The Best Prayer

The Best Prayer

By Desmond Yeoh SC 

Whenever we face some difficulties, most of us would pray to the Divine to help solve those problems for us. One drawback of this approach is that whenever the Divine solves our problems for us without any effort on our part to change ourselves, we do not grow. When we are faced with similar problems again, we go through the same emotional turmoil and feel powerless again.

There is a better way.

There are only two things which we should ask from the Divine. The first is strength; more specifically, a strong awareness.

I have a friend who is a Thai forest monk. Can you imagine being in the middle of the forest all by yourself at night? For most of us, the thought alone could be terrifying. But that was the training which my friend needed to go through as a young monk. Before he was sent out into the forest on his own to meditate for the first time, his Master advised him that he can be fearless as long as he can maintain his awareness. His Master asked him to take refuge in his true nature, which is pure awareness or in the Buddhist Heart Sutra, it is called emptiness. Ultimately, taking refuge in our awareness is much more powerful that depending on ‘positive thinking’ which this modern world tend to emphasize on. That teaching helped him tremendously and he did not back away from his training.

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When I first started to meditate, I used to face obstacles in the form of scary images in my mind. Whenever, those scary images appeared, I would just give up and stop meditating. One day, I decided to persist and just observe those images with awareness. I did not add to those images by trying to talk myself out of the fear. I observed my fear rising and falling away. I noticed that the images could not sustain themselves even for a few seconds. They arose and then disappeared. The awareness that I maintained on those images withdrew the power from my emotions to make me react habitually; that is, by giving up and distract myself with other things.

In the Buddhist Heart Sutra, it is said that by abiding in emptiness, the Boddhisatvas (those on the path to becoming a Buddha) are able to be free from suffering. To abide in emptiness, we need to have a strong awareness. We abide in emptiness by being fully present without identifying with our ego.

Most of our suffering is created by our mind based on what we think is right or wrong. If someone is rude to us we may become angry. Getting angry at the point is fine if we can just let go of that emotion and leave it at that. The problem is we keep replaying that memory over and over again in our mind. We keep saying the same things to ourselves over and over again like a broken record to fuel the anger: “Oh! That guy was so rude, I should have scolded him; I should have told him this and that …” We then prolong the anger unnecessarily because we were not able to abide in our awareness or emptiness.

By asking for a strong awareness, we are asking the Divine to give us the strength to free ourselves from the suffering that we create for ourselves. If we are honest with ourselves and just observe our own thoughts, we will have no choice but to admit that most of our sufferings are self-inflicted. Those who are not able to see this will blame the Divine for not helping them or blame their past karma. Our karma has a lot to do with our habitual patterns. When we change our habitual patterns, we change our karma. In his book, Intuitive Awareness,  Ajahn Sumedho shared a personal experience which illustrates this point:

I used to have what I call an ‘inner tyrant’, a bad habit that I picked up of always criticising myself. It’s a real tyrant — there is nobody in this world that has been more tyrannical, critical or nasty to me than I have. Even the most critical person, however much they have harmed and made me miserable, has never made me relentlessly miserable as much as I have myself, as a result of this inner tyrant. It’s a real wet blanket of a tyrant, no matter what I do it’s never good enough. Even if everybody says, “Ajahn Sumedho, you gave such a wonderful dhamma talk”, the inner tyrant says “You shouldn’t have said this, you didn’t say that right.” It goes on, in an endless perpetual tirade of criticism and fault-finding. Yet it’s just habit, I freed my mind from this habit, it does not have any footing anymore. I know exactly what it is, I no longer believe in it, or even try to get rid of it, I just know not to pursue it and just to let it dissolve into the silence”.

