President Obama, In Thailand, Unintentionally Propagates Misnomer About Buddhist Prayer.
…by Anura Guruge
Prayer means many things to many people, and to many it is a very personal and reverential facet of their life. You could tell that the President, always politic even when making a joke, was very careful about how he ‘worded it’ and then referred to it as ‘good vibes’ when talking to journalist. Given that his true faith is often questioned, the last thing the President wanted, so soon after his resounding reelection, was for the ‘birthers‘ to start claiming that he was now a Buddhist! The current pope, Benedict XVI (#266), is definitely not a fan of non-Christain prayer.
We need to tread very carefully when it comes to Buddhism and prayer to avoid unwarranted misconceptions.
It is also important to make a distinction as to the meaning and significance of prayer. To many, prayer involves asking for intervention of some sort, typically in the form of a beneficial favor. In this case, the President, when talking of prayer, was referring to a beneficial outcome in the U.S. Fiscal Cliff talks.
So, this is why you need to be careful when you bring up prayer and Buddhism in the context of ‘I need a favor‘ type prayers.
Simply put in Buddhism per se there is really no one that can really grant anyone, even the President of the U.S., with beneficial favors!
Yes, of course, Buddhist pray. That is beyond doubt or debate. My mother who was a devout Buddhist prayed incessantly and was known for having a never ending supply of Holy Water from Lourdes and Holy Ash from Sai Baba!
Though some will argue, Buddha was not a god, and definitely not ‘God’ with a capital ‘G’. Buddha was very specific about that. Though he was not fond of discussing how we came to be, he was always adamant that he was not ‘God the Creator’. So, Buddha, or Siddhartha Gautama Buddha to be specific, was not God.
The Buddha per his own was to reach the state of ‘Nirvana‘ when he died (over 2,400 years ago). Nirvana is the cessation of existence. So other than his teachings and some relics nothing of the Buddha per se exists. There is definitely no ‘soul’, ‘being’, ‘persona’, ‘spirit’ or ‘essence’ of the Buddha floating around here, there or in heaven. That would be totally against his much beloved noting of ‘Nirvana’. So, this means, that while you obviously can’t stop people doing so, it is kind of futile praying to Siddhartha Gautama Buddha. He by his own claim ceased to exist in any tangible form. So, that is, to me, the most fundamental issue when it comes to Buddhism and prayer. You cannot equate Buddha to the Abrahamic God. You might want to, but it just does not make sense.
Yes, Buddhism does embrace the notion of ‘non-human’ entities called ‘Devas’. Yes, of course, you can pray to them, and Buddhist do. But, per the teachings these Devas have limited powers and are definitely not supposed to grant favors — even if they had the power to do so!
In reality, many Buddhist, my family among them, pray most often to the Hindu gods. Buddha was born an Hindu and the two religions acknowledge each other. All Buddhist temples in Sri Lanka (where I come from) have shrines for two or more Hindu gods. In Sri Lanka it is a seamless, symbiotic relationships. Buddhists pray to the Hindu gods. But, to me there is a distinction. That is not Buddhist prayer. That is Hindu prayer.
Yes, ‘Buddhist prayer’ in the form of a kind of meditation is favored by some. But, that is prayer without asking for something. So it is different; very different to some.
So, I just wanted to make sure that my President was not misleading all.