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Thread: Do Zennies Pray?

  1. #1

    Do Zennies Pray?

    I am new to Zen (as is obvious by the question that forms this topic.) To re-introduce myself a bit, my path started with fundamentalist charismatic Christianity, which evolved into new age Christianity, which is evolving into Zen (although I don't yet know whether I will become a full-fledged Buddhist). As I have made this most recent transition, I have been asked this question: Do Zennies pray? I honestly don't know the answer.

    I suppose what I may really be asking is, do Zennies believe in a Higher Power, Supreme Being, Cosmic Couch Potato, or whatever? If so, do you beseech this entity for guidance, answers, healing, better popcorn for tonight's movie, or whatever?

    Some of the Christians with whom I am acquainted (and related) are very concerned about the condition of my "soul," and are afraid that I'm giving up on God-as-they-understand-God, or at least God-as-they-think-I-understand-God. I will say that I no longer deal with the issue of "salvation," "sin," or "Heaven/Hell" in the traditional Christian context, so this is not part of my question. I am also NOT asking if zazen is prayer, or if zennies pray when they sit zazen. That much, at least, I understand. But outside of zazen, outside of sitting, during the rest of life...

    Do Zennies pray?

    Gassho,

    Stephen

  2. #2

    Re: Do Zennies Pray?

    Hello and Gassho,

    To be brief: your whole life is a prayer, your sitting, your walking, your eating, your bathroom use. Every bit of it. The Buddha never specified any higher power, he didn't find it vital to his teaching of the relief of suffering, right here, right now.

    So let your life be a prayer to itself and every other being.

    If others find me incorrect, please speak up. This is just my two cents.

    Taylor

  3. #3
    Treeleaf Unsui Dosho's Avatar
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    Re: Do Zennies Pray?

    Stephen,

    I never really thought of anything I've done or currently do as prayer, so I would have to answer no. Although I was not raised in any particular religous tradition, that does not mean religion was not a well discussed topic growing up. My understanding is that the buddha did not specifically dispute the existence of a higher power, but felt it was not relevant to practice. And when someone argues that worshiping buddha might be considered praying to another God, buddha did not see himself as such so the comparision is not really valid. I think someone who does believe in God might be persuaded that buddhism is a philosophy and thus not sacrilege, but as a buddhist I don't think the line is so simple. However, is it possible that would satisfy your friends and loved ones?

    So, I certainly cannot speak for others and hope that they chime in, but I wouldn't agree with Taylor that life is a prayer. Perhaps it is and I am unwaware of it, but it's probably just that I would just never put it in that context in the first place.

    Hope that helps.

    Gassho,
    Dosho

  4. #4

    Re: Do Zennies Pray?

    Taylor - I was just reading your blog post from Jan. 31 (Myths) and found a beautiful quote: "If God exists, I will chop wood and carry water. If God does not exist, I will chop wood and carry water." That gives me a perspective for my second question, anyway.

    Dosho - I have actually debated the question of whether Buddhists worship Buddha with someone who believes they do. I don't think so, although I've found some stuff on the 'net that alludes to the possibility. However, I agree with you that Buddha never told anybody to do that. (Interestingly, Jesus never actually said that, either.) And while my family & friends may be satisfied with thinking that Buddhism is only a philosophy, the problem is that I don't believe that so I can't endorse that.

    With two votes cast, I'm seeing Buddha 2, Higher Power 0. That certainly helps.

    Thanks, guys.

    Gassho,

    Stephen

  5. #5
    Senior Member Amelia's Avatar
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    Re: Do Zennies Pray?

    Quote Originally Posted by journeywriter
    ...do Zennies believe in a Higher Power, Supreme Being, Cosmic Couch Potato, or whatever? If so, do you beseech this entity for guidance, answers, healing, better popcorn for tonight's movie, or whatever?
    Yes to all of the above, for me.

    Maybe "God" is an oversoul that is all of us at once... maybe it is Tao... the Force... maybe it is the particles we are made of, or something like Chi, Orgone, or Prana... maybe it is a single, intelligent, omnipresent entity-- I don't know! I do know that I feel presence in the sense that I am not living my life all alone; that there is an observer, whether within, outside of me, or both, that is calm, loving, and wise: a Buddha.

