prayer

Do Buddhists pray?

Woman saluting the Buddha, with a lighted incense stick between her clasped hands

Do Buddhists pray? It certainly looks like it sometimes.

Since Buddhism has no creator God you might assume that the Buddhist tradition has no room for prayer. The Buddha wasn’t a God. So would be the point of praying to him, or of praying at all?

Some forms of Buddhist practice that look like prayer don’t in fact involve the Buddha or any other enlightened figure. When Buddhists are cultivating lovingkindness and they’re repeating phrases like “May all beings be well; May all beings be happy,” they’re not invoking any kind of outside agency. What they’re doing is strengthening their own desire to see beings flourish and be free from suffering. By repeating the thought, and the intention, “May all beings be well; May all beings be happy,” they’re exercising and strengthening the faculty of kindness. So while this may resemble prayer, there isn’t really any petition (asking a deity for benefits) going on.

But depending on what kind of Buddhism you’re looking at, you’ll also see practitioners asking to be reborn in a Pure Land paradise after death, or using mantras to call repetitively on the name of a Buddha or Bodhisattva figure, or even asking one of them for a favor, or giving thanks for a blessing. And Tibetan Buddhism uses prayer flags and prayer wheels. What are all those about?

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When Pure Land Buddhists call upon the saving grace of Amida Buddha in the hope of being reborn in his paradise after death, they’re doing something that to all intents and purposes is a form of prayer. For example here’s one Pure Land prayer: “I single-mindedly take refuge in Amitābha Buddha in the World of Ultimate Bliss. Illuminate me with Your pure light and draw me in with Your loving, kind vows! Thinking only of You, I now call the name of the Tathāgata. For the sake of the Bodhi Way, I supplicate to be reborn in Your Pure Land.”

This isn’t the form of Buddhism I practice, and it doesn’t particularly appeal to me, but it’s not something I want to dismiss or be condescending about, Although it’s tempting for westerners to see these beliefs and practices as superstitious or naive, there is in fact a well-developed “theology” based around Pure Land practice, and it’s based on meditations that the Buddha himself encouraged: namely, Buddhānusati, or “Recollection of the Buddha.” In Buddhānusati we reflect on the qualities of the Buddha, and in doing so we develop an affinity with those qualities, and with enlightenment. And so Buddhānusati helps us move toward becoming enlightened ourselves.

Reciting mantras is a very similar practice. When you hear a Buddhist reciting Om Manipadme Hum, what they’re actually doing is repeating the name of the Bodhisattva of compassion, Avalokiteshvara. One of this figure’s other names was Manipadma (The Lotus-Jewel One). This kind of mantra practice can be very effective even if you don’t believe Avalokiteshvara exists. Mantra works to a large extent by giving the mind a rest from the incessant angry, grasping, and anxious thoughts that plague us in our daily lives. When you’re reciting a mantra you just aren’t able to keep up a negative inner monologue the way you normally might. And again the mantra is a form of Buddhānusati, and can help us to call to mind the qualities of a compassionate presence, and help those qualities manifest in our own minds.

But it’s clear from Tibetan teachings on devotional practice that the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas are not separate from the nature of our own minds. It’s only a slight simplification to say that when you pray to Avalokiteshvara, you are invoking the power of your own potential awakened mind.

Prayer flags and prayer wheels fall somewhere in between lovingkindness practice and mantra. In fact prayer flags and prayer wheels are really “mantra flags” and “mantra wheels,” for the most part, since mantras are prominent on both forms of device. Tibetans believe that as prayer flags flap in the wind, or as a prayer wheel is spun, the blessings of the mantras will spread out on the wind and have a beneficial effect on all beings. Prayer flags and prayer wheels are a kind of “prayer technology.”

It’s hard to say how many westerners believe that prayer flags and prayer wheels work in this way. My guess is that only a small percentage does, and that for most of us prayer flags are a form of spiritual decoration, with mostly symbolic value.

With these various forms of practice going on within Buddhism, it would be hard to claim that there is no prayer in Buddhism. It is possible to point to differences between Buddhist prayer and the prayer of the mainstream theistic traditions, but the similarities are much stronger than the differences.

Nevertheless, sometimes people feel the need to pray, even though prayer strikes them as being a bit silly. My own teacher, when asked about this, advised, “If you feel like praying, then pray, and worry about the theology afterwards.” That’s wise advice.

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Prayer in the face of difficulty…

Ask the friend for love
Ask him again
For I have found that every heart
Will get what it prays for most.
– Hafiz

When offered with presence and sincerity, the practice of prayer can reveal the source of what your heart most deeply longs for—the loving essence of who you are. Perhaps without naming it as prayer, in times of great need and distress you may already spontaneously experience the act of doing so. For instance, you might find yourself saying something like, “Oh please, oh please” as you call out for relief from pain, for someone to take care of you, for help for a loved one, for a way to avoid great loss.

