* Homage to Maha-Moggallana for his Filial Heart *
( Tôn kính đảnh lễ Đức Mục Kiền Liên và Lòng Hiếu của Ngài)
A head which loves/has a tendency to explore truths like mine, whether truth of the mind, heart, of relations, interconnections, or at times, scientific laws, frequently takes the scientific view to learn things and judge likewise. But years ago, I found out (for myself), that scientific view has its own limit, and there are times and cases a scientific “approach”does not work in such areas like helping people relieve, unwind conditions, situations— sick, or healthy— especially some issues of psychical, psychological nature.
As such, sometimes I think upon and try to find out how the “power” of praying may have certain effects.
In the case when Buddha teaches/recommends ( or taught/recommended, your choice of usage) Maha-Moggallana ( ngài Đại Mục kiền Liên) and the monks of 2500 years ago that they pray together to save Moggallana's mother, that case rings a big bell in my heart and mind.
Shortly, this is the story of Moggallana and his mother :
Moggallana’s mother (real historic figure) had done many sinful deeds, one of which was killing a dog, cutting it into pieces, preparing it, and putting the dog’s meat into buns, then offering them to the vegetarian monks. To the non-monk, non-sectarian vegetarian Buddhists, that was terrible; to the monks, it’s horrible.
According to the legend, after dying, her “soul/next life” was “sentenced” to the hell of the Hungry (the Pretas), and every time she tried to put foods into her mouth,the foods would turn into fire. Now, the great Moggallana, even with all his extrasensory perceptions and “power” he had [ he was known as the disciple of Buddha with many Abhiññā “power” ], was not able to save his mother from this situation, so he desperately asked for Buddha’s help. With that Buddha told him to ask the monks, after they cleansed themselves of body and mind and observed other observance to be in the “cleanest", most desirable state, to choose a day to pray altogether for Moggallana’s mother. I have to look to see how many times this type of praying-together sessions were repeated, but the result was fascinating; his mother was saved, and released to another realm.
As a thinker who wants to understand and contemplate on the effect of praying, this is my observation and thinking :
A. Not mentioning the outcome yet
The effects on the praying person :
1. The cleansing, tidying effect: Like the monks who helped Moggallana have to cleanse themselves of body and mind, and like many nation leaders of old, the praying persons have to try to cleanse themselves, clean up their acts to have their prayers effected, answered. I believe this phenomenon has a lot to do with the sense of morality and virtue which has gradually built up since childhood inside any person from any normal, healthy upbringing. The effect is almost autonomous, reflective of a free will to do good, to “react” when needed, in its most fundamental and its tiniest ingredients in the base, the pool of consciousness. It is just like, in order to perform well, to reach our goal, especially goal of higher sense of moral duty, we have to be purer, clean up our acts, be more careful, sincere, and try harder. Doesn’t cleaning our acts help improve ourselves in plenty of ways to attain something, to reach some goal ?
Words of prayer may sound : Dear Buddha, God , I wish that…, I will do everything needed to have this accomplished…
2. The trying-harder effect : In plenty of situations, to reach some goal, we all need to try harder, don’t you think ? Even sacrificing something. This, in turn will help us learn to work harder, attempt more times, and build our perseverance.
3. The getting energized effect : With the will/free will to help someone relieve his/her suffering, or the intention to do good, many times we will get down and pray our prayers to Buddha, God, or…to help us have energy, loads of energy to carry out our task adequately, or excellently, isn’t that so ? In those moments, it seems as if our energy gets regenerated, brought up to a higher level. And this has been “recorded”, mentioned, described in many cases, in the psychical-psychological experience of many people. By such effect, isn’t it true that praying has “acted”, given us energy, helped us fulfill our wish and “completed us” in some way, in the plane of the moral, the metaphysical/philosophical ?
