On this half-day course, Kadam Bridget will give an explanation of ‘The Liberating Prayer,’ a short praise to Buddha Shakyamuni. Most of Buddha’s teachings seem so common-sense: you know, ‘happiness is a state of mind’ and ‘be nice: it really does work.’ And then occasionally we come up with something harder to understand, and we might think, ‘But Buddhists don’t pray!’
So, first of all: there are lots of Buddhas. (I know that this is a foreign concept because my spell-checker keeps telling me that ‘Buddhas’ is not a word.) But in fact, it makes a lot of sense – a Buddha is someone who has completed the spiritual path by removing all their imperfections, and Buddha Shakyamuni (the founder of Buddhism) taught that we all have the potential to achieve this. If it’s possible for everyone to become a Buddha, it would be a bit depressing if there was only one! Over the last 2,500 years, lots of people have followed the spiritual path to its completion, so now there are lots of Buddhas. They have all been where we’re at, and know how hard it can be; so they make it their mission to help us achieve happiness too.
Looked at from another point of view, the different Buddhas all represent different aspects of the enlightened mind. The mind of enlightenment, which we aspire to, has many qualities, such as love, compassion, and wisdom. So if I want to emphasize developing compassion, for example, I might make requests to Avalokiteshvara, who is the Buddha of compassion: helping others become more compassionate is his speciality. Or to improve my wisdom, I might try to get to know Prajnaparamita a bit better. Buddha Shakyamuni is the synthesis of all these aspects of enlightenment, so it is very helpful to learn how to tune in to his blessings.
A lot of people are surprised to find that we say prayers in Buddhism. Maybe it’s a bit different to the common conception of prayer: we’re not asking or expecting Buddhas to do things for us. In Buddhism, we accept responsibility for our own happiness or suffering – when we ask Buddhas for help, we’re saying ‘please help me to change my mind; please help me to develop your good qualities so I will be able to take control of my own life.’ Buddhas don’t need or expect our prayers: it’s entirely up to each individual to do what they find beneficial.
So, I don’t know if that made things clearer… it probably just raised more questions. Good! It’s important to question how things work if we’re to find answers that work for us. I think that, like with anything, you have to try it and see.
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