Do the Buddhas & Bodhisattvas hear us when we pray? What if we feel nothing is happening or changing?

A student writes:

Do the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas hear us when we pray?  What is happening when we feel nothing has changed even though we have prayed so fervently?

Lama Shenpen responds:

It was a question I always asked myself even as a Christian.  It seemed obvious to me that although it sometimes seems some answer comes as a result of our prayers, more often we simply conclude that the problem resolved itself and even forget we prayed and even more often nothing seems to happen at all. So, what to make of that?

What I have concluded is that Since we are inseparable from the Awakened Nature of all the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas and their pranidhanas and adhistana [powerful blessing] pervade the Universe and the hearts of all beings – when we pray there is no way it cannot connect to the mandala of Awakening whether that seems to us to be happening or not.

Like any process that takes time sometimes we don’t see any immediate result even though we are doing everything right and the process is progressing as we wish.  Polishing very tarnished silver is a good example.  Up until the last moment the rubbing shows no effect and then suddenly the same motion of rubbing reveals the shine of the silver. There was no difference between the first rub and the last and yet until he had rubbed enough, the silver – that had always been there – appeared. It doesn’t hold back on us – it is there all the time.

It is only a partial image of course but it at least gives a sense of how help is coming even though it doesn’t seem to be doing anything, what can be done is being done and so all we need is patience.

The story of Asanga praying to Maitreya is a good one in this regard. He prayed and prayed in retreat for Maitreya to appear and even after years of practice it seemed he didn’t come.  He kept giving up and being shown visions of people doing impossibly long tasks such as rubbing a steel bar with a silk cloth every million years until it became the size of a needle.

Finally, when his compassion for a dog and the maggots in its wound overwhelmed him, Maitreya appeared and informed him he had always been there from the start but until his obscurations had worn away he couldn’t see him. His compassion was a sign of his veils being worn away, and also a sign of the power of compassion to remove veils – two sides of the same coin.

So, the most important thing is to not panic however bad it gets.  Simply take each moment as it comes and try to remain calm and not panic. That is already a spiritual accomplishment, even if it is only moments at a time – the process augments over time and repetition.

 So just keep as steady as you can and not expect more of yourself at any one time than you can manage, one small momentary step at a time is sometimes the only way forward.

Don’t panic and don’t give up and trust as much as you can that support and protection is there – Buddhas and Bodhisattvas and your own True Nature are all on your side. However bad it gets, don’t panic. Once you are on the right path just keep going!

Lama Shenpen Hookham

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