If so, I invite you to investigate your experience of prayer through mindful inquiry, asking yourself questions such as: What is the immediate feeling that gave rise to my prayer? What am I praying for? Whom or what am I praying to? The more aware you become of how you pray spontaneously, the more you might open to a more intentional practice. Below are some guidelines I offer my students for deepening their inquiry:

1. Posture for prayer: You might begin by asking yourself, If I bring my palms together at my heart, do I feel connected with my sincerity and openness? What happens if I close my eyes? If I bow my head? Find out whether these traditional supports for prayer serve you. If they don’t, explore what other positions or gestures feel the most conducive to openheartedness.

2. Arriving: Even when you’re in the thick of very strong emotion, it’s possible and valuable to pause and establish a sense of prayerful presence. After you’ve assumed whatever posture most suits you, allow yourself to come into stillness, then take a few long and full breaths to collect your attention. After a while, as your breath resumes its natural rhythm, take some moments to relax any obvious tension in your body. Feel yourself here, now, with the intention to pray.

3. Listening: With the intention of fully contacting your felt experience, bring a listening attention to your heart, and to whatever in your life feels most difficult right now. It might be a recent or impending loss, or a situation that summons hurt, confusion, doubt, or fear. As if watching a movie, focus on the frame of the film that’s most emotionally painful. Be aware of the felt sense in your body—in your throat, chest, belly, and elsewhere. Where are your feelings the strongest? Take your time, allowing yourself to fully contact your vulnerability and pain.

You might even imagine that you could inhabit the most vulnerable place within you, feeling it intimately from the inside. If it could express itself, what would it communicate? Buried inside the pain, what does this part of you want or need most? Is it to be seen and understood? Loved? Accepted? Safe? Is your longing directed toward a certain person or spiritual figure? Do you long to be held by your mother? Recognized and approved of by your father? Healed or protected by God? Whatever the need, let yourself listen to it, feel it, and open to its intensity.

4. Expressing Your Prayer: With a silent or whispered prayer, call out for the love, understanding, protection, or acceptance you long for. You might find yourself saying, “Please, may I be better, kinder, and more worthy.” Or you might direct your prayer to another person or being: “Daddy, please don’t leave me.” “Mommy, please help me.” “God, take care of my daughter, please, please, let her be okay.” You might feel separate from someone and call out his or her name, saying, “Please love me, please love me.” You might long for your heart to awaken and call out to the bodhisattva of compassion (Kwan-yin), “Please, may this heart open and be free.”

As you express your prayer in words, while staying in direct contact with your vulnerability and felt sense of longing, your prayer will continue to deepen. Say your prayer several times with all the sincerity of your heart. Find out what happens if you give yourself totally to feeling and expressing your longing.

5. Embodying Prayer: Often our particular want or longing isn’t the full expression of what we actually desire. Similarly, the object of our longing, the person we call on for love or protection, may not offer what we truly need. Rather, these are portals to a deeper experience, an opening to a deeper source.

True Refuge, published Jan 2013. Available at Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk.

True Refuge, published Jan 2013. Available at Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk.

As you feel your wants and longing, ask yourself, “What is the experience I yearn for? If I got what I wanted, what would it feel like?”

Use you imagination to find out. If you want a particular person to love you, visualize that person hugging you and looking at you with unconditional love. Then, let go of any image of that person and feel inwardly that you are being bathed in love. If you want to feel safe, imagine that you are entirely surrounded by a protective presence, and really feel that peace and ease filling your every cell. Whatever you’re longing for, explore what it would be like to experience its pure essence as a felt sense in your body, heart, and mind. Finally, discover what happens when you surrender into this experience, when you become the love or peace that you’re longing for.

6. Throughout the Day: While your formal exploration of prayer can create the grounds for weaving shorter prayers into your life, remembering to pray in the midst of daily activities can help you become aligned with the kindness and wisdom of your heart. Here are some suggestions:

  • At the beginning of the day, set your intention by asking yourself, What situations, emotions, or reactions might be a signal to pray?
  • Before praying, take a moment to pause, breathe, and relax. While it is helpful to become still, there’s no need to assume a particular posture.
  • Pay attention to your body and heart, contacting the felt sense of your emotions. What are you most longing for? What most matters in this moment, and in your life, to open to—to feel and trust?
  • Mentally whisper your prayer. The words might come spontaneously, or you might express a prayer you’ve already discovered that’s alive and meaningful to you.

Adapted from True Refuge (January 2013)

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Study shows how prayer, meditation affect brain activity

Katie Harmer, Deseret News: How do prayer and meditation affect brain activity? Dr. Andrew Newberg, MD, is the Director of Research at the Myrna Brind Center for Integrative Medicine at Thomson Jefferson University Hospital and Medical College, and he has studied the neuroscientific effect of religious and spiritual experiences for decades.

In a video that recently aired on “Through the Wormhole” narrated by Morgan Freeman on the TV channel Science, Dr. Newberg explains that to study the effect of meditation and prayer on the brain, he injects his subjects with a harmless radioactive dye while they are deep in prayer / meditation. The dye migrates to the parts of the brain where the blood flow is the strongest, i.e,. to the most active part of the brain.

