The essence of Buddhist Prayers is the fact that our thoughts can directly influence and help the other sentient beings. Buddhist prayers are a way to express good wishes as Buddhism is based on a non-theistic tradition. The word for prayer in Tibetan is ‘Mantra’ meaning an intention that is focused.
The prayer books that Buddhists use as guides are called Sadhanas. ‘Sadhana’ means the method of attainment.
Buddhism is based on a very practical philosophy. Like everything else, Prayers also have a very practical purpose of transforming one’s neutral or negative state into a positive state of being. Prayers aim at increasing the positivities in life including compassion, love and wisdom. In Buddhism, meditation is silently practiced while prayers are chanted aloud.
Buddha advocated absolute peace everywhere be it in the mind, speech or actions. The base of Mahayana Buddhism lies in exercising compassion for all the people who are suffering. It is nothing but a realization that we are all the members of the same family and when one is harmed, everyone is harmed.
The main mantra that has been used in Tibetan prayers since the beginning of the 7th century is Om Manu Padme Hum, the prayer of compassion. This mantra can be chanted with any mala. This mantra had become more of a national slogan and a way of life for Tibetans. It was carved in rocks and pathways across the Himalayas. There are a few rules to be followed while chanting this mantra. For instance, mala should be in the left hand and recitation begins at the first bead which follows the Guru bead.
The feeling which a Buddhist has to carry in his heart during recitation of the Mani Mantra is to liberate us all from the suffering and confusion we all experience in this life.The study of Buddhism and its practice has a wider scope than just plain social awareness. Its main purpose is to benefit us all, which is highlighted by the very popular refuge prayer of Atisha.
In Buddhism, Buddha is regarded as a spiritual teacher and not as the Supreme Being or God. Buddha was the personification of the great wisdom known as ‘Bodhi’.
In Buddhist prayers the lighting of incense, flower offerings and other procedures are symbolisms, that serve as an act of paying homage to the Great Teacher. The ephemeral beauties of flowers that shall soon wither remind the devotee of the withering away of all composite things. Just like a flower withers, the human body shall decay someday. The lights of the candles and lamps chase away the darkness of ignorance with the power of Buddha’s ultimate wisdom. The sweet fragrance of incense acts as a purifier and personifies the cleansing fragrance of Dhamma that penetrates deep into the mind.
Once Buddha while teaching Anathapindika, commented on the use of prayer. According to him, there are five pleasant and agreeable things that are rarely obtained in the world namely beauty, long life, fame, happiness and rebirth in the heavens. But he did not advocate the use of vows or prayer to attain these. A noble disciple who sets his heart on the attainment of these five things should follow the path of life that leads him to longevity instead of merely praying for a long life. Such a path will lead him to either a divine or a human long life.