    Life means something. We aren't sure what, but it could be as simple as the universe experiencing itself. The fact that we, these tiny specks of stardust, can express love, collect knowledge, and figure out all the things it needs to survive and thrive is a miracle to me. It is even more wonderful, given that I might actually have an afterlife of some sort to look forward to. I feel gratitude, and must direct it somewhere. I thank some grand image of this intricate universe and intelligence (God), and funnily enough, things seem to go my way when I stop and sincerely ask for it.

    I don't know who is listening-- but I feel very listened to when I actually take the time to pay attention. Questions that I hold in my head for a few days will be spontaneously answered, sometimes.

    Quote Originally Posted by journeywriter
    Taylor - I was just reading your blog post from Jan. 31 (Myths) and found a beautiful quote: "If God exists, I will chop wood and carry water. If God does not exist, I will chop wood and carry water."
    I love this. I am often reminding myself, "Before enlightenment, wash the dishes. After enlightenment, wash the dishes." I think it is my favorite.

  6. #6
    Treeleaf Unsui Dosho's Avatar
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    Re: Do Zennies Pray?

    Quote Originally Posted by Amelia
    Life means something.
    I would tend to agree with you Amelia, but I think being a buddhist requires us to also consider that life may have no meaning at all. As I say, I don't think the buddha thought contemplating it in the first place was relevant to our practice, but I do think you have to consider both or neither one. To believe life must mean something is to cling to an idea that we cannot let go of...and that is suffering.

  7. #7

    Do Zennies Pray?

    Quote Originally Posted by journeywriter
    I suppose what I may really be asking is, do Zennies believe in a Higher Power, Supreme Being, Cosmic Couch Potato, or whatever? If so, do you beseech this entity for guidance, answers, healing, better popcorn for tonight's movie, or whatever?
    There really is no zen without buddhism. Everything is, according to the Buddha, subject to the law of action and consequence (karma-vipaka). Even the gods, if they exist, would thus be subject to this law. Nobody is standing outside of this, all is one.

    In the end, we must wake up. Nobody can do this for us. Not even gods.

  8. #8

    Re: Do Zennies Pray?

    Quote Originally Posted by journeywriter

    Do Zennies pray?

    Gassho,

    Stephen
    Hi Stephen,

    As you can see from some of the responses, this is a bit "in the eye of the beholder" for each practitioner. Some Buddhists (Zen Buddhists included) surely pray to Buddha, Kannon or the like for special favors or assistance in times of trouble. Some of our Christian Zennies might combine Zazen with prayer to their experience of God. Others may not.

    Personally, on the subject of prayer, I frequently experience such "winking at heaven" moments ... as when our son was in the hospital last year (or during the recent earthquake) ... calling on any resources available, but simultaneously asking nothing and no favors ... but asking anyway ... a prayer to Buddha, to Kannon, to God, to anyone or any ear who might listen. Maybe, yes, asking for a favor ... but, at heart, expressing a willingness to yield to it all whatever happens. It might not help, it sure couldn't hurt. In any event, the gratitude, acceptance and willingness to yield to all that happens is vitally important.

    And on the subject of Deity and such, you might find some of our "Tackles the Big Questions" series of interest ... Please have a look ...

    viewforum.php?f=24

    I sometimes write something like this ...


    Here is my simplistic view:

    If there is a "God" ... whether in the Judeo-Christian way or some other, whether named "Allah" "Jehovah" "Thor" "Brahma" or "Stanley" ... I will fetch water and chop wood, seeking to live in a gentle way.

    If there is no "God" "Allah" or "Stanley", or any source or creator or point to the universe at all, I will fetch water and chop wood, seeking to live in a gentle way.

    If there is a "God" or "Power" or "Spirit" who has kindly given us life, I will honor that fact by living that life fully and seeking to be a human being who does little harm to others of his/her/its/whatever's creatures and creations.

    And if there is no such "God" or "Power" or "Spirit", I will still live this life fully and seek to do little harm.

    I think that, in our Zen Practice, we do taste a truth that some people may call "God" or "That" or "Thou" or "Buddha" or some such name. It is the sensation that there is some intimate connection to this universe, some profound basis to our being born, some deep beauty behind it all. In fact, we experience that this Reality, and all creatures, are just who we are ... that we are just That.