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How does the Michigan basketball team get its mind right? By meditating

wildmind meditation news

The Michigan basketball team has battled its share of shooting slumps this season.

Consider:

  • Sophomore guard Tim Hardaway Jr. has made 13 of his last 47 shots (27.7 percent).
  • Junior guard Matt Vogrich’s shooting percentage of 37.0 is the lowest of his career.
  • Sophomore forward Evan Smotrycz went 4-for-25 in a four-game stretch in January.

Michigan coach John Beilein’s best solution for each slump has been continued repetition, forcing each player to shoot his way out of a funk. His secondary solution?

That’d be meditation.

“We (meditate) throughout the year, and we try to teach them some things about how to relax,” Beilein said Friday “A lot of athletes use it, and it’s important if they’re going to see themselves in positive (situations).”

Beilein says meditation allows each player to visualize themselves having success, whether that be a 3-point shooting slump, a free-throw funk or any other challenging situation in life.

Which is why he practices meditation as well.

“There’s a lot of ways to meditate. You can meditate through prayer and all sorts (of different ways),” he said….

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Prayer versus meditation? They’re more alike than we realize

Black woman with hands held in gesture of prayer or meditation

Doug Todd (Vancouver Sun): You could call it a religious war of words, with the West Coast serving as one of its most intense battlegrounds.

The bid to win hearts and minds pits Buddhist meditation against Christian prayer, with meditation, especially so-called “mindfulness,” seeming to be gaining ground.

It’s been the focus of more than 60 recent scholarly studies. It’s being embraced by hundreds of psychotherapists, who increasingly offer Buddhist mindfulness to clients dealing with depression and anxiety. It’s been on the cover of Time magazine.

Even though polls show there are 10 times more Christians in the Pacific Northwest than Buddhists, the forms of meditation associated with those on the opposite side of the Pacific Ocean are rising to the fore in North America. Buddhist meditators, who tend to think of themselves as “spiritual but not religious,” claim what they do is not “religious.” That’s part of the appeal of mindfulness. Such medita-tors complain that Christian (as well as Jewish and Muslim) prayer over-emphasizes pleading with, confessing to or praising a God.

But meditation, Western Buddhists maintain, is simply a “practice.” It’s “secular,” with no traditional God, even while it may also be “spiritual.”

It turns out, however, that the gap between Buddhist meditation and Christian prayer might not be so huge. Indeed, some forms seem almost identical.

Still, the many well-educated, well-off Westerners who have been drawn to Buddhism, including famous Vancouver spiritual teacher Eckhart Tolle, have scored some important points when they criticize Christian prayer for being too busy, too noisy and too focused on soliciting otherworldly aid.

Indeed, Rev. Ellen Clark-King, the archdeacon of Christ Church (Anglican) Cathedral in downtown Vancouver, is among many who acknowledge Western Buddhists may have been doing Christians an indirect favour.

She does, however, go out of her way to cite the dangers inherent in claiming one form of spiritual practice is superior. There are many paths to the holy, she points out.

In her new book, The Path to Our Door: Approaches to Christian Spirituality (Continuum), she suggests the popularity of Buddhist meditation has prodded many Christians to re-discover some of the tradition’s less well-known meditative and contemplative methods.

“When considering silence as prayer many people’s first thought is of the Eastern, especially the Buddhist, tradition rather than the Christian,” writes Clark-King.

“Buddhism is seen as the natural home of contemplation while Christian prayer is believed by many to focus almost exclusively on intercession, confession and praise – all three very wordy ways of praying. However, this is to ignore a crucial – and central – component of the Christian spiritual path.”

Why has it taken so long for many Christians to seize on to their tradition’s contemplative practices? Clark-King speculates it is hard for anyone, whether Christian or Buddhist, to face the “emptiness” of solitude, which many equate with loneliness. It takes away our distractions and leaves us with only ourselves and, as she says, God.

SIMILARITIES BETWEEN MEDITATION AND PRAYER

It can be revealing to discover the similarities of Buddhist mindfulness and Christian prayer. The noted Buddhist magazine, The Shambhala Sun, is just one of thousands of sources on mindfulness.

In a how-to article, Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche tells those who want to learn mindfulness to first get into a comfortable position and then note when thoughts arise.

Just monitor your thoughts and feelings without getting stuck on them, teaches Sakyong Mipham. “Say to yourself: ‘That may be a really important issue in my life, but right now is not the time to think about it. Now I’m practising meditation.’”

By labelling one’s “wild” thoughts and feelings, Sakyong Mipham says, mindfulness practitioners begin to recognize the mind’s discursiveness. “We notice that we have been lost in thought, we mentally label it . without judgment.” The ultimate goal, Sakyong Mipham says, is to keep noticing one’s breath, to reach tranquillity.

Even though Clark-King is not arguing that Buddhist mindfulness and Christian prayer are exactly the same, it is fascinating to note how similar her language is to that of Sakyong Mipham when she describes at least two forms of Christian contemplation.

The first form is set out in The Cloud of Unknowing, a classic book writ-ten anonymously in the 14th century, probably by an English monk.

