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.