Pranidhanas – Buddhism & Prayer

I’ve started a new training course as part of my further training within the Awakened Heart Sangha. I’ve decided to make a deeper commitment to the Sangha by joining the ‘Mahayanagana’. The Mahayanagana is the name for “the inner body of Lama Shenpens students” who have made a commitment to practising under her guidance and wish support her teaching activity by stepping forward and supporting the sangha.

What I love about the sangha is that as well as its core experiential home study courses in meditation and Buddhism, it also provides so many opportunities to train further and deepen your knowledge, practice and experience in other areas. It provides a genuine, authentic lifelong path of study, practise and development.

As I’ve already been helping to support the Sangha by undertaking website and promotional work, and by taking Refuge this year, it feels like a natural step to make that next level of commitment ‘official’!

To become a Mahayanaganian requires three additional training modules: Pranidhanas, Feast Offering and Awakening Dialogue. I started with the course on Pranidhanas which is a Sanskrit word that translates as ‘wishing prayer’.

When I first started studying Buddhism I was really surprised to hear about prayer as part of Buddhist practice, as had always related praying to monotheistic religions. After all, if in Buddhism we don’t believe in a God as creator, who are we praying to and what for?

The Discovering the Heart of Buddhism distance learning course first introduced this multi-faceted topic. The power of prayer is connected to the power of our word. A wishing or aspirational prayer in Buddhism is usually made to ask the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas for help or guidance and for making aspirations for our practice and on our path. The English translation doesn’t do justice to the real meaning of Pranidhana; Lama Shenpen describes it as something ‘much more essential to the path of Awakening’.

So although in Buddhism there isn’t one all powerful creator, (although in Tibetan Buddhism there are gods and god realms within Samsara) there is the power of the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, which is also the power of the Dharma and the power of the Lineage. We’re also taught about Adhistana, which is what this power is sometimes referred to; it’s a powerful blessing that flows from the Buddhas and the Lineage.

So it’s this power we pray to. Ultimately it could be described as the power of Truth. Lama Shenpen describes this (whether calling it the power of Truth, Dharma or the Buddhas) as having a power ‘from its own side’, so it is something powerful we can connect to, but to some extent at first, we may have to have faith in it as a concept.

Making Pranidhanas is an important part of our practice because it’s using the power of our word to link into this power of Truth. It’s also connected to our ‘heart wish’ to awaken for the sake of other beings.

We’re taught we can even wish for fairly ordinary things, as long as we do it in a skilful way, without having any counter-wishes which can cancel out the first wish. For example wishing to win the lottery but also at the same time, maybe even subconsciously, fearing the responsibility and consequences of having such a lot of money, so the two together cancel out. But if our motive is pure, our intention is clear and strong and our action skilful, then we’re taught that these prayers can have the power of a spell!

This description of the power of our word and intention may sound familiar, as it’s the same theory behind the likes of Cosmic Ordering. So it’s been really intriguing and inspiring to learn about this universal Truth from a Buddhist perspective.

Studying the Pranidhana course and making aspirational prayers as part of my daily practice, has been really inspiring, because you can start to get a sense of this ‘other’ power and can be really moved by it. It might take a bit of a leap of faith at first, a bit of imagination and further study to begin with, but the more we practise the more we can to start to gain confidence in it.

By studying the course materials, is becomes apparent that prayer is a very intuitive, instinctive thing for humans. We can almost take for granted the act of wishing or asking for things, and even atheists find themselves doing this, or even actually admitting to praying to ‘whatever’s out there’ when life gets tough. I find this really interesting.

It shows us that somewhere deep within us we can sense there is a powerful Truth, a bigger reality to be discovered; a power that we can tap into and ask for help and guidance, a power not separate from ourselves. Yet our primordial ignorance is so strong we don’t listen to our instincts and try instead to grasp as what we perceive as real and solid in our sensory ‘everyday’ world.

It’s so fascinating to study this topic, I’m really enjoying it and looking forward to learning more!

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