Before I go any further, a question for you all if you have a moment: What is prayer? How does it work? Do you pray and, if so, how do you pray? Please comment in the box below, thank you. I would like to share your wisdom in the next article.
I’ve been wanting to talk about concentration for a while now, and with this week’s events I think now might be as good a time as any. For one thing, we need to get a move on in improving our concentration – the world is unstable because our minds are unstable, and without the ability to stay focused on positivity they will stay that way. We all need peace. As Geshe Kelsang says:
From inner peace comes outer peace.
And inner peace comes from concentration on virtuous objects, such as love and wisdom, which opposes and eventually eradicate our delusions. For if anyone ever doubts the power of our delusions to harm us, we can see right now how the anger, pride, fear, greed, and selfishness in the mind of even just one person can bring about terrible decisions and mad destruction.
As on other occasions when tragedy hits, it is bringing out the worst but also the most noble in people. People are throwing their homes open to fleeing strangers, and some Russian soldiers are apparently making holes in their fuel tanks so they don’t have to fight neighbors they have no desire to fight. Mothers’ love still provides sanity – I watched a moving viral video of a young Russian prisoner of war being comforted by some Ukrainian women, one of whom got his mother on the telephone to tell her he’d be alright. Mothers of captured Russian soldiers have been invited by Ukrainian mothers to come to Kyiv to collect their sons. The truth is that everyone is our mother, child, brother, sister … so when is there ever a possible justification for blowing them up?
Right now much of the world is uniting against authoritarianism and supporting the beleaguered Ukrainians, not unlike that show of unity and love when Covid first hit. I wonder for how many news cycles this common cause will last before we turn on each other again due to our own fear and delusions. I hope we don’t, of course. But our minds and lives and futures are unpredictable because our delusions control us, not the other way around. Hence, concentration.
It is worth remembering that there is no objective geopolitical truth, or indeed any reality outside the mind. We all see things differently depending on our states of mind and karma. Which means that maintaining our focus on love, compassion, and wisdom needs to underly everything we do, however we see the world.
In general, even without Russia invading the Ukraine and talk of mad fingers on the button, we are all still working our way through a very weird time. There wasn’t even a week off between Covid starting to ease off and the threat of World War 3. News about the worst floods ever to hit Australians, 2022 being the year we seriously have to figure out what we are doing with Mother Earth, the growing mental health crisis, and all those women and girls being raped with bayonets in Ethiopia have all been pushed below the headlines by the invasion, but of course are still causing unbearable suffering. Not to mention the billions of animals tortured daily who don’t get mentioned at all. Is there anywhere in our world at the moment where peace reigns and everyone is happy?
Faced with this global instability and weirdness, I feel like we are at a strange sort of crossroads. Humanity is either going to fall down a hole or it’s going to have to walk intentionally through a door – learning to see life in a different way because the old ways are evidently inadequate. It’s our opportunity to get a real sense of what Buddha has been saying all along: that life is weird. Well, he didn’t put it quite like that. He said life is dreamlike, and that life contaminated by delusions is the nature of suffering. Appearances are thrown up from our minds and our karma — changing very quickly, all the time, and not just in this life but in life after life after life.
Sometimes, not so much this week perhaps, we get settled into our relative comfort zones, our comfy corners in samsara, and we lose sight of how strange samsara really is. We adapt to new weird things, and I think we can forget that samsara is, quite frankly, always totally strange. Recently when I’ve been tempted to forget that, I just look around and am reminded that we’re all still wearing masks these days as if that’s normal. From a spiritual point of view, however, weird and frightening happenings are a helpful wake-up call.
Are things going to get less weird? I think probably not, not unless we get less weird. We’re the ones creating the weirdness because our minds are uncontrolled. They’re full of delusions. How do we control our minds, to keep them from going weird on us?
When we’re improving our concentration, we’re also becoming better meditators. We want to become better meditators so that we can control our minds because otherwise our minds are weird. Concentration is going to bring sanity, clarity, peace, fearlessness, and joy into our minds and therefore into our lives—and into our world. We really need it. We need that ability to master our thoughts and control our mind. Otherwise our mind will continue to control us, taking us to all sorts of strange and terrifying places.
How will concentration help us?
The definition of concentration is a mental factor that makes its primary mind remain on its object single-pointedly. ~ How to Understand the Mind
Concentration serves to focus our mind on one object. It is the ability to master our own thoughts. Meditation relies upon concentration and mindfulness to become more and more familiar with positive ways of thinking, being, viewing the world, and so on.
There are many reasons we need to learn how to concentrate. One is because, as Nagarjuna said:
From concentration comes peace.
Basically, we like being happy and not scared. We really do. But how can this happen if our mind is unpeaceful? Therefore, we need a method to make our mind peaceful.
Even when our mind is concentrated on a neutral object, such as the breath, it’s more peaceful. Why? Because we are temporarily overcoming distraction, the definition of which is:
A deluded mental factor that wanders to any object of delusion.