The Cloud of Unknowing calls for a kind of contemplation that requires radical “openness” to a non-controlling God, Clark-King writes. “All that the pray-er does is keep silence as far as is possible, surrendering every thought as soon as it occurs without paying any attention to it whatsoever.”

The prayer style outlined in her book has been developed by 20th-century Cistercian monk Thomas Keating into a popular movement called “centring prayer,” which is closely akin to mindfulness.

The first step of centring prayer involves opening yourself “to whatever it is that you are experiencing,” says Clark-King. The second step is “to welcome the feeling whatever it may be, consciously saying to oneself: ‘Welcome fear, anger, unhappiness.’” The third phase is to let go of the situation and experience, “to stop trying to control it and leave it for God to take care of.”

There are now hundreds of thou-sands of Christians practicing centring prayer and related contemplative techniques across North America, Europe and beyond. The Canadian Christian Meditation Community is a leader in the field. Still, Christian meditation is not yet mainstream in Protestantism or Catholicism.

Clark-King calls contemplation a “passive” form of Christian prayer. She could say the same of mindfulness as well. Contemplation arises out of a stream of Christian practice that is known as “apophatic,” in which no names or images are used for God. God is not asked to do anything in particular.

The Path to Your Door outlines several other “passive” forms of prayer, which focus on self-emptying.

Like many Buddhists, Meister Eck-hart, a noted 13th-century Domini-can monk, taught “detachment” from desires and things. That’s in part why Eckhart Tolle, author of The Power of Now, adapted his name from Meister Eckhart.

All names for God separate people from the divine reality, said Meister Eckhart. The controversial Germanic monk was not afraid to be curt, telling anyone who would listen: “Be silent, and quit flapping your gums about God.”

Many Christian meditators, in addition, are drawn to the teachings of Thomas Merton, a 20th-century Anglo-American monk who engaged in dialogue with Zen Buddhists. Merton saw Zen-like forms of contemplation as the route to authenticity, where we rid ourselves of preconceptions and open up to God, whom many Christians call “the ground of being.”

Fortunately, there are more than a few Western Buddhists who have also figured out that the gap between their practices and those of some Christians is not as big as many assume.

Kate Braid, a Vancouver poet and scholar who practises mindfulness meditation, likes the way that Buddhist author Phillip Moffitt equates Christian “prayer” with Buddhist “intention,” and Buddhist “mindfulness” with Christian “observance.”

Victor Chan, who has brought the Dalai Lama to Vancouver on several occasions, also reminds people that “mindfulness” comes in many every-day forms. It is not mysterious or esoteric.

“You do not have to sit in the lotus position and chant ‘Om’ all the time to practise mindfulness,” Chan says. People in effect practise mindfulness, another word for “paying attention,” whenever they find ways to still their minds and concentrate.

That not only happens through “passive” forms of Christian contemplation, Chan says. People are also being “mindful,” he says, when they are learning how to play tennis, practising the piano, drawing, working on martial arts or memorizing poetry.

In the same vein, Clark-King emphasizes that contemplative prayer, or “observance,” is just one way by which Christians and other spiritual people can connect with the holy.

In addition to her book’s chapter on “passive” practices, titled “Silence,” The Path to Your Door contains many chapters outlining the spiritual benefits to be mined from “kataphatic,” or “active,” disciplines.

Kataphatic spirituality emphasizes words, actions and deeds. It includes artistic creativity, communing with nature, reflecting on sacred poetry, dance and serving the poor, ill or struggling.

THE DOWNSIDE OF CLAIMING SUPERIORITY

Clark-King takes a gentle shot at well-known Christian contemplative and author Cynthia Bourgeault, formerly of B.C., whom Clark-King says acts as if centring prayer is “the pinnacle of all spiritual experience.”

It’s counterproductive, Clark-King says. “This is not helpful. No spiritual practice, however helpful or advanced, is an end in itself; the end is always a closer relationship with God and a greater desire to serve our neighbour.”

I believe the same could be said for claims that Buddhist mindfulness is the finest of all spiritual practices. Or, conversely, that certain forms of Western prayer always trump the ways of the East.

Even though we should never ignore the real distinctions between various religions and spiritual practices, it’s humbling to recognize they often have more in common than we realize.

Original article no longer available

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A Buddhist’s perspective on biblical ways to love

Book of Corinthians

I just read a list of biblical suggestions for ways to show love and I was inspired to write this article including a Buddhist’s perspective of ways to carry out the suggestions on the list.