As we strengthen our awareness more and more, we begin to rely more on our awareness rather than our mind to solve our day to day problems. Our mind is limited because it comprises of our habitual thoughts. Research shows that more than 90% of our thoughts that we have today are the same as the ones we had yesterday. Ajahn Sumedho said, “As we begin to wake up, we see beyond the rigid dualism, the puritanical dualism, or the initial programme that we acquire through our family and social background. Trust in your own intuitive awakened sense. Don’t trust in your views and opinions about anything: about yourself, about Buddhism or the world, for these views are often times very biased. We get very biased views about each other: we have racial prejudices, class identities, ethnic biases and feelings of social superiority. These are not to be trusted”.

“That’s a way of breaking a lot of these emotional habits we have that plague us and obsess our minds. You can actually train your mind, not through rejection or denial but through understanding and cultivating this silence. So don’t use this silence as away of annihilating or getting rid of what is arising in experience, but as a way of resolving and liberating your mind from the obsessive thoughts and negative attitudes that can endlessly plague conscious experience”.

Just recently I wondered how I can share the power of awareness in a simple, easy to apply way. Awareness has been talked about so much that it moved into the realm of the mind and has lost its practical use. Everyone is saying that we must have more awareness but no one understands how to apply it in a sustainable way.

I came to the conclusion that awareness of our emotions is the easiest way to see this. It is simple but yet very powerful. When we watch our emotions with acceptance; without trying to get rid of them; we begin to take control of ourselves. It is a very effective way of understanding or accepting our emotions. Many of my friends could easily understand and apply it.

Allowing ourselves to really feel our emotions without trying to talk ourselves out of them or to distract ourselves from them can be a very enlightening process. If you have tried it and found it to be effective, I humbly request that you teach it to others so that they can learn to gain mastery over themselves with this simple process of paying loving attention to their emotions.

Ajahn Sumedho put it this way; “Awareness includes those emotions as mental objects, rather than subjects. If you don’t know this, you tend to identify with your emotions and your emotions become yourself. You become this emotional thing that has become terribly upset because the world is not respecting you enough. Our refuge is in the deathless reality rather than in the transient and unstable conditions. If you trust in the awareness, then the self and the emotions about oneself, whatever they might be, can be seen in terms of what they are; not judged, not making any problem out of them, but just noticing: It’s like this”.

When we watch our emotions, we do so silently. There is no need to mentally express our emotions. There is no need to ask ourselves, “What am I feeling?” It is like tasting a new type of food. We just experience the taste without explaining the taste to ourselves. It tastes like this…and that is it. There is no need to say more about it; we already know the taste. Words pale in comparison to the actual experience.

Secondly, we should pray for wisdom. Most of the time, we get into arguments which are not worth the effort. We argue because our ego was hurt and it really did not matter who was right or wrong. Road rage is one example.

We set expectations of others and ourselves that cause us unnecessary hurt. Parents push their children into the professions which they think can earn the most money but do not consider what their children are passionate about. My friend fought with his parents because he preferred fashion designing but his parents insisted that he get a professional degree. He persisted and now he is a successful businessman in the area of fashion designing. Had his parents the wisdom to see that it is better for their son to go after something he is passionate about, they could have avoided a lot of unnecessary arguments which strained their relationship.

Wisdom and intellect are very different things. Wisdom arises out of experience and intuition. ‘Intellectually knowing’ that we are not our mind is very different from observing the workings of our mind and coming to our own conclusion that we are not our mind. I have a friend who keeps repeating that we need to see that we are not the ‘I’ but I could see that he is merely parroting something that he read; that intellectual knowledge is not helping him to live a happier life. In fact, it appears to be a hindrance because he ‘thinks’ that he has understood and as such, is not putting in any effort at all to look within to experience what he is saying.

Ajahn Sumedho summarised this beautifully when he said, “In meditation we are not trying to deny personality, we are not trying to convince ourselves that we are non-people, grasping ideas that “I have no nationality, I have no sex, I have no class, I have no race, the pure Dhamma is my true identity”. That’s still another identity, isn’t it? Now that’s not it. It’s not about grasping the concepts of no-self. It is in realising, in noting through awakened attention the way things really are”.

