What Lies beyond Prayer
Nichiko Niwano, President of Rissho Kosei-kai
What Is Prayer?
There is an old senryu (a Japanese short poetic form that often depicts human foibles in a humorous or cynical manner) that goes: “With your hands together before the gods and the buddhas, / You ask for a hand to get what you want.” Certainly the people of every era have prayed to the gods and the buddhas to grant their wishes. Today, we also put our hands together and pray for success in term-end school examinations or for an illness to be cured, so there are actually quite a few instances when we pray to the gods and the buddhas.
Founder Nikkyo Niwano told us, “We are apt to think of faith as praying to the gods and the buddhas to be liberated from suffering and to have our wishes fulfilled.” He clearly explained that faith “is not merely praying to the gods and the buddhas, but it is aspiring to lead a life that accords with the truth that is the Buddha Dharma.”
By believing in the Buddha Dharma and making it your own, you will become a buddha yourself or recognize that you are a buddha. Faith in Buddhism lies in this direction and that is what Founder Niwano meant. In the first place, if you realize that you yourself are a buddha, then you no longer rely on the power of the gods and the buddhas, or of anyone else, and so you no longer pray for them to liberate you. This is the Buddha Way, that is, living your life based on the teaching that you should “Make yourself the light, make the Dharma your light.”
After the Muromachi era imperial court physician Saka Shibutsu (1327–1415) went to pray at the Ise Grand Shrine, he wrote: “If my heart has inner purity with nothing to pray for and my body has outer purity with nothing polluting it, then there is nothing separating the mind of the gods from my own mind. If I am the same as the gods, then why would I pray to receive or wish for something? This is how I humbly understand the meaning of a true shrine visit.”
We are apt to think of praying to the gods and the buddhas as a matter of course, but in Buddhism and in Shinto, a religion indigenous to Japan, as well, the nature of faith is seen in its not requiring us to pray. At the very least, we can say that true prayer is not selfishly going “before the gods and the buddhas . . . and asking for a hand to get what you want.”
An Opportunity to Deepen Our Faith
In Rissho Kosei-kai, we can see many customary forms of praying and making wishes, such as offering sutra recitation in conjunction with a specific wish. If someone were to say that this does not represent the proper form of faith, that is not necessarily so. I think we cannot reject out of hand that people in painful or trying circumstances will desperately pray for some form of deliverance.
Prayer is something that arises from the most profound depths of life. The kanji character for “prayer” has the meaning “to give voice to seeking happiness from the gods.” Therefore, especially when we learn that other people are giving voice to or thinking, “I want to be freed from suffering,” it is natural we accept them wholeheartedly.
Rev. Tomoshi Okuda, a pastor of the Baptist Church in Japan who has been engaged in supporting the homeless, wrote in the June 2016 issue of Rissho Kosei-kai’s monthly magazine Kosei that “the meaning of prayer is ‘being together.’” That corresponds to the heart of a mother who prays for her sick child that, even at the cost of her own life, her child’s life be saved, and also to the Buddha’s mind of great compassion when he wishes that all human beings be liberated from suffering.
On the other hand, we should never forget the important thing that lies beyond prayer. That important thing is the Buddha’s wish that because birth, old age, sickness, and death are inseparable from human life, we should realize the rare significance of being alive here and now.
We tell people who pray to be freed from suffering that they might try, for instance, joining a hoza session or performing a service of offering prayers, or we occasionally accompany them to call upon someone who is worried about the same or a similar problem. All of these are skillful means to help others become aware of the Buddha’s wish that I just mentioned.
Morning and evening sutra recitation, one of our core practices of the faith in Rissho Kosei-kai, are a practice of the Dharma that keeps us always in contact with the mind of the Buddha while also helping us lead lives grounded in the teaching “Make yourself the light, make the Dharma your light.”
Whenever you meet face to face with the gods and the buddhas, whether it is through worship in conjunction with a specific wish or through prayer, you are receiving an opportunity that the Buddha gives you in the hope that you may realize something important. While giving this serious reflection, I hope that together we will continue to deepen our faith.
From “Kosei” Translated by Kosei Publishing
Read past Guidance messages from President Niwano.