Ten ways to show people you love them:

  1. Listen without interrupting. (Proverbs 18) – When someone is speaking, the most loving thing we can do is listen. And, if we are really listening, we are not thinking of how to respond or how to get our point across or asking questions or saying anything. We are simply listening to hear and understand what the person is saying. So, the next time you are listening to someone, wait until the person is finished and then respond.
  2. Speak without accusing. (James 1:19) – We all have times with our partners, family members and friends when we disagree, feel disappointed, feel hurt or get angry. When someone accuses us of doing something, we can respond honestly, without blaming or accusing them, by gently speaking from our own experience including: how we felt, what we heard and how we responded. Whenever we accuse or blame someone, they feel defensive and communication is blocked.
  3. Give without sparing. (Proverbs 21:26) – A friend of mine suggested “Always follow through on an impulse of generosity”. I love this idea and put it into practice as often as possible. Yesterday I was selling tote bags and jewelry at a Crafts Fair. A young woman, with two young children, was at a table next to mine. She came to see my jewelry and found a necklace she liked. She told me she would love the necklace but she works at a Child Care Center and cannot wear jewelry to work. She went back to her table where she was selling things her students made so they could take the proceeds and purchase holiday gifts for children who otherwise wouldn’t have them. I put the necklace she liked in a box and gave it to her and told her I would like her to have it. We were both very happy. At the end of the Crafts Fair, she came back to my table with a box, filled with goodies to make a gingerbread house and offered it to me. I accepted her gift and agreed with her when she said “After all, it’s all about creating community.”
  4. Pray without ceasing. (Colossians 1:9) At times in our lives when we feel overwhelmed, uninspired, exhausted or hopeless, the best we can do is to meditate or pray.
  5. Answer without arguing. (Proverbs 17:1) Recently I received an email from a friend (Cindy) who told me she heard from a friend (Janet) who was upset because they had not gotten together for a long time. Janet has a relationship that is on again, off again and Cindy hears from her when the relationship is in the “off again” mode. Janet expects Cindy to be available when Janet wants to get together. Cindy loves Janet but feels Janet takes advantage of their friendship. Cindy wrote to Janet and expressed her feelings. Janet got defensive and argued her case. Cindy refused to enter into an argument and although they didn’t come to an agreement, Cindy left the door open for further communication. When two people argue, it is unlikely they will find a resolution.
  6. Share without pretending. (Ephesians 4:15) Real sharing comes from the heart, without pretense of giving something because it is expected or given with strings attached.
  7. Enjoy without complaint. (Philippians 2:14) Real enjoyment comes when we are wholeheartedly in the present moment. When we have a tendency to find fault with or complain about things, we stop ourselves from enjoying life.
  8. Trust without wavering. (Corinthians 13:7) Many people grow up in situations where they learn not to trust people. This lack of trust can become a habit, a way of protecting ourselves, but it also interferes with closeness with others. When we are aware that we lack trust, it is important to make a resolution to learn to trust again, not blindly, but with wisdom and compassion for ourselves and others.
  9. Forgive without punishing. (Colossians 3:13) People will disappoint us and we will forgive them and when we do, the forgiveness should come without conditions or punishment.
  10. Promise without forgetting. (Proverbs 13:12) It is so important to follow through with our promises so that we are trustworthy and dependable.
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Secular prayer flags

Secular prayer flags made by students at Timberlane High School, New Hampshire

A few days ago I gave a talk at a high school about 40 minutes from my house. Some of the students had made secular “prayer flags,” which had the purpose of expressing their positive thoughts and sending them out into the world.

The prayer flags had been hung where they would brighten up a rather unattractive central courtyard, which now contained a “ger” (Tibetan yurt), designed (I think) in the geometry class. You can just see the ger in the background of the second photograph.

Some of the images were intriguing, and I wish I’d been able to talk more with individual students to discover more about what they were trying to communicate.

Below, you’ll find the text of the address I gave to the students who made these flags.

Secular prayer flag with image of Audrey Hepburn

 

String of secular prayer flags created by high school students in New Hampshire

Good morning.

It’s a pleasure and an honor to be here, and I’d like to thank you for having me. I’m delighted to hear that you’ve been putting your positive thoughts on flags and sending them out into the universe. Of course I don’t believe that your thoughts will literally be sent out on the wind, but I see great significance in what you’re doing.

To print your positive thoughts on fabric you have, of course, to have had a positive thought. And that in itself is a very significant thing to do.

How many people consciously cultivate positive thoughts? I suspect it’s not many. Most of our thinking is “accidental” and most of it is negative.

The world is direly in need of positive thinking. It’s even more in need of compassion and clarity.

The world is very much in need of idealism.

Now to some people the word “idealism” is a slur, an insult. Idealists are seen as being disconnected from reality. They’re seen as dreamers. They’re seen as impractical. They’re seen as naive.

But to me, idealism is a beautiful thing. To have a meaningful life, we have to have goals that go beyond the mere satisfying of our selfish desires.

Of course some idealists are indeed dreamers. Some idealists are impractical, and naive. But the best idealists are practical, grounded, and wise people. I think of Martin Luther King Jr. He was an idealist. He was a dreamer. He had a dream. He dreamt of course of ending racial segregation, and had much success in turning his dream into reality.

But Dr King didn’t stop at just having a dream. He attempted to live his dream. And in doing so he put himself in the way of angry mobs, policemen’s batons, and eventually an assassin’s bullet. And his actions, and those of the many courageous people who stood by him, changed this country for ever.

