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Buddhist praying in light of Thai cave trauma

vinlynvinlyn Colorado...for now Veteran

So because of some newspaper articles about the Thai cave trauma, someone has said to me, "See, you were wrong! Thais do pray".

I wish some of you who find this interesting might critique my response, part of which is below:

"I don't believe that you understand the difference between prayer in an Abrahamic religion, and what "prayer" in the Thai Theravadan religion is.

I'm not going to talk about how Mahayana Buddhists may pray, because I have little experience in Mahayana Buddhism. I'm not going to talk about how Zen Buddhists may pray, because I have no experience in Zen Buddhism. I'm going to talk only about Thai Theravadan Buddhism, because -- to one degree or another -- I've been a Thai Theravadan Buddhist since 1986.

The first thing that I think has to be understood about prayer in Thai Theravadan Buddhism is that there is a difference between what I will call "cultural Buddhism" and "real Buddhism". I have talked directly with Thais and Thai monks and asked them about praying, and they will admit that they pray for a winning lottery ticket, or good luck in selling their fruits and vegetables, or good luck in betting on tonight's muay thai match, or, yes, more serious things. Those same Thai Buddhists will also pray to the spirits who live in the spirit house at the corner of their yard. Or pray to statues of Hindu gods like Ganesha (at Central World Plaza) or Indra (adjacent to Amarian Plaza), or Erawan (adjacent to the Erawan Hotel), or Narayana (adjacent to the Intercontinental Hotel). They probably also have a pendant around their neck with a magic amulet. This is cultural Buddhism which is very mixed up with animism.

A more strict, knowledgeable Thai Theravada Buddhist will be more likely to tell you that you can't pray to Buddha. He's dead. He can't do anything to help you. You have to help yourself. And this is where you get down to what real "prayer" (and I hesitate to call it that, because I don't believe the word is congruent to การอธิษฐาน or any synonyms) in Buddhism is.

In an excellent and concise introduction to Thai Theravadan Buddhist prayers (https://www.lionsroar.com/what-is-prayer-in-buddhism/), here are thoughts on why Thai Buddhists pray from three Buddhist teachers:

  1. Pray to connect with our own compassion.
  2. Pray to understand the self.
  3. Pray to be mindful.

Another good, but brief introduction to Buddhist "prayer" is at https://www.lionsroar.com/do-buddhists-pray/, although it doesn't focus on Theravada Buddhism. But a key point is made: "Buddhists do not bow their heads and talk to the buddhas, but they do a great deal of chanting that might be prayers. They chant vows, aspirations and offerings. If these vows were uttered as promises to a buddha, perhaps these would be instances of prayer. As you will see, our Theravadin panelist is not eager to call vows “prayers,” because he does not believe there is any god listening. A vow is not really a promise to a buddha, for if the vow is violated, no buddha takes offense. If there is any punishment for breaking vows, it comes from one’s own karma rather than an offended deity.

When I go to the Buddhist temple here to be with the monks during their evening chanting and meditation, there are no prayers of the christian variety. The evening ceremony is divided into two sections. The first section is formal chanting. This is always a formal rite, an example of which can be found at Evening Prayers for Buddhists - Tam Wat Yen - Thai - Pali - English | Dharma Thai - Thai Buddhism. There is no time given to personal prayers, because as indicated above, there is no "living Buddha" to pray to who can do anything for you. And immediately after the chanting is silent meditation. If you know very much about real meditation, you know it is not a prayer."

Thoughts?

lobsterShoshinadamcrossleyperson

Comments

  • BunksBunks Australia Veteran

    Any Therevadan Buddhist (who understands the teachings) wouldn't pray to Buddha for help as they understand he is dead and no-one is in control.

    But, as you say, it is common for Thai Buddhists to do this.

    I have a friend in Thailand who told me she was praying for the Buddha to help those boys in the cave before they were found.

    I (perhaps a little insensitively) said he couldn't help them because he was dead.

    She responded by saying she knew that but didn't know who else could help them.

    Turns out there were quite a few brave humans who could... =)

    personShoshin
  • VimalajātiVimalajāti Whitby, Ontario Veteran

    @vinlyn said:
    And this is where you get down to what real "prayer" (and I hesitate to call it that, because I don't believe the word is congruent to การอธิษฐาน or any synonyms) in Buddhism is.

    "การอธิษฐาน", kam à-tít-tăan seems to be a Thai adaption of अधिष्ठान/adhiṣṭhāna.

  • federicafederica seeker of the clear blue sky Its better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to speak out and remove all doubt Moderator

    Well I'm glad that's been cleared up... O.o :D

    Bunks
  • personperson Don't believe everything you think 'Merica! Veteran

    A link between prayer and meditation for me is if I am praying mindfully, following the words and intentions, certain spiritual feelings will be generated. I find it helpful to stay focused on those feelings as long as I can. In a sense allowing them to soak into my mind.

    Bunkspegembara
  • ShoshinShoshin No one in particular Nowhere Special Veteran

    I don't see any of the Buddhist chants or mantras as prayers...I just see them as reminders/notes to self ...

    Bring the reminder note down from mind's shelf and read it out loud to the self

  • vinlynvinlyn Colorado...for now Veteran

    @Shoshin said:
    I don't see any of the Buddhist chants or mantras as prayers...I just see them as reminders/notes to self ...

    Bring the reminder note down from mind's shelf and read it out loud to the self

    That's a great way of thinking of it! Thank you!

    lobsterShoshin
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