Three Buddhist teachers explain the essence of “Prayer for Everyone”

This week, is promoting #PrayerForEveryone, a global interfaith campaign to draw awareness to the Global Goals For Sustainable Development.

Sam Littlefair
30 September 2015
prayer, buddhist, #prayerforeveryone, lion's roar, buddhism
Photo by J3SSL33.

This week, is promoting #PrayerForEveryone, a global interfaith campaign to draw awareness to the Global Goals For Sustainable Development. The goals cover environment, gender equality, education, health, and more, and #PrayerForEveryone wants members of all faiths to pray for the accomplishment of the goals, to raise awareness and inspire action “to create a better life for all of us.”

#PrayerForEveryone strikes a chord of harmony with the Buddhist perspective of prayer, which, in the West, is often slighted or ignored. After all, most Buddhists don’t pray to anyone or for anything. So what’s the point? As the following three teachers indicate, “to create a better life for all of us” isn’t far off. Recently, Buddhadharma ran a series that explored Buddhist prayer, with contributions from Buddhist teachers Elizabeth Mattis-Namgyel, Jan Chozen Bays, and Mark Unno. Here are some poignant, inspired explanations of Buddhist prayer from each of them. See if they resonate with you. If so, maybe you, too, can sit on the cushion and say a #PrayerForEveryone.

From “If It Sounds Too Good to Be True,” by Mark Unno:

It’s easy to forget that the ultimate realization is boundless compassion and oneness. When we put our palms together, it is not just one pair of hands meeting palm to palm. Paying close attention, it is as if we can feel the gentle touch of our teacher or the Buddha herself, her palms gently caressing the back of our hands, helping bring our palms together, teaching us the feeling of boundless compassion and wisdom. In that moment, whether we live or die, achieve health or not, become “enlightened” or not becomes secondary to knowing the power of buddhanature is fully present—that everything we need is between our palms as we bow, that the working of great compassion is already unfolding, here and now.

We can call that prayer if we like.

From “The Paradox of Prayer,” by Jan Chozen Bays:

Many teachers… do pray. But in a nontheistic religion, this raises some questions: to whom? to what? In daily Zen practice, it seems that often we are praying to our self—both our individual-limited-lifespan self and our larger self of boundless-interbeing. We aren’t praying for personal material gain; rather, we are praying in order to turn our hearts and minds toward the positive qualities of compassion and clarity. We are voicing an aspiration that we become able to extend compassion and wisdom to ourselves and others.

From “An Invitation,” by Elizabeth Mattis-Namgyel:

So what does it mean to pray without the limitations of our individual preferences? It means we’re praying for a deep unconditional wakefulness not based upon the preferences of the ego. Just in asking we experience a mind full of awe and humility. We allow life to touch us and feel the longing to move forward with compassion and love.

Sam Littlefair

Sam Littlefair

Sam Littlefair is the former editor of He has also written for The Coast, Mindful, and Atlantic Books Today. Find him on Twitter, @samlfair, and Facebook, @samlfair.