And lest we forget, in the year before Dr. King’s murder, marriage between black and white people was still illegal in 15 states. At the time of our current president’s birth, in 1961, there were over 20 states in which his parents could not legally be married.

There has been much progress made since those days — our current president is after all a black man — but there is much still to be done. We still need our practical dreamers. We need them more than ever.

King dreamed of ending racial segregation, but he also dreamed of ending poverty, and one of the reasons he opposed the war in Vietnam was because it diverted funds from social welfare projects.

And in the field of poverty we especially need practical dreamers. The number of people living in poverty in the United States is higher now than it was at the time of King’s death. Of course the population of the country is higher too, but the percentage of the population living in poverty was lower at the time of King’s murder than in almost every year since then, and it was lower than it is today. Yes, a greater percent of the US population lives in poverty than in 1968.

And in fact, since the recession of 2008, the poverty rate in the US has been rising dramatically.

Here are the figures for the last three years for which we have figures:

2008 39.8 million
2009 43.6 million
2010 46.2 million

2011 is almost certain to be worse.

The United States now creates more than twice as much wealth per head of population as it did in 1968, the year of Dr. King’s murder. The country is more than twice as wealthy as it was when King campaigned against poverty, and yet there are more people living below the poverty line than in his lifetime.

(In case you’re wondering where all the wealth our country has been creating has gone, roughly 82 percent of all the nation’s gains in wealth between 1983 and 2009 went to the richest 5 percent of households.)

We’ve become a more unequal society since King had his dream of ending poverty.

So on the one hand we have a black president, which I think would have stunned Dr. King in a positive sense. But on the other we have seen the problem of poverty worsen, which I think would have found not only shocking, but incomprehensible.

I mention all this because I think it’s obvious that we need more practical dreamers.

Of course if your dream is simply to be part of the richest 5%, then I wish you well.

I want to say a bit more about so-called “prayer flags.” It’s only in the west that we call these prayer flags. In Tibet, where the tradition originated, they’re called Dar Cho. “Dar” means to increase life, fortune, health and wealth. “Cho” means all beings. They are not intended to send prayers to heaven, but to symbolize the sending of good wishes into the world, much as you have been doing.

But there’s an important aspect of prayer flags that’s often overlooked. They are impermanent. They are hung out in the elements, exposed to harsh sunlight, constantly torn at by the wind, frozen, thawed, and soaked in the rain. The quickly become tattered rags. Eventually, in order to prevent them becoming litter, they are taken down and burned.

The flags — the Dar Cho — return to the elements from which they came.

And this reminds me of two things. The first is to do with the burning of the Dar Cho. Buddhists are fond of burning incense, and besides the fact that incense usually smells nice, it has a symbolic function.

When you light a stick of incense in a meditation room, the smoke doesn’t stay within the room. It drifts out, and circulates around the world. It never stops. It just keeps on going forever.

And the symbolism of this is to do with what goes on in a meditation room. There are many things that people can be doing when they’re sitting there with their eyes closed. But one of the things they do is to cultivate positive thoughts. They cultivate love, and compassion, and kindness, and patience. And here’s where the symbolism comes in. When people cultivate kindness, and compassion, and patience, those qualities don’t stay in the meditation room any more than the incense smoke does. The positive emotion that’s developed has an effect on the world.

We can even measure this. It has in fact been measured by psychologists, not specifically in relation to meditation, but more generally in relation to positive emotion. When a person is emotionally positive, this affects the people they’re in contact with. And they have an effect on those that they in turn are in contact with. And so on.

In fact psychologists have been able to measure the effects of emotionally positive people radiating out to their friend’s friend’s friends. It’s actually measurable. Of course the effect, just like the incense smoke, never stops. It permeates the entire world. But just as you can no longer smell the perfume of the incense once you’re a certain distance away, to the effect of a positive person becomes more dilute as it moves out into the world around them.

This is true for negative emotions as well, by the way. Which is all the more reason that we need to work at bringing more compassion into the world.

So there’s something to think about. The positive thoughts you’ve been cultivating will quite literally affect the entire world.

By cultivating the positive thoughts you’ve printed on these Dar Cho, you’ve become more emotionally positive. And while the writing on these flags will not literally waft on the breeze out into the world, your concerns for the world around you will affect the people you know, and the people those people know, and so on. There is no end to it.

The other thing I wanted to mention about prayer flags is that they symbolize impermanence. Just as they are impermanent, so are we. Prayer flags remind us the unavoidabiity of death. In fact everything we see reminds us of impermanence, although we often don’t want to think about it.

We generally assume that thinking about death is a bummer. That it’ll bring us down. That it’ll depress us.

But that’s not actually the case. Again this has been studied. When we fully accept that we will die, we feel challenged to make something of our lives. There’s a saying, “Very few people on their deathbeds think, I wish I’d spent more time in the office.”

And it’s true. When people are dying, they mostly wish two things. They wish they’d paid more attention to having a joyful life. And they wish they’d loved more. Take it from the dying: love and joy are the two most important things in life.

People who consciously think about death are more likely to embrace life, and to love more.

