How does one pray in a non-theistic religion?

November monthly mindfulness

How does one pray in a non-theistic religion?  If there is no anthropomorphized god, no centralized intelligence, no personal god that follows us around and helps us, then, is there prayer in Buddhism?  Buddhist prayer has a slightly different emphasis.  Through concentration and the opening of the heart, we can learn to incline our minds toward the good, and to generate or cultivate love that can be shared with others. 

The ancient law of cause and effect is a starting point.  Whatever we do, our action automatically has an effect or gets an energetic response.  Prayer can be seen as calling out to the universe and correspondently, receiving a response, even though we don’t know when the response might come.  Or we often cultivate an archetypal energy. For example, we become one with the energy of love or the archetype of Avalokiteshvara, the bodhisattva of compassion, the hearer of the cries of the world.

Thich Nhat Hanh speaks of prayer as an energy between two beings.  First, you establish a wire like a phone wire or a wi-fi connection between two beings. This connection is established but it is beyond time and space. Then, you have to fill it with some electricity or digital information which, in the form of prayer, is an energy, a love, a nowness, a wish or a type of concentration. To make prayer work as a practice, you have to be totally, wholeheartedly present in body, mind and heart while praying or chanting.

This month, please experiment with chanting as prayer.  Here is one example of a chanting practice as prayer for others.  Make a short list of, say, 5 people you would like to pray for.  Then, using your list, chant the kanzeon pray once for each person on your list.  Do it often and see how it feels.  Memorize the chants if you can.

(Kanzeon is Avalokiteshvara, the goddess of compassion, in Japanese)

Emmei Jukku Kannon Gyo
Kanzeon! Namu butsu yo butsu u in yo butsu u en buppo so en jo raku ga jo cho nen kanzeon  bo nen kanzeon nen nen ju shin ki nen nen furi shin.

Or a loose poetic translation by Hogen Bays:

Chant of boundless compassion
Absorbing world sounds awakens a Buddha right here!
This Buddha, the source of compassion!
This Buddha receives only compassion!
Buddha, Dharma, Sangha are only compassion.
Thus, the true heart always rejoices!
In the light recall this!
In the dark recall this!
Moment after moment the true heart arises.
Time after time there is nothing but THIS!