We can’t develop inner peace if our mind is continually distracted because, when our mind is distracted, it is more or less agitated and deluded.
Interestingly enough, if we check in with our own experience, we know this. When our mind is all over the place, jumping from one thing to another, it’s rough, it’s agitated. It’s not clear and still and calm. It’s kind of ruffled up, isn’t it? That tells us that, if we don’t have concentration, our mind is distracted and we’re not as happy or fearless as we could be.
And then there’s the concentration that comes from focusing on positive or virtuous objects—objects such as wisdom or compassion. This concentration brings about deeper and deeper levels of peace. We have to be able to focus on the thoughts we want to think, including love and so on. Otherwise our uncontrolled thoughts make us part of the problem.
In particular, right now we need to be praying. Big time. It is so important. Venerable Geshe Kelsang has said:
Our job is, we pray, we pray for these obstacles to be pacified. We pray for people to pacify their negativity, wrong views, their extreme views, through prayer. Our job to solve these kinds of problems is we pray for everybody to become friends. To have harmony, good relationships, to pacify their wrong views of selfish intention. This is our job. I believe it is the best method to help. ~ New York, 2006.
And for prayers to be powerful, they need to be not just full of compassion but as concentrated as possible. As Shantideva says in Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life:
Buddha, the All Knowing One, has said
That reciting mantras and prayers, and enduring spiritual hardships,
Even for a long time,
Are to no avail if the mind is distracted elsewhere.
Last Sunday Kadampas all around the world engaged in prayers for world peace, beaming out from Manjushri Kadampa Meditation Centre, at Venerable Geshe-la’s suggestion in response to “the dangerous situation now developing in the world”. I sit up and take notice when Geshe-la requests us to pray for a particular situation because it doesn’t happen that often. Here are those prayers, along with a beautiful teaching by Gen-la Dekyong:
In general, Geshe-la has been requesting us to pray for world peace for as long as I can remember. But for years, probably decades, I didn’t fully appreciate the clear and present danger we are all in. (Probably still don’t.) Recent events are giving me pause. Here is some advice he gave us in 2001:
World peace is very important; we cannot ignore this now. Once something happens, it will be too late. This world is now, as you know, very delicate, very fragile, and very sensitive. It is almost as delicate as the life of a single person; the world situation is so delicate. This is because there are so many disagreements. Political leaders are ready to fight; everybody is preparing weapons ready to fight, and are challenging each other. So we religious practitioners need to offer prayers because prayers are very powerful.
Can we all please pray for Putin
At the moment, and correct me if I’m wrong, there are apparently 3 people between us and that nuclear button being pressed – Putin and two generals. Even one nuclear bomb would spell untold disaster for the world, its people, its climate … and of course there wouldn’t be only one.
I remember well Geshe-la’s prayer in response to 9/11:
We pray that the people who die will find a good rebirth and we pray that the world leaders gain wisdom. For those who are suffering, we pray that they are swiftly released from their suffering and receive blessings from the Three Jewels. It is very clear that without compassion and wisdom there is no possibility of being released from this kind of tragedy. We should learn how Dharma is the truth. ~ Geshe Kelsang Gyatso, 9/11/01
We need to pray for Putin’s delusions to subside and his Buddha nature to shine through. With even a little love and wisdom, he may reconsider his actions. If Buddhists, Christians, Muslims, Hindus and any praying person could pray like this, it is going to make a difference. How can it not. How can one man’s delusions be a match for those blessings? Can we please do this? His karma of creating hell on earth is leading him to lifetimes in hell.
So we should pray for world peace. We have had two world wars. If there is a third world war this will almost destroy the world because every country has very powerful weapons, and it is very easy to destroy the world. ~ Venerable Geshe-la in 2001
It would be so powerful if we all focus strongly on his mind every day with all the concentration at our disposal. Our minds are not inherently separate and we can affect others’ minds; it is happening all the time. We can imagine and believe that his very subtle mind, his real Buddha nature, is completely transformed by Buddha’s blessings so that all the thoughts that arise from it are pure and peaceful. Venerable Geshe-la has suggested we pray to Buddha Tara during this war, so I have been imagining his mind being absorbed into and transforming into Tara’s mind.
I find Buddha Vajrapani also to be helpful because his very job is to destroy intractable delusions with his vajra thunderbolt of bliss and emptiness. Whoever we pray to, if a lot of us can focus our prayers on reducing Putin’s delusions and allowing even a smidgeon enough of wisdom and compassion to emerge, something good will happen. Things can shift. This is, after all, hallucination or mistaken appearance, not the truth. Not even what is really happening.
We are 3 possibly crazy people away from nuclear war. That is one main reason why I am focusing on this. I am obviously not saying we shouldn’t also be praying for all world leaders and all living beings. The whole world is involved in this. What I am suggesting is that, especially given the danger the world is in, if we spend at least some time using our concentration on this particular “project”, collectively there is a lot of power in that.
