During a chat over dinner recently, I was asked about my daily Daoist practices. I replied that I meditated and prayed, and practiced qigong and taiji each day. These are the three legs of the Daoist Longevity Practice to cultivate stillness and maintain balance.
?Who do you pray to?? she asked. I replied ?Why must there be a who??
I recall a scene from the movie ?Little Big Man,? a Dustin Hoffman/Chief Dan George movie about a man who, in very old age, claimed to be the last survivor of the Battle of Little Big Horn. It?s a good movie, very entertaining and amusing, and worth a see.
In it, the character played by Chief Dan George, ?Grandfather,? decided it was his day to die.? Together with Dustin Hoffman’s character, Jack Crabbe, he walked to the sacred burial grounds, said goodbye, and climbed up on his pyre, which he had adorned with feathers and beads.? Hoffman’s Jack Crabbe walked a little further up the hill and sat to await Grandfather?s death.
Clouds moved in as the day went on, and by late afternoon it looked like rain would fall. The camera moved in on Grandfather?s face as the rain began, and when a drop hit Grandfather?s face, his eye blinked. Soon, more drops, and more winces. Eventually, Grandfather climbed down from the pyre, walked to Jack, shrugged his shoulders, and said:
?Sometimes the magic works, and sometimes it doesn?t.?
Prayer is like that. Sometimes our prayers are answered, sometimes they are ignored. Does that mean no one?s listening? Does that mean it?s wasted time and effort?
Remember land lines, those ancient means of telephonic communication our ancestors used to make calls? They worked when there was a connection (the wires) and electricity (the energy that passed through those lines carrying our words).
Daoists and Buddhists see all of creation as connected, ? . . . . I and everything therein are one.?, as Zhuangzi wrote long ago. We are all connected to each other (the wires).
The present moment awareness that is the result of stillness brings us to interconnectedness clarity. We come to recognize that what we do for one we do for all, including ourselves. Our actions become more compassionate, we become more forgiving, and love becomes our guiding principle (the energy).
Just as in the observer/observed dynamic of meditation, so is there the same dynamic between the one praying and the one being prayed to. They are indistinguishable and cannot be separated from each other.
In the prayer we offer, we send our energy to and for ourselves and our intended recipient. Perhaps it is for the wellbeing of a loved one; perhaps it is agape love for a better world.
Essential to this prayer, though, is compassion, forgiveness and love. All religions in their purest form require love in our heart and the sincerity of our prayer for it to be heard. Without that sincerity, prayer is hollow, nothing more than a wish, a hope for magic to happen. It didn?t happen for Grandfather, and it won?t happen for us.
The cultivation of stillness and our present moment awareness informs and clarifies the interconnectedness of all things and of all life. It is a precondition for prayer. It is essential to a meaningful life.
And for a Daoist, we trust that the Great Dao will distribute our prayerful energy, our prayerful intention, where it is needed most. Today, it is needed everywhere, as the threat of increased warfare looms darkly over us.
The Buddhist Visualization gatha (prayer) goes:
?The one who bows and the one who is bowed to
Are both by nature empty.
Therefore the communication between us
Is inexpressibly perfect.?
With love in our heart, and sincerity in our intention, prayer is inexpressibly perfect.
So, cultivate stillness. fill yourself with compassion, forgiveness and love. You are already connected to everyone everywhere; send that sincere energy with prayerful intent for a better world. The Great Dao will carry it everywhere for you.