both is probably yourself.

  8. Zeta says:

    Jason,

    I just found this today, lol! Thank you, this really does help give me some perspective on Prayer. I have more to day, but I have to run to get ready for work, so I’ll be back later, but I wanted to post a quick thank you even so.

    -Zeta

    Er, as a sidenote, I’m male. Honestly, everyone I’ve ever met online thinks I’m female until I tell them otherwise — I guess I give that ‘vibe’ and, combined with the name I’ve chosen for myself, it must resonate that way. :-P :-)

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