Dozens of wizened women and men circled an enormous Buddhist stupa as an act of worship and prayer. I walked in the other way, counterclockwise, so I may see the faces and postures of the worshipers.
These Buddhists moved their lips silently as they recited the traces from mantras. Most, if not all, used prayer beads to assist them preserve observe. A number of carried handheld prayer wheels, whereas the bulk spun the prayer wheels connected to the stupa’s outer partitions.
Close by, a distinct group of Buddhists—Tibetan monks—had been providing prayers in a totally totally different method—monotonously reciting mantras in a room with photos of tantric deities and lamas, also referred to as gurus.
Having grown up in international locations that observe Theravada and Mahayana Buddhism, my expertise observing prayer in a Tibetan Buddhist setting was enlightening—pun meant—and a reminder that prayer practices of Buddhists can’t be generalized.
Prayer and Buddhism
Once we as Christians say the phrase prayer, we frequently consider a dialog now we have publicly or privately with God the place we reward him, thank him, and make supplications.
In different faiths, prayer has a distinct perform and type relying on the faith, tradition, and perception of the worshiper. For some, prayer is extremely ritualistic and strictly managed, whereas for others, prayer could also be casual and spontaneous.
Defining prayer in Buddhism is difficult as a result of the prayer rituals are diverse in observe simply as the basic doctrines and tenets are diverse throughout the totally different Buddhist sects. Buddhism in Thailand seems to be totally different from Buddhism in Nepal. And, Buddhism in Nepal seems to be totally different from Buddhism within the East.
Right here’s a fast overview of the varied Buddhists sects and the way they observe prayer otherwise.
Theravada Buddhism is practiced all through a lot of the mainland of Southeast Asia, particularly in Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, and Sri Lanka. It’s considered the oldest and strictest sect of Buddhism. Theravada Buddhist doctrine, constructed on the 4 Noble Truths, teaches the need of self-dependence within the pursuit of enlightenment, or nirvana.
As a result of the seek for reality is a self-directed pursuit, prayer for adherents of Theravada Buddhism is perhaps greatest described as meditation, quite than supplication to a being of higher energy or authority. Meditation would possibly happen at a temple or a house whereas lighting incense.
Chanting is assumed to arrange the thoughts for meditation. Theravada adherents chant elements of the Pali Canon, a set of Buddhist scriptures. Usually, when chanting or meditating, adherents kneel with their palms collectively and fingers pointing up, after which increase their head after which decrease their head and physique so their forearms contact the bottom. This gesture is used to greet, present gratitude, or make a request. In meditation, it symbolizes veneration and the giving of respect. Theravada Buddhists repeat this 3 times whereas reciting totally different elements of the Pali Canon. Worshipers bow their head to finish the mantra or meditative session.
Buddhist monks typically lead worshipers in chants in temples. Additionally they chant Buddhist scripture in newly devoted properties and companies. Incoming households in my neighborhood have had monks are available to chant blessings and safety over their new properties. I’ve overheard the hum and drone of their chants, and it spurs me to hope for God’s presence to fill my house.
In some Southeast Asian nations, animism has discovered its method into Buddhist beliefs. Many properties in Thailand have small spirit homes, constructed for guardian spirits which might be believed to protect the house or office from evil spirits. Buddhists place meals and drinks contained in the spirit homes and ask for cover.
Adherents of Mahayana Buddhism—practiced all through mainland China, Vietnam, South Korea, and Japan—comprise the biggest sect of Buddhism.
Mahayana Buddhist doctrine additionally focuses upon the 4 Noble Truths. Nonetheless, a minimum of one main distinction exists: Mahayana Buddhist doctrines educate that the world is populated with a number of bodhisattvas. Bodhisattvas are individuals who obtained enlightenment however refused to enter nirvana to allow them to assist others attain enlightenment. Bodhisattva means “those that bestow grace.”
Mahayana Buddhists focus their prayer rituals on supplications to those givers of grace. Worshipers would possibly sit on the bottom, barefoot, and face a statue of Buddha or a Bodhisattva. Many worshipers gentle incense earlier than, throughout, or after their supplication to point out honor to Buddha and bodhisattvas. The smoke from the incense stick symbolizes the burning away of unfavorable private traits in order to purify and cleanse the person.
Mahayana Buddhists additionally observe prostration, each full prostration or half prostration (bowing) whereas making their supplications. The act is assumed to point out gratitude, humility, and reverence. In the middle of these actions, Mahayana Buddhists chant sutras, that are sermons given by Buddha or considered one of his disciples.
Vajrayana and Tibetan Buddhism
Vajrayana Buddhism is a smaller sect and is practiced in Nepal, Bhutan, Mongolia, Tibet, and Interior Mongolia. It focuses extra on the demonic realm and occult-like texts, known as tantras.
You could have heard of Tibetan Buddhism, which includes parts of the Vajrayana and Mahayana sects. Prayer habits in these sects could be extra ritualistic and sturdy.
In Vajrayana Buddhism, some worshipers meditate on tantras or on mandalas—religious, round, and geometric patterns—that they consider will result in out-of-body experiences.
Prayer additionally takes the type of repeating mantras: brief, repetitive prayers that Buddhists consider assist them acquire advantage and transfer them towards changing into an enlightened being. Reciting mantras would possibly occur whereas standing, sitting, or strolling.
In Vajrayana Buddhism, the posture of prayer is commonly considered one of motion. Worshipers use prayer beads to assist them preserve observe of mantras. When reciting them, they circumambulate temples, monasteries, or shrines. Usually when praying, adherents spin prayer wheels. The prayer wheels have the mantra, Om Mani Padme Hum, inscribed on the surface, and spinning them is assumed to launch the ability of the mantra.
Worshipers prostrate themselves earlier than occasions of instructing or meditation. Prostration is believed to rid one’s self of impurities and purify the thoughts, speech, and physique of defilements equivalent to satisfaction.
Devotion to a guru can also be a fixture of Vajrayana Buddhism. Gurus are additionally known as lamas, essentially the most well-known of which is the Dalai Lama in Tibetan Buddhism. Tibetan Buddhists typically prostrate themselves earlier than a lama and pray to him for knowledge and course.
Methods to Pray for Buddhists
At any time when I’ve encountered Buddhists praying, it’s a cue for me to hope too. I pray they may in the future pray to the one one who can hear them: the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.