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One should distinguish between praying to the memory of a deity, praying to the spirit of the deity, and praying to a man-made creation of the deity.|
If for instance we pray to the Buddha, are we praying to our individual memory of what we have learnt about his life and teachings, or about his 'spirit' or to the statue depicting him?
Once we try to answer this question ourselves, we will find that what we pray for becomes not what it seems to be anymore.
Let's take the first one: praying to the memory of the Buddha. What do we know of him besides his teachings? We read that he was a prince and one night after seeing the four modes of suffering in man, he made a crucial decision to venture out and find the truth behind all suffering. To do that, he abandoned his princely life, even to the extent of leaving his family and palace. That certainly calls for some commitment and willpower. He then ventured into a harsh world where he was vilified, yet he persevered, and settling down in some place, he was understood to have vowed not to rise until he had found the answer behind all suffering. After much personal deprivations and almost near death, it was recorded he had an insight like none other. Later records say that it was logical he would have such an insight for a mortal because he had lived over five hundred lifetimes before, so that he achieved buddhahood from an accumulation of good done in preceding lives of his 'singular spirit' lived five hundred times over. Starting with the memory of the Buddha, we have now ourselves moved into the domain of the 'spirit' of the Buddha, a 'spirit' whose essence has been captured not only by the way he carried himself through that recorded life during that particular epoch but also reflected in his sayings which his disciples had recorded and passed on.
Now, the question is what happens when one 'prays' to the statue? After reading the above, and if one admires such a 'spirit', the essence of praying before a statue should be about praying as a mode of human activity to overcome 'all suffering' , in which case one should pray more for others than for oneself.
So, if i have studied hard for an examination and then i go to a temple to pray that i pass with flying colours, i should instead be praying for the poor little girl in the hospital to recover from her illness than for me to pass this examination, crucial although it may be.
It is indeed hard for most mortals to pray for others; we try to tend to our own gardens first; but all the 'spirit's in history past and all the sages seem to say that one should extend one's circle of compassion to as many people and other living things first before one extends the same to oneself.
By the same token of this line of thought, one should also be praying that the same temple in which one now prays should continue to exist after one is long gone. Imagine praying in a temple to a statue and floating your mind away from you to the statue now looking down at the small fellow looking up at the statue. You sigh straightaway .....because you know the statue has existed for thousands of years, long before you were born, and hopefully by your prayer, the statue will exist for thousands of years, long after you(we) die. The statue looks down at the man, and he slowly fades away like dust blown off by a sudden gust of wind. Suddenly you find a little insight yourself - the brevity of life, the constancy of change....and yet the hope that something greater than us will remain long after we are gone, as if it is our simple, noble wish to find some exaltation in life when everything says it is nothing.
What i have written here about the Buddha i also apply to others. I mean not the deification of man. I mean the deification of some small ideal, like someone trying to hold in his old hands something that is fragile, silently smiling inside with the question: "isn't it strange that the hand will wither away faster than the thing it tries to hold when without the hand, the thing would not be grasped that made it possible to ponder about it?"
People who hold jossticks and pray for themselves should realize that it is by their own human effort will things change, and/but one should also not be so attached to some desire that it prevents one from finding higher planes of awareness, in the same way that one builds a wall that blocks the view of rainbows.
Rainbows are beautiful but are they things or some strange phenomena that only happen when there has been some suffering (rain).
There is an interesting temple in Beijing's Chaoyang district. It is called the Dongyue Miao. Dating from the Yuan dynasty some 700 years ago (many things in China are very old), it has very interesting exhibits. To your amazement, you will discover that the Chinese people have already organized things into 18 departments of what bad not to do. I was particularly intrigued by one department which proposed this: 'make reasonable profit from fair competition'. That reads better than some economics theory from Adam Smith of USA.
I am having some pain realizing this thing about praying and life and human cause-and-effect. It goes like this:
The greatest gift to man is not wealth, not even health. It is the ability to see cause-and-effect in his own lifetime. How hard it must be to be punished in a lifetime and not know the cause of why one is punished, or for that matter, to be rewarded in a lifetime and not know why one deserves so. Boring, colourless, plain? We can't choose the colours of the rainbow so we shouldn't complain anymore about the colourlessness of life.
And about religions: any one of the trees in the centre of the main thoroughfares of Taiyuan, Shanxi, is older than most of the religions of the rest of the world.
When we look at the China of the old that still is maintained in the China of the new, echos forward from the past make resonance of the present even more poignant about the lot of mankind.
i wish i had written this article in perfect Mandarin.
[ Last edited by markwu at 2007-3-23 11:21 PM ]