Prayer has been central to my life for as long as I can remember. I was sustained as a Christian by two kinds of prayer—contemplative prayer, in which I would seek a quiet place alone with God, and intercessory prayer, in which I would raise up to God the concerns of family and friends. Now that I am a Buddhist, contemplative prayer has become meditation, seeking a quiet place where I can be fully aware of myself and in touch with my Buddha-nature.
But what about intercessory prayer? Friends and family are still in need; and now, as a Bodhisattva-wannabe, I’ve taken on an additional concern for all beings. Who do I pray to now? Is it praying anymore if I don’t recognize a god who can answer prayers? Should I be offering up my prayers to the universe, to nature, to Buddha? I know the answer to the last one is “no,” I’m just making a rhetorical flourish.
But these are not rhetorical questions, people! I need answers. I feel the need for an outlet for the love, compassion, and concern that I feel for others, both those I know and those I don’t. Right now, I just feel confused and uncertain. When I detect a prayer welling up inside of me, I don’t know what to do with it anymore.
What does it mean now if I pray, “I hope Joe beats the cancer that is making him so ill”? Who is listening? Am I doing him or me any good?