When we have wisdom, virtue arises naturally. Many as us set virtue as high standards that we need to achieve. We tell ourselves that we need to be more humble, more generous, more patient and so on. This kind of thinking only creates unnecessary guilt and is counter-productive. Virtue arises naturally when we have the wisdom to see that virtuous conduct leads to inner-peace.

When we are humble, we are less likely to get angry at others. This is because it is less likely for us to become angry at someone who we think is important. When we see ourselves as more important than everyone else, it is easier for us to lash out at others. With humility, we are more forgiving with others and more importantly, we are more forgiving with ourselves. We become more patient and peaceful. We stop expecting ourselves to be more this and more that. We are what we are and we allow ourselves to make mistakes because we have the humility to know that we are not perfect. We become humble because we see it contributing to our inner-peace and not because the scriptures say that we need to be humble. With wisdom, virtue becomes natural and effortless.

So, pray for wisdom and a strong awareness. Actually, they are not two separate matters. Awareness and wisdom come hand in hand. Wisdom arises out of awareness and that wisdom further strengthens the awareness from which it arose. Awareness enables us to look pass our ‘personality view’ and that is wisdom. Ajahn Sumedho said, “Personality view is a tyrant. It’s the victim and the victimizer. As the victim it says, “Poor me. I’m so impure”, whilst as the accuser it says, “You’re not good enough, you’re impure”. It’s both. You can’t trust it. Don’t take refuge in being a victim or in being a victimizer. But you can trust in this awakened awareness. And that trust is humbling. It isn’t like believing in something. It’s learning to relax and be. Trust in the ability simply to be here, open and receptive to whatever is happening now. Even if what’s happening is nasty or whatever the conditions you’re experiencing are, that’s not a problem if you trust in this purity”.

“You can be aware when you’re at your best or your worst, when you’re feeling really good and inspired and love the life, and when you’re feeling down, despairing, lonely, and depressed and disheartened. This awareness is your refuge. Awareness of the changingness of feelings, of attitudes, of moods, of material change and emotional change: Stay with that, because it’s a refuge that is indestructible. It’s not something that changes. It’s a refuge you can trust in. This refuge is not something that you create. It’s not a creation. It’s not an ideal. It’s very practical and very simple, but easily overlooked or not noticed. When you’re mindful, you’re beginning to notice: it’s like this”.

“My personality is wide open to be hurt, to be offended, to be upset by anything. But personality is not my refuge. It’s not what I would advise as being a refuge, if your personality is anything like mine. I wouldn’t for a minute want to recommend anyone taking refuge in my personality. But in awareness, yes; because awareness is pure. If you trust it more and more, even if you’re feeling hurt and upset, disrespected and unloved and unappreciated, the awareness knows that as being impermanent. It’s not judging. It’s not making any problems. It’s fully accepting the feeling that “nobody loves me, everybody hates me” as feeling. And it goes away naturally. It drops because its nature is change”.

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3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Dr.Subhassh
    Jul 26, 2012 @ 16:34:41

    Dear Desmond.That is a best prayer.A great insight to most of mankind.Thank You.


  2. Thomas
    Jul 27, 2012 @ 09:40:15

    Desmond, this is a great article, very intelligent and deeply thought.
    Let’s pray for awareness, and indeed thank any experience for what it can teach us. Let’s also accept the variety of forces and energies growing and fading inside us as we live, with awareness still.
    What is is, it’s the simplest and deepest truths. And yet sometimes it feels very tough to embrace, as something in our mind resists and want to shape the world its own way. I tend to believe this is something that can never be totally shut up, and that wisdom is the art of knowing when (and howw) to let the ego talk and channel this energy where it needs to go, so as not to harm the awareness of the Self.

    Best regards


  3. Puvanes
    Jul 31, 2012 @ 13:45:26

    Dear Desmond, I am experiencing the same mental suffering though I started meditation about 5 years ago. As far as meditation is concerned I am still at ‘nursery’ level not making much progress as I am not persistent in my meditation. I believe one need inner spiritual strength to succeed. Thanks a lot for the reminder…….


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