Put another way by a friend:
Zap that man’s mind with some wisdom and compassion before he relies on misguided and myopic states of mind that are going to harm us all unless he wakes up a bit and manages to see past the fog of delusions that are occupying his mind right now. We need to send positivity his way.
Do prayers work?
Yes. As Venerable Geshe Kelsang said in NY in 2006:
We pray for every area to pacify negative attitudes and intentions and for people to experience correct views and correct paths. So through receiving blessings our wishes will be fulfilled. I promise. This is our Buddhist way of helping; this is our Buddhist way of benefiting to solve these kinds of problems. I believe you will solve the world’s problems gradually through these methods.
Our prayers work for three reasons. First is our pure intention. Second, the power of the prayers themselves. Third, the powerful blessings of the holy beings.
And, similarly, he said in 2001:
This is because of our pure motivation, the powerful words of the prayers themselves, and especially at such times enlightened beings will bestow their blessings upon us, our environment and other living beings.
- Our intentions or motivations create our world, as I try to explain a bit here.
Prayers are also known as “wish-paths’” which can also be understood as “intention/motivation-paths”. With prayer, we create pathways in our minds for things to change through the power of our wishes and intentions. We need to have faith that all this mayhem is an appearance to our mind that depends on our intentions or karma. And, as such, our minds, including our prayers, can change it.
- Tara prayers, for example, which Venerable Geshe-la has suggested we turn to, are the words of Buddha himself, Sutra, and are therefore very powerful. As Genla Dekyong put it in the recent Prayers for World Peace:
So the words that we are contemplating the meaning of, are Buddha’s speech, they’re not of this world. There are beyond samsara, from beyond suffering, they are holy words.
- As for the third reason, prayers invoke blessings. I have written something about the transformative power of blessings here. We need a practical paradigm shift to save our world, and prayers will help with this.
As mentioned here, it is good not to underestimate prayer – by tuning into the minds of all enlightened beings, and acting as a conduit between them and those who are suffering, we can bring about enormous change, individually and collectively.
Prayer vs meditation
So I would like to suggest that every center organizes prayers for world peace at any time when local people can gather and pray for world peace. ~ Venerable Geshe-la 2001.
I don’t actually think prayer is separate to meditation – we are tuning into enlightened minds and meditating on compassion, love, wisdom, bliss and emptiness … making strong heartfelt requests for living beings to experience freedom and happiness. We go for refuge with a prayer. We generate bodhichitta with a prayer. We meditate on the four immeasurables with a prayer. We engage in Guru yoga with prayers. And so on.
Would you agree that the moment we tune into enlightened beings in our meditations we are in a state of prayer?
The endless potential for peace
Everyone has Buddha nature, is in fact a future Buddha. An old friend was just saying that he’d been reading the recent articles on Buddha nature, and that we have to be relating to Putin’s. The way I see it, everyone has potentially infinite clear light trying to shine out of them and rays of unconditional love and compassion are constantly escaping, as in the story of the captured soldier above. When delusions develop, it’s like slamming a cold heavy iron door – people now trapped inside the prisons of their own self-grasping and self-cherishing.
Bombarding those defences with hatred and more delusions just makes them feel more real. We need to keep sending light and blessings to seep into the cracks, to join their own inner light, until the doors blow wide open from the inside – those delusion doors are powerful but they are also just faulty thinking and cannot withstand an explosion of wisdom. As a friend just put it, that is where the nuclear explosion actually needs to happen.
We don’t have to wait for results
Fact is, I think concentrated prayers help straight away. Even as I have been writing this, I am sitting next to my tiny frail mother, who is now receiving round the clock care on hospice. My mother is clearly not her failing body or dwindling brain – her real nature is infinite formless awareness that goes from life to life, and which is already connected to the blessings of all enlightened beings. A few days ago, I was concentrating quite firmly on her very subtle mind, invoking the blessings of Guru Tara to purify and transform it and lead it to the Pure Land. Immediately after I arose from meditation she was smiling, a broad smile no one has seen in months. And she was very lucid. The carers were laughing with delight. One of them said “I love you Sally!” to which she replied, with beaming eyes, “I love you too!” She then said “Yes please” when I asked if she would like to listen to the talk and prayers for world peace that Genla Dekyong was leading and, although it is hard to say how much she understood on any gross level, she enjoyed it. She was delightful and cheerful for several hours. The carers said I needed to stay here all the time, they hadn’t seen her like this.
It wasn’t me, though, it was the power of concentration and prayer combined with her own innate potential for enlightenment. We can concentrate from anywhere. Our main job is to pray, as Venerable Geshe-la says. And when that prayer is combined with concentration and compassion, we can help dying people and we can stop wars.
Over to you. Thank you for reading this long article! We are out of time, but I would love to hear more from you on why prayers work, how you pray, and any other helpful responses to what is going on in our world at the moment.
Next installment is here: Our job is to pray.