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Buddhist chanting and prayer meaning and purpose : By Loden Jinpa on Nov 20, 2007

Buddhism is not just a religion; it is a pragmatic description of life that details our very existence and shows us methods for eliminating the dissatisfactory nature of much of our everyday experiences. The Buddha showed us the true nature of conditioned existence. It can be said the teachings of the Buddha are a set of mind training instructions that lead anyone who diligently practices these trainings to lasting happiness. Not just the happiness found through physical stimuli but, a happiness that is far deeper and meaningful than can be found through ordinary activities, money or fame.

The Buddhist Path
The Buddhist path is rich in history and has many different methods used in training the mind. In fact, the Buddhist canon extends to 84,000 different teachings. All of those 84,000 teachings are presented with one goal in mind, to eliminate suffering at its source so that the conditions that give rise to these dissatisfactory experiences will never return again. The Buddha showed us in his enumeration of the Four Noble Truths; that conditioned life bound by karma and delusion is by nature dissatisfactory - true suffering. That the source of this dissatisfactoriness is a basic belief in a non-existent imaginary - true existence - and that by employing certain methods - true paths - one can permanently eliminate the true source of our problems - delusions such as anger, attachment, pride, jealousy and so forth.

The Buddhist path could be summarized as having two main aspects. The removal of dysfunctional states of mind, such as anger, attachment and ignorance and the development of functional minds such as compassion and wisdom the wisdom knowing the nature of reality.

Why are minds such as anger dysfunctional? Because, although wishing for happiness the mind of anger in fact produces an agitated experience. Often when we get angry we lash out either physically or verbally, thinking this will make things somehow better but, in fact these actions often make things worse. For this reason the mind of anger does not function as we intent and is therefore dysfunctional. In contrast to this the mind of compassion and wisdom are functional because they operate in way that is concordant with our fundamental intentions.

The purpose of prayer in Buddhism
Buddhist Prayer and by extension chanting, as chanting is nothing more than rhythmic vocalization of prayer, are guided meditations used to remind us of the internal knowledge that prayer can render. They are also affirmations, by reciting them with heartfelt devotion the spiritual aspirant is reaffirming their commitment, not to some deity or another person, but to the development of ideal inherent in the prayer. For instance, the purpose of this prayer composed by Shantideva in his famous text Engaging in the Bodhisattva Deeds.

For as long as space endues

and for as long as living beings remain

may I too remain,

to eliminate the suffering of the world

is the generation of compassion and the universal responsibility that is a prerequisite to the development of Bodhichitta. Matireya's Ornament for Clear Realisations defines Bodhichitta as: Bodhichitta means for the sake of others, wishing to achieve complete, perfect enlightenment.

By reciting this prayer the spiritual aspirant is implicitly endorsing compassion and bodhichitta - the mind of enlightenment - and reaffirming their commitment to the development of these minds. All Buddhist art, literature and music has the same intention. Even the folds in a monks robes have symbolic meaning related to the Buddhist path.

So does this mean there is no benefit in praying to the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas? No, there is benefit but, if the Buddha is omniscient and has infinite compassion, they, all Buddhas, are already helping us whether we ask for it or not! By praying to these beings for help and inspiration we are opening ourselves to their influence even more than if we do not pray and, we are also implicitly saying, I think the qualities of the enlightened beings is useful. I would like to have these qualities myself. Therefore I will practice the methods that are the causes of these qualities.

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