    But my attitude remains much like a newborn infant lying in a crib, not understanding anything beyond the fact that shadows are passing before its eyes. The world contains many mysteries that the infant cannot fathom. Yet somehow we were allowed the wonder of life, and something in this world provides the sun and air and nutriment and drink we need to survive. Here we are, and some wonderful cause(s) let us be so!

    If it is just the world, mechanical and unthinking, I express my gratitude to that.

    If it is a "god" or "power" or "consciousness" or something else far beyond our understanding, I express my gratitude to that.

    If someone is a Christian or Muslim or Jew and open to Buddhism, I see no reason that they cannot combine the two smoothly. (It depends on how flexible they are in their own minds about combining the perspectives.) But, you can practice Zen if you are a baseball fan, you can practice Zen if you are a football fan, you can practice if you believe in god, you can practice if you don't, you can practice if one fundamentally drops the whole need for the question.
    Gassho, Jundo

  9. #9
    Treeleaf Unsui Shokai's Avatar
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    Re: Do Zennies Pray?

    Jundo-oso wrote:

    Yet somehow we were allowed the wonder of life, and something in this world provides the sun and air and nutriment and drink we need to survive. Here we are, and some wonderful cause(s) let us be so!
    Personally, I believe the greatest gift/talent is the ability to love ourselves and share that love with others. If you feel grateful for that and want to express it somehow; to some one. Then perhaps you should have a Stanley, Brian or even Shirley waiting in the wings. I suppose it is a great comfort to some to think there is an afterlife and that someone is doing the housekeeping.

    However, I only have this one life experience to refer to, which I was introduced to by my mother. As far back as I can remember, at bedtime we'd kneel and say,
    "Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep. If I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take. God bless {followed by a list of people you know or are related to.} "
    And, as a kid, that's very comforting, warm, fuzzy; makes you feel safe. Is it real? Is it true? Is it fair?
    Who said life was fair; Stanley, Shirley, Brian?

    I guess the point that I am thankful for is that the dying thing was always on the table. And, if you re-read that little prayer you see that it includes everything that's needed to satisfy a zen practitioner. There is a world where I can assert my will. There is a world that I shall leave. There is a time where I should sleep. There is a world where i can share. And, I am very comfortable with that.

  10. #10

    Re: Do Zennies Pray?

    I agree with what Taylor wrote!

    For me personally, I do not pray to ask for things(although Like Jundo mentioned the occasional wink at the sky does happen when things go...astray) but for me when I do my practice or if I do bowing practice, I am not praying or worshiping the Buddha. Instead I am recognizing that I too have that very same potential for Buddhhood in me. What I am doing is trying to remember that when I look at an image of a Buddha, it is the same thing as looking at a mirror. I see myself smiling back at me.

    Gassho

    Seiryu

  11. #11

    Re: Do Zennies Pray?

    Quote Originally Posted by journeywriter
    which is evolving into Zen (although I don't yet know whether I will become a full-fledged Buddhist).
    I wouldn't worry so much about "becomming Buddhist" so much as focusing on becomming who you are and seeing if that lines up with Buddhism.

    Quote Originally Posted by journeywriter
    I suppose what I may really be asking is, do Zennies believe in a Higher Power, Supreme Being, Cosmic Couch Potato, or whatever? If so, do you beseech this entity for guidance, answers, healing, better popcorn for tonight's movie, or whatever?
    That's pretty individual. The religion (for yes, it is a religion, though not in the traditional sense) does not mandate that there be devotion to one archetypical Godhead over another, there is no dogma to support the claim of divinity of anyone in Buddhist traditions. They way I feel about this, and I don't know if it's already been said or not because I speed read through some of the replies here (not very mindful of me ops: ) is that I do believe that there is something that started the whole process of life. Things fit together too perfectly and too systematically for it to have all been pure chance with no plan whatsoever. However, what or who or how this Source or One or God or Supreme Being or Flying Spaghetti Monster actually is, I feel is probably well beyond my comprehension. I doubt I could actually conceive of what it might truly be, and I feel that to assume that I can pigeon hole God into my concept of God is a tad.......presumptuous.

