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In Buddhism, prayer is a practice that is intended to awaken the inherent inner capacities of strength, compassion, and wisdom of the practitioner.

Unlike petitionary prayers that are based on fear, idolization, or worldly gain, Buddhist prayers serve as a form of meditation and inner reconditioning. Rather than asking an external force for favors, Buddhist prayer is about connecting with one's own inner potential.

There are three basic types of Buddhist prayer: Mantras, Sutras, and the visualization of deities.

Mantras are short but powerful phrases or syllables with specific meanings. Repeating a mantra helps to focus the mind, purify negative emotions, and invoke blessings. Besides Buddhism, mantras are also used in Hinduism, Jainism, and Hare Krishna traditions.

The recitation of Sutras is another form of Buddhist prayer. These Sutras contain teachings attributed to the Buddha and other enlightened beings. By reciting the Sutras, practitioners connect with the wisdom and compassion expressed in these texts. Sutras are also practiced in Hinduism and Jainism.

In some Buddhist practices, practitioners visualize enlightened beings, such as Buddhas or bodhisattvas, and aspire to embody their qualities. Visualization serves as a form of prayer, inspiring practitioners to cultivate compassion, patience, and other positive qualities.

Physical gestures, like prostration, are often used in prayer to express reverence and humility. Prostrating to Buddhas, bodhisattvas, or sacred objects symbolizes the Buddhist's respect and desire to follow their example. At other times, silent meditation or contemplation on specific qualities, such as compassion, can be a powerful form of prayer, as it involves turning inward and connecting with the inner potential. Buddhists make offerings of incense, flowers, candles, and other symbolic items, representing the practitioner's generosity and devotion.

Various Buddhist traditions differ somewhat in form and emphasis. In Theravada, prayer often involves reciting Pali scriptures and paying homage to Buddha. Monks and laypeople engage in meditation and chanting. Mahayana Buddhism emphasizes compassion and aspiration to become a bodhisattva. Mahayana devotional practices include chanting sutras, reciting mantras, and visualizing enlightened beings. Zen practitioners focus on direct experience and meditation. Formal prayers are minimal, and silent contemplation is emphasized. Pure Land devotees chant the name of Amitabha Buddha, aspiring to be reborn in his Pure Land. Nichiren Buddhists chant the mantra "Nam-myoho-renge-kyo" as a central practice. Practitioners of Northern Vajrayana (Tibetan Buddhism) tend to engage in elaborate rituals, including mantra recitation, visualization, and offerings. Bon is the indigenous relation of Tibet. Bon prayers involve rituals, offerings, and invocations to spirits and deities.

A Buddhist prayer wheel is installed on a spindle made from metal, wood, stone, leather, or coarse cotton. Prayer wheels are common in Tibet and other areas where Tibetan culture is predominant. Traditionally, a mantra is written in Ranjana or Tibetan script on the outside of the wheel. According to Tibetan Buddhist tradition, spinning a prayer wheel will have much the same meritorious effect as orally reciting the prayers.

Buddhist prayer isn't about asking for external intervention; it's about awakening inner potential and aligning actions with wisdom and compassion.

This portion of our web guide focuses on Buddhist prayer.



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