What Is the Role of Prayer in Buddhism?

The main issue concerning prayer is the question, “Is it possible for someone else to eliminate our sufferings and problems?” Buddha said that nobody can eliminate all of our problems in the same way that one can take a rabbit by the ears and pull it out of a difficult situation. That is impossible. We have to take responsibility ourselves for what happens to us. Therefore, if we wish to create the causes for happiness and to avoid the causes for problems, we need to follow pure morality and ethics. If we want our lives to improve, it is up to us to change our behavior and attitudes in order to affect what will occur in the future.

When we pray in Buddhism, we do not request: “Buddha, please may I have a Mercedes!” No one in the sky can grant it to us. Rather, by praying, we are setting up a strong wish for something to happen. Our attitudes and actions make it happen; but, nevertheless, Buddhas and bodhisattvas can inspire us.

Sometimes, the term for “inspire” is translated as “bless,” but this is a misleading translation. Buddhas and bodhisattvas can inspire us by their examples. They can teach or show us the way, but we have to do it ourselves. As the saying goes, “You can lead a horse to water, but you cannot drink for the horse.” The horse has to drink by itself. Likewise, we need to follow the path ourselves and gain the realizations ourselves that stop our problems. We cannot pass that responsibility onto an external omnipotent being, thinking, “You are all-powerful, you do it for me. I surrender myself into your hands.” Rather, in Buddhism, we look to Buddhas for inspiration to uplift us by their examples. Through their inspiration and their teachings, they help us and guide us. However, we need to develop the potential from our own sides to receive their inspiration. The basic work we have to do ourselves.