    So, I suppose, the best thing I can do is be thankful that whatever did whatever it did to make this world and me. Instead of wondering over the nature of God, I will be content to simply believe that something created everything, and the best way to be thankful is to live this life in the best manner that I can, truly living to my fullest potential and to be of benefit to as many other of its creations as I can. As for asking for boons or benefits from this supreme being, I don't even know if my poor voice would be heard, much less seeing my way clear to asking for something when so many need so much more than I do. Plus, that won't make things change, at least that's not my experience of things, I can ask all I want but things will still be as they are regardless, so I will experience them and work with them and "deal" with them on this plane of existence. Guidance we take from the life of Shakyamuni and the words of our ancestors, Joshu, Dogen, Bhodidharma etc. The best sermon is that which one lives not that which one speaks.

  12. #12
    Blue Mountain White Clouds Hermitage Priest Taigu's Avatar
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    Re: Do Zennies Pray?

    Very inspiring to read your prose, guys...


    Praying is...being in the presence of. No asking, no begging.

    Praying is seeing Kannon in every single human being and just be in the presence of this. Seeing Kannon in the ten thousand activities , brushing teeth, taking the garbage out, working, eating etc.

    Praying is doing what needs to be done.

    Myoken's direction is great.
    Praying is taking action !

    Praying is also non-doing ( very different from not doing)

    Praying is this life as it is and living in carefreeness.

    Praying is to leave Heaven and Hell for what they are, toys and pictures.

    Praying is to form a Buddha of flesh and blood in this life without minding about the next one.

    gassho

    Taigu

  13. #13
    Treeleaf Unsui Kyrillos's Avatar
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    Re: Do Zennies Pray?

    How would one who is Christian and also practises Zen...pray, or not pray? Well how does one dance?
    Sometimes one dances alone in the secret quiet of their own room, at other times with wild abandon on the beach in the face of a storm, or being led around with a firm grip by a master dancer, or at the equally stern baton beat of the dance master. However one may dance, one can still dance; and it is the dancing that is important not the when or how or with whom.

    Gassho,

    Seishin Kyrill

  14. #14

    Re: Do Zennies Pray?

    I really appreciate all the responses and perspectives. Thanks to everyone!

    So, to recap...

    We pray/not-praying

    There is an entity/not-entity

    We are God/not-God (or Buddha/not-Buddha)

    Whatever else is true or real, we SIT

    Am I getting it?


    Gassho,

    Stephen

  15. #15
    Senior Member Hogo's Avatar
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    Re: Do Zennies Pray?

    Excellent post. Thanks to all for your words.
    I used to spend great effort on where we came from, and why are we here, and is there anyone to pray to? Sometimes to the point of anxiety, now I tend to go along with the saying, fetch water, choop wood, That was one of the most brilliant things I had ever heard. of course me being who I am some days I fetch wood, and chop water. Just to keep things interesting.
    Gassho~ Hogo.

  16. #16
    Treeleaf Unsui Yugen's Avatar
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    Re: Do Zennies Pray?

    Stephen,
    Thich Nhat Hanh has an absolutely wonderful book - The Energy of Prayer - How to Deepen Your Spiritual Practice - his work is wonderful and I found this book very helpful in answering my own questions regarding prayer. So for me the question is not whom do I pray to, or what do I pray for; rather it is "what do I pray about and what am I going to do about it?"

    TNH's writing was very helpful to me in making the journey from my Greek Orthodox heritage over to a Zen Buddhist practice. My own background and culture is very Orthodox and he helped me set in perspective many of the same questions you are asking.

    I pray - all the time. I do not absolve myself of any responsibility for my actions or taking action itself. I do not hand things over to another being, deity, or concept. Prayer helps me achieve clarity and develop the power of intention. It is a mind rehearsal for positive action and behavior.

    By the way - I love Nishida Kitaro's definition of God: "the spirit of unity at the center of the universe." And as others who are wiser than I have said here, "if there is a God I chop wood and carry water. If there is no God I chop wood and carry water..."

    Gassho,
    Yugen

  17. #17

    Re: Do Zennies Pray?

