Last month, one of my meditation students shared in our group that he was undergoing personal stress due to an obstacle of a practical, financial, and life-course nature. I suggested praying for a positive outcome. This elicited from him a certain hesitation on the grounds that he didn’t feel it was quite right to plead his case (to the universe) for himself. A kind man, he understandably didn’t wish to be self-serving, feeling that prayers were best made on behalf of others.
My understanding of Buddhism, i responded, includes oneself in among the all of the “all sentient beings” for whom we continually dedicate the efforts and positivity of our practice. So it’s allowable. And furthermore, if our own suffering is reduced, we may be of more use to all those “other” beings. I recommended that he expand to include himself in prayer.
But more to the point, there is a heart-rending aspiration that is common in Buddhism that i shared that evening, the words coming spontaneously to my mind, combining ideas from the Bodhicaryavatara, and teachings by present-day bodhisattvas. Here they are:
May the suffering I’m undergoing due to this obstacle be the means for all others to avoid suffering due to obstacles of a similar kind.
And furthermore, when this obstacle dissolves, may its absence and my resulting ease cause me to be of greater benefit to all beings.
I went on to write him:
Go ahead and also pray directly that this obstacle dissolves… so that you can be of more benefit to the world, others, your family, and self.
Feel free to substitute more specific language about the obstacle as you see fit.
When one reads that topmost aspiration, one may think, but how is it even possible? If taken to its logical extent, and as presented in the Bodhicaryavatara, how can one take on all the suffering of all beings, without expiring on the spot? I find that it’s just this conundrum that, like a koan, jars the heart-mind, my spirit, for just a moment, that then causes an inner shift to take place. In an instant, a surrender, an opening. And in that space, blessing and healing rides in.
And it’s even more than that–an expansion of the heart to include the welfare of others, stepping stone on the path of the bodhisattva, carries with it the actual power of prayer. There you go.
After everyone went home that night, this student sent a message asking me to write down those words and send to him. So i did. He reported later that this approach made it possible for him to include his own predicament, himself, in his prayers. And so i thought to share that prayer more widely here, in case others may find it useful.
The Bodhicaryavatara, The Way of the Bodhisattva, by Shantideva, 8th C.