A wonderful archive video teaching by Lama Shenpen Hookham, given at a meditation and teaching day at The Hermitage of the Awakened Heart in North Wales, in 2014.
Lama Shenpen answers the questions: Do you pray in Buddhism? Who are you praying to? What for? Does it do any good? Does prayer mean you have to believe in something to pray to?
From the video: “Prayer is strongly connected to the idea of (another unpopular word!) ‘Worship’. We talk about worship in Christian tradition, but even the Buddha when he reached enlightenment asked himself, ‘now I’m foremost in the world and I’m the great enlightened Buddha, what shall I worship, who shall I worship?’. That movement, of opening to ‘other’ – it must have been so natural to him that now he was missing it, moaning about being enlightened!! But then he had this quick idea: ‘oh, I can worship the Dharma itself’.
And that gives us a good clue to this sense of this ‘other’ that we’re opening to – it doesn’t have to actually be ‘separate and other’ but there is a movement that we make when relating to ‘other’, which is important because if were not doing that movement – the opening out – then we’ve got some other idea of ‘I’m doing it myself’, ‘it’s me doing my own thing’.
If you let go of that idea then it’s an outward, opening movement of allowing something to come to you. That isn’t a grasping (inward) movement, so it’s a very important movement that even the Buddha is making, that movement and opening out to the Dharma.
We could use the same words, that we’re opening out to the Dharma. In the tradition we tend to talk more about opening out to the Buddha and the teacher because the Dharma is coming to us through the Buddha’s teachings, through the teachers and practitioners who are bringing it to us, so we talk about Buddha, Dharma and Sangha, but fundamentally we’re opening to the Dharma, to our true nature.
So if we feel that’s already too much to ask us to believe in, we can just open to the Dharma, because that would be sufficient to have that other movement. And that would imply the Dharma had a power from its own side. We tend to think that Dharma is the Truth the Buddha realised and the teachings that he gave, but actually the Truth that the Buddha realised wasn’t just a static truth statement, an idea or theory. The Buddha encountered Reality directly, and reality accounts for the whole of everything: for life, for us, everything. It’s alive. So you could say, to make that clear: it’s alive from it’s own side. It’s not alive because we’ve infused it with life. The universe, or reality is alive and we’re part of it.”
Lama Shenpen Hookham