    Stephen, I think many of the posters have summed up well that you can do both without contradiction. I know many priest and pastors who practice zen. In Korea the Passionist priests of the catholic church used to come in meditate with us. I would recommend reading books by Fr. Bede Griffiths or Thich Nhat Hanh's book Living Buddha living Christ. I think the biggest problem you may face is that your friends may be taking a Fundamentalist view of Christianity which can be hard to explain the nuances of non-duality. I had a Baptist minister come up to me in my buddhist robes in Korea and ridiculed me for idolatry and he couldn't understand that bowing to the buddha was not about worship but an understanding of the inherent Buddha nature and a way of breaking down the ego. My belief in God is best expressed in by these famous Sufi saying, "God I do not love you for want of heaven and I do not love you for fear of hell. I love you for the want of knowing and loving you." " I searched for God in the Mosque and I could not find him. I went to the church and the temple and he was not there. I went north, south, east and west he was nowhere to be seen. I finally looked in my heart and there he was."

  18. #18

    Re: Do Zennies Pray?

    All the posts are so good, but I'm still compelled to respond.

    Damn, this reminds me of the question that Spock is asked in Star Trek IV. He breezes through logic and science and then is asked, "How do you feel?"

    In any case, I say the Lord's Prayer every night before going to bed. Zen has helped clarify Christianity to me. I've always sort of had a Zen slant to my outlook in life. I try not to pray with selfish intentions, and I've never been big on theology that preached to do good as a result of some sort of future guarantee for eternal happiness. I think it's critical in this life to find a way to be thankful for what it is we do have now and express that gratitude in a selfless, compassionate way. That is what I think of as practice and prayer, as some have called it, to me.

    The main reason I see no conflict with Christianity and Buddhism is that Buddha was not God. He was a human, albeit a highly realized individual. But nevertheless, the practice is not some mythical, magical thing. It's available to all of us.

    It shows how to appreciate life, it transforms life so that it is nothing but appreciation.

    Soul, no soul, heaven, no heaven? Does it change who we are? I don't know I say let God worry about Heaven/Hell and the rules of entry, if there are any, and for us to focus on what we have to deal with now.

    And to echo what Heitetsu said, about not worrying about being a Buddhist, I really, really, really like it, and I feel the same way. I used to think, how does a Zen person do this, how does a Zen person do that? Who cares? We are not here to be someone else, we need to be ourselves. To me, it's hard to know who that is, but that's the fun of it. If we don't, we're wasting time, and this is all a gift too precious to waste. This is all we have (not that we own it), but why worry about the labels? Just experience now.. Crap, I don't mean that to sound new agey. lol

    Gassho,

    Risho

  19. #19

    Re: Do Zennies Pray?

    Hello friends,

    It is my feeling that there may be a supreme of some sort, but it cannot be limited to one concept. It is the garbage in the dump and the cathedral both. Praying is picking up the trash from the cathedral, putting it in the dump. Every living, breathing moment is a prayer, an offering, to the world. Simply being is praying.

    Metta,

    Saijun

  20. #20
    Senior Member Hoyu's Avatar
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    Re: Do Zennies Pray?

    Hi All,
    One of the things that draws me to Zen Buddhism is that it concerns itself less with such matters and focuses more on the here and now of this lifetime.

    Gassho,
    John

  21. #21
    Treeleaf Unsui Shokai's Avatar
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    Re: Do Zennies Pray?

    Thanks John; Bingo !! :shock:

  22. #22
    Treeleaf Unsui/Engineer Kyonin's Avatar
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    Re: Do Zennies Pray?

    Quote Originally Posted by Dosho
    I think being a buddhist requires us to also consider that life may have no meaning at all. As I say, I don't think the buddha thought contemplating it in the first place was relevant to our practice, but I do think you have to consider both or neither one. To believe life must mean something is to cling to an idea that we cannot let go of...and that is suffering.
    Dosho, I totally agree with you. Humans tend to look up for meanings in everything we do, but what if there is no meaning at all. Personally that's exactly what I think.

    We just live for the day, whithout caring if there is a higher power or not. It's just us and the dharma.

  23. #23
    Treeleaf Unsui/Engineer Kyonin's Avatar
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    Re: Do Zennies Pray?

    Hey Stephen,

    I don't think Buddhists pray in the way the Christian do. We sit, we bow and we dedicate ceremonies to out teachers and to metta. Maybe that would be the equivalent to praying, only we do not think a god is important for our practice.