With all these three effects, with some imagination and certain knowledge on the consciousness , hearts and minds ( by our constructive imagination and partial visualization) of around 500, or 700 monks in a cleansed, purified (visuddhi) and compassionate state, imagine, imagine we enter that praying sessions with the echoing of the ups and downs of the mantra, the chant, or mantra , spreading into space and time, how moving, vibrating, immensely generating, diffusing and “shaking” that experience would enter our mind and body. I would say it’s a wonderful, moving, holy-like effect, effecting each molecule of our hearts and minds. The good, the reverence, the extraordinary perception it generates in us, could push us forward to do good in the highest sense. People say : Once you experience something extraordinarily overwhelming, moving, fantastic, the experience will go on (inside) for along time , and never leave you. Doesn’t the experience, by itself, deserve lots of praises ?
4. The “Happy” effect : the desire to do good is an innate quality in many of us human beings. Every time we do something good for someone, something, we feel good. In the case of praying and doing the good, the happy feeling may double, triple etc. Isn’t that wonderful to be filled with that uplifting feeling all day etc. ? In life, sometimes we may encounter something, someone we hate so much, or something that bothers us so much that we may want to pray to forgive that person, that situation, and by the power of praying we gradually can forgive and forget. The effect of this, of course, usually does not effect the other person, but it works great in our psychology to relieve, disentangle, free us. That is a lot more important for a happy heart.
B. About the outcome of praying
1. The factual argument:
Some people say : I don’t believe in prayers, because it doesn’t work; there is no factual basis for it. Some even claim : I am “scientific” I just believe in evidence-based facts. Understandable enough, but that pays too much importance on the outcome,which at times may change with the effort from the praying group. And it misses the point. The point is, if looked at it with the “realistic”, or pragmatic point of view, the effect praying/prayer has on the praying party , sometimes consequentially counts more. The effect of praying on the outcome may not easily be seen, but it may work gradually. For example : We pray to God/Buddha that we will forgive and forget their harmful deeds to us, and gradually we do. Now, with this forgiving/forgetting attitude, it may be absorbed by the other party, and gradually they change too, and perceptive to our attitude, forgiving. Time is a factor here, don’t jump to conclusion. Buddhists called this: different-time result ( Dị thục quả)
2. The rather erroneous philosophical outlook:
Some in the above group claim that their observation and thinking are “scientific”. I believe this is an erroneous understanding of what called scientific. A scientific mind is frequently open to re-examination, and science itself changes with time, at least in the understanding and concepts of the scientist. When the outcome may have chances, possibilities to change, don’t stick too hard to a preconceived notion of truth. In the sea of our changing consciousness and the changing identification of the objects in it, our concepts, our understanding fluctuate and change too. The truth of today can be the error of tomorrow, or needs to be modified, and many scientists now know this.
And science has its limit, meaning in the region of “effectiveness”, I would say. When it doesn’t work in some area, for some “problem”, it’s wiser to use another approach, as a pragmatic, realistic view. Let me relate an experience : Once I was asked to show some simple meditation to some co-workers, and they asked if they should switch or change belief from Christianity to Buddhism to really absorb the teaching of Buddha to meditate and find peace when needed. I told them : No need to, it takes a lot of time to learn and understand the real core truths in Buddhism, all you need is to learn the practical practices of meditation, and that doesn’t require anything, except your trying. As far as a method, a religious/philosophical way is concerned to find peace, you do not need to switch, or anything; stay with Christianity if that provides you a sense of peace, tranquility, a desire to do good, and a way to find your balance in the turmoil of life. Stay with what works. That’s my pragmatic view. The same goes for science, when it touches its limit.
What is "the scientific", anyway ?
There are times, scientific knowledge and understanding don’t calm your fear, your great anxiety. If thrown into that situation, where do you go, my science-minded , and bounded friends ? Some words from General Thomas Farrell on the attitude of the scientists at the blast of first the atomic bomb in 1945 in the link below can suggest something.
* Just as reminders:
1. Don’t pray, if you’re not wholeheartedly in for the thing you are praying for. This is what I believe.
2. Listen to the Dalai Lama’s advice, please:
“As a human being I acknowledge that my well-being depends on others and caring for others' well-being is a moral responsibility I take seriously. It's unrealistic to think that the future of humanity can be achieved on the basis of prayer or good wishes alone; what we need is to take action. Therefore, my first commitment is to contribute to human happiness as best I can.”