Just take a minute to picture yourself on your deathbed. If you want to avoid having regrets about how you spent your life, start right now. Think about what kind of life would be the most meaningful for you. Become a practical dreamer.

And take another moment, right now, to look at someone standing next to you. The person standing next to you will die soon. We’ll all die soon. It might not seem like it from your perspective, right now, as teenagers, but again, very few people on their deathbeds think, I wish I hadn’t lived as long.

As you look at the person next to you, aware of the fact that they’ll die soon, you might find your heart opening a little. You might feel a bit more tenderness and respect, and kindness. Try and remember that. And try and remember that in geological time scales, the life of a human being is briefer than the life of a prayer flag is to us.

A human life isn’t a long time, but it’s long enough to make a difference in other human lives.

So in conclusion, I’d encourage you to take away the following thoughts:

  • The world needs practical dreamers. In some ways things have gotten better, but in other ways they’re no better than they were — or are worse — than when your grandparents were your age.
  • Don’t let your thinking be accidental. Consciously think. Consciously cultivate positive thoughts and positive emotions of love and compassion.
  • You can have an effect. In fact you do have an effect. Your inspiration, your idealism, your positive emotions, will change our society for the better. It’s measurable.
  • And lastly, think about the fact that you’re going to die. Think about the fact that everyone you know is going to die. Let an awareness of our impermanence enrich your life. Live so that you’ll have no regrets on your deathbed. Embrace life. Live well. Love well. And leave the world a better place than you found it.
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Flash mob meditates for brighter future

wildmind meditation news

Shreya Banerjee, The Daily Texan: Although many mobs are affiliated with loud noise and violence, a different kind of mob took over the north side of the Long Center for Performing Arts on Wednesday night.

Approximately 150 people gathered to participate in a meditation event held by the group MedMob in conjunction with International Day of Peace.

The participants silently meditated for one hour and then did a sound bath afterwards. The sound bath is an 11-minute interval in which the members chant one word together — with “om” being the most common — as a way to supplement their meditation.

“We spend most of our time hearing bad stories, and it’s nice to spend time with people who haven’t lost hope on a brighter future [and are willing] to stand up peacefully and make a difference in the local and global community,” said Austin resident and participant Elspeth Allcott. “It’s a living affirmation of hope.”

The roots of MedMob began Jan. 28, when 10 members of the yoga community in Austin decided to utilize the sound resonation at the state capitol in order to create a powerful meditation experience. As word spread, the event grew, and 250 Austinites as well as people from seven other cities chose to participate in the February meditation mob events. Over time, approximately 150 cities around the world joined the movement, and group organizers said the number is increasing every month.

“MedMob is an invitation to people of all backgrounds to collectively meditate and pray,” said MedMob co-founder Joshua Adair. “I believe that meditation is natural for humans, and it has been lost to suburbanization.”

MedMob’s current goal is to spread to other countries and host meditation mobs in other languages. MedMob’s Italian operations went from 10 cities to 48 in two weeks, and coordinators are making contacts for meditation mob events in South America and Russia.

“I’m so humbled by how far this has gone,” said UT alumnus Joshua Whisenhunt, MedMob core member.

MedMob aims to have meditation mobs in conspicuous places in order to get people accustomed to the idea of meditation.

“MedMob won’t need to exist in four or five years because through MedMob now, we will already have a world where it is natural for people on streets, parks, grocery stores, et cetera, to sit down and meditate,” said Patrick Kromsli, MedMob co-creator.

MedMob has already begun to have effects on its participants.

“It’s brought me out of myself,” participant Cara Hopkins said. “Even if you don’t talk to anyone here, it’s nice to just to come and sit and know that everyone is meditating.”

Though there is not an official MedMob student organization through the University, MedMob has held meditation mobs on campus. The previous one occurred on the first day of school and included approximately 70 people.

“Students on campus are often disconnected,” said MedMob organizer Jessi Swann, a human development senior. “Medmob has three goals on campus– instill campus unity, inspire future leaders and uplift students. We want to be the model for college campuses around the world.”

The next MedMob event at UT is scheduled from 1 to 2 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 28 on the East Mall.

See an archive of the original article…

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Entrepreneurs more likely to turn to prayer, meditation

Entrepreneurs are significantly more likely to pray several times a day or to meditate, says sociologist Kevin Dougherty, a co-author of the Baylor Religion Survey.

The survey can’t answer whether prayerful, peaceful folks are more likely to take a business risk or whether the stress of a start-up drives folks to their knees or to the lotus position, Dougherty says.

Either way, 34% of entrepreneurs say they frequently look up to the Lord, compared with 27% of non-entrepreneurs. Nearly as many, 32%, say they look inward in meditation while just 22% non-entrepreneurs say they practice any of the eight forms of meditation…

Read the rest of this article…

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Feeling angry? Say a prayer and the wrath fades away

Saying a prayer may help many people feel less angry and behave less aggressively after someone has left them fuming, new research suggests.

A series of studies showed that people who were provoked by insulting comments from a stranger showed less anger and aggression soon afterwards if they prayed for another person in the meantime.