  24. #24

    Re: Do Zennies Pray?

    Rev. Shohaku Okumura is director of the Soto Zen Buddhism International Center in San Francisco. He says this about the topic of praying:

    Buddhadharma: Reverend Okumura, in the Zen tradition there doesn’t seem to be much
    reference to prayer. Are there practices of prayer, devotion or supplication in Zen?

    Reverend Shohaku Okumura: Many think of Zen in opposition to Shin or Pure Land
    Buddhism. People sometimes think of Zen as a “self power” practice. I think, however, we
    must be very careful about the meaning of “other power” and “self power.” As Dogen Zenji
    said, “To study the Buddha way is to study the self.” But he also said, “To study the self is
    to forget the self.” Dogen called our practice of meditation shikantaza, which means “just
    sitting.” This “just sitting” is actually the way we study the self, but this is also the way we
    forget the self.
    This self is not really the self as an individual, which is separate from others or from other
    power. When we sit, we sit on the ground that is beyond the dichotomy of self and other. In
    that sense, our sitting practice is a prayer to give up the self and to put our entire being on
    the ground of interdependent origination.

    We see ourselves as individuals separate from the other, based on a distorted belief or
    assumption. Then we sit on the cushion and we just sit, with an upright posture and our
    eyes open. We don’t use any visualization or mantra or even counting or watching breaths.
    We merely sit. In that way, the self can give up—we can put more emphasis on reality
    rather than on this fixed individual self. In that sense, this is a prayer. It does not mean that
    the self prays to the other for some benefit, but rather we place our entire being on the
    basis of interdependent origination. That is an essential meaning of prayer in Buddhism.
    Gassho,

    Edward

  25. #25

    Re: Do Zennies Pray?

    Quote Originally Posted by chocobuda
    We just live for the day, whithout caring if there is a higher power or not. It's just us and the dharma.
    Thank you, John, for that lovely explanation by Shohaku Okamura Roshi.

    I just want to comment briefly, though, on this expression by Choco "We just live for the day". That can be a bit misleading, for it may sound as if we just "live for now, and to hell with the future".

    Certainly, as one face of our practice, we can sometimes drop all thoughts of past and future ... present too ... and just live amid the timeless, in the "now now" apart from all dreams of things that may come. However, as another face of a monk's practice ... their is work to be done today, otherwise we all starve tomorrow. If the vegetables are not planted today, they will not grow in the summer. If the roof is not patched on a dry day, we will be soaking wet when the rainy season comes. Heck, even as I drop all thought of "life and death" ... I still buy some life insurance, for I have a child to get through school if I am not around! We must think of tomorrow too.

    So, I often say ...

    If there is a "God" ... whether in the Judeo-Christian way or some other, whether named "Allah" "Jehovah" "Thor" "Brahma" or "Stanley" ... I will fetch water and chop wood, seeking to live in a gentle way, avoiding harm to self and others (not two, by the way).

    If there is no "God" "Allah" or "Stanley", or any source or creator or point to the universe at all, I will fetch water and chop wood, seeking to live in a gentle way, avoiding harm to self and others (not two, by the way).

    I do not know if, in the next life, that "gentle way, avoiding harm" will buy me a ticket to heaven and keep me out of hell ... but I know for a fact that it will go far to do so in this life, today, where I see people create all manner of "heavens and hells" for themselves and those around them by their harmful words, thoughts and acts in this life.

    And if there is a "heaven and hell" in the next life, or other effects of Karma now ... well, my actions now have effects then too, and might be the ticket to heaven or good rebirth.

    In other words, whatever the case ... today, now ... live in a gentle way, avoiding harm to self and others (not two, by the way) ... seeking to avoid harm now and in the future too.

    Gassho, Jundo

  26. #26

    Re: Do Zennies Pray?

    Speaking solely for this one..."mu".

    I could rant and rave for a thousand years or until I got tired, whichever comes first, on "god" and prayer- but today I will abstain. :twisted:

  27. #27
    Senior Member Hoyu's Avatar
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    Re: Do Zennies Pray?

    Thank you, John, for that lovely explanation by Shohaku Okamura Roshi.
    Hi Jundo Sensei,
    Thanks but that was the work of Edward.

    Gassho,
    John

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