The Pranidhana for Radical Happiness at the Heart of Love & Compassion Teachings


“At the heart of the teachings on Love and Compassion is a Pranidhana [powerful aspirational prayer] for radical happiness: ‘May all beings be happy!’

It’s very bold isn’t it? One hardly dares even think it, it’s so outrageous – ALL beings, may they ALL BE HAPPY!  It’s a very happy thought isn’t it? Even for a tiny moment. If you don’t ever even wish for it, even think of it, or believe in it, or hope for it, or aspire to it, we’re not ever going to get there are we?

What is a hope, what is a wish, what is an aspiration? What is it? It is something actually, it’s something more real than just a thought. If you’ve managed to actually think it, you realise: ‘oh, I’m thinking something, I’m putting a thought onto something that is actually there, I do actually wish for that, it would bring me tremendous happiness’ – there’s tremendous energy in it.

But we don’t think of it because we don’t dare think of it. We might think ‘oh, beings aren’t happy, they’re miserable, it’s too much, and I can’t do anything about it’ – all this other thinking comes in doesn’t it?

So, the important thing about the Apramanas practice is to really break through that thinking and dare to wish all beings to be happy and free from suffering, because that is actually what you’re wishing for, and you do wish it to be radical happiness, where they’ve realised what is the cause of suffering and what causes happiness, and they’re just abiding by that, so they’re not going to fall back into suffering.

And then if you can establish that happiness, it’s like it’s already there – because it’s there! Where else is it? It’s there, it doesn’t exist in time. So once you’ve established that you can rejoice in it and then all the suffering that you then become aware of, which is what makes the next step so difficult, because you are now really acknowledging the suffering caused by beings not realising their True Nature, the True Nature of happiness, so they are suffering, so there’s almost like a shadow that comes across the joyousness of the Metta [loving kindness practice] of wishing all beings happiness.

Then there’s: ‘oh… the cause of suffering…’ but still daring to make that pranidhana, that wish. There’s some joy in that wish that they be free because, and this is something that is taken as a given and not often mentioned when we’re listening and reading and thinking about Buddhist practice – the power of our wishing has the power of accomplishment within it. That’s what pranidhana means, (Monlam in Tibetan,) means – you make the Monlam/pranidhana, not just because it’s a nice wish it makes me happy, but because wishing and intending is what makes anything happen at all.

So, if I’m actually wishing and intending this for every being, it has within it the power of accomplishment – that is how the happiness of beings is accomplished, by it being wished for. That’s just the nature of the universe. Sometimes we lack that conviction because it’s not built into our DNA like it is in a Buddhist culture, but it’s just the world view if you like – that everything is created by our intention, that’s what Karma is, that’s what pranidhanas are, that’s the power of our Buddha Nature, to be able to intend something and bring it about.

How is it brought about? It’s mysterious because we tend to think in a sort of mechanical way, that one thing leads to another, leads to another, leads to another, and in the end you get a result. But actually that isn’t how things work when you’re practising vipashyana [insight meditation], looking at the True Nature of your experience and reality, you see that isn’t how things are. If things were like one thing knocking into the next thing and the next thing, well, it’s all in time and the past has gone and the future hasn’t come, so how can one influence the other? So it’s not in time, cause and effect doesn’t work in time, which is radical isn’t it?! 

So when I make that wish, it has within it the power of accomplishment already, so in a sense it’s already accomplished. There isn’t ‘future’, time isn’t real, there isn’t any real future, we’ve done it, we’ve made it happen. But you might think, ‘but everyone’s still the same’. Well yes, because their  habits of thought are still the same, but something has entered into the fabric of the universe, if you like, that is going to bring about a change. You might think: ‘isn’t that a contradiction?’ – well it’s already brought about the change. It’s already operating on all the beings. This is what the power of intention and pranidhana is.

So of course, that will change the way you thought and felt about the Apramanas wouldn’t it? If you thought when you wished it, it actually did interpenetrate all beings and is now in the fabric of their being and it will bring about the result of what you’ve wished for.

So, doesn’t that also count for bad wishes? Well, unfortunately it does, that’s why Samsara is so vicious. But the negative wishes are weaker than the positive ones because they are not based in reality – they’re based on a false view of reality. If you’re wishing someone harm, you’ve got a wrong view of who/what they are. Therefore, your wish is not linked to the power of Truth. So it’s not as powerful as a wish or intention that is rooted in the goodness of the Heart Essence of our Being. If it’s not rooted in that and it isn’t connected to true vision of the true nature of reality, it’s weakened. It carries with it the seeds of other wishes, it’s not one-pointed. It’s got contradictory wishes woven into it.

So, when we’re doing the Tonglen [the practice of ‘giving & taking’], the Apramanas or the Metta, we’re linking into that power of intention, that actually has a power in the universe. You could say you can see the knock-on effects of it – the cause and effect, because when you’re looking at the world through the blinkers of our distorted vision (you could say relative reality,) you can sort of see causes and effects, such as ‘I behave better, people respond to me better, therefore I don’t get so angry because people aren’t annoying me much’.

You can see lots of psychological or sociological or ecological reasons for the effect to come through, but actually they are all secondary to the real affect that has already happened when you made that wish, and the more focussed it is, the more in line with Bodhichitta it is, the more powerful it is because the less it’s diluted by weakening factors.”

Lama Shenpen Hookham

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