The benefits of prayer identified in this study don’t rely on divine intervention: they probably occur because the act of praying changed the way people think about a negative situation, said Brad Bushman, co-author of the study and professor of communication and psychology at Ohio State University.

“People often turn to prayer when they’re feeling negative emotions, including anger,” he said.

“We found that prayer really can help people cope with their anger, probably by helping them change how they view the events that angered them and helping them take it less personally.”

The power of prayer also didn’t rely on people being particularly religious, or attending church regularly, Bushman emphasized. Results showed prayer helped calm people regardless of their religious affiliation, or how often they attended church services or prayed in daily life.

Bushman noted that the studies didn’t examine whether prayer had any effect on the people who were prayed for. The research focused entirely on those who do the praying.

Bushman said these are the first experimental studies to examine the effects of prayer on anger and aggression. He conducted the research with Ryan Bremner of the University of Michigan and Sander Koole of VU University in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. It appears online in the journal Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin and will be published in a future print edition.

The project involved three separate studies.

In the first study, 53 U.S. college students were told they would be participating in a series of experiments. First, they completed a questionnaire that measured their levels of anger, fatigue, depression, vigor, and tension.

They then wrote an essay about an event that made them feel very angry. Afterwards, they were told the essay would be given to a partner, whom they would never meet, for evaluation.

But, in reality, there was no partner and all the participants received the same negative, anger-inducing evaluation that included the statement: “This is one of the worst essays I have ever read!”

After angering the participants, the researchers had the students participate in another “study” in which they read a newspaper story about a student named Maureen with a rare form of cancer. Participants were asked to imagine how Maureen feels about what happened and how it affected her life.

Then, the participants were randomly assigned to either pray for Maureen for five minutes, or to simply think about her.

Afterwards, the researchers again measured the students’ levels of anger, fatigue, depression, vigor and tension. As expected, self-reported levels of anger were higher among the participants after they were provoked. But those who prayed for Maureen reported being significantly less angry than those who simply thought about her.

Prayer had no effect on the other emotions measured in the study.

Bushman said that in this study, and in the second one, there was no prior requirement that the participants be Christian or even religious. However, nearly all the participants said they were Christian. Only one participant refused to pray and he was not included in the study.

The researchers didn’t ask participants about the content of their prayers or thoughts because they didn’t want them to become suspicious about what the study was about, which might have contaminated the findings, Bushman said.

But the researchers did run several similar pilot studies in which they did ask participants about what they prayed or thought about. In those pilot studies, participants who prayed tended to plead for the target’s well-being. Those who were asked to think about the target of prayers tended to express empathetic thoughts, saying they felt sad about the situation and felt compassion for those who were suffering.

The second study had a similar setup to the first. All the students wrote an essay, but half wrote about a topic that angered them and then received anger-inducing negative feedback, supposedly from their partner. The other half wrote about a neutral subject and received positive feedback, which they thought was from their partner.

Participants were then asked to either pray or think about their partner for five minutes. (They were told this was for a study about how people form impressions about others, and that praying for or thinking about their partner would help them organize the information that they had already received about their partner in order to form a more valid impression.)

Finally, the participants completed a reaction-time task in which they competed with their unseen “partner.”

Afterwards, if participants won, they could blast their partner with noise through headphones, choosing how long and loud the blast would be.

Results showed that students who were provoked acted more aggressively than those who were not provoked – but only if they had been asked to simply think about their partner. Students who prayed for their partner did not act more aggressively than others, even after they had been provoked.

The third study took advantage of previous research that found that angry people tend to attribute events in their lives to the actions of other people, while those who aren’t angry more often attribute events to situations out of their control.

This study was done at a Dutch university, and all participants were required to be Christian because the Netherlands has a large proportion of atheists.

Half the participants were angered (similar to the methods in the first two studies), while the other half were not.

They then spent five minutes praying for or thinking about a person they personally knew who could use some extra help or support.

Finally, they were asked to judge the likelihood of each of 10 life events. Half the events were described as caused by a person (You miss an important flight because of a careless cab driver). Angry people would be expected to think these kinds of events would be more likely.

The other events were described as the result of situational factors (You miss an important flight because of a flat tire).

Results showed that those who simply thought of another person were more likely to hold the anger-related appraisals of situations if they were provoked, compared to those who were not provoked.

But those who prayed were not more likely to hold the anger-related views, regardless of whether they were provoked or not.

“Praying undid the effects of provocation on how people viewed the likelihood of these situations,” Koole said.

While the three studies approached the issue in different ways, they all pointed to the personal benefits of prayer, Bushman said.

“The effects we found in these experiments were quite large, which suggests that prayer may really be an effective way to calm anger and aggression,” he said.

These results would only apply to the typical benevolent prayers that are advocated by most religions, Bushman said. Vengeful or hateful prayers, rather than changing how people view a negative situation, may actually fuel anger and aggression.

“When people are confronting their own anger, they may want to consider the old advice of praying for one’s enemies,” Bremner said.

“It may not benefit their enemies, but it may help them deal with the negative emotions.”

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