Pranidhanas - part four


Lama Shenpen continues her teaching on the aspects of pranidhanas

Part One // Part Two // Part Three

... Pranidhanas also relate to things we do. We talk about praying for people, or praying for things to happen.

What do we mean when we say 'pray'? This is a big question and is something we can explore. What does it mean to us? What does the word 'prayer' mean to us? What does it mean to pray for something? 

"I'm going to make pranidhanas for you", "I will make a pranidhana that we meet again".

It's not the same as saying I am going to pray to God, or pray to the Buddha.

Is there some element that we are missing when we make pranidhanas? That quality of opening to the power of the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, so that their adhistahana will empower the pranidhanas and be accomplished as wished?

It's interesting to think about all this. To think about the element of making a commitment when we take refuge or the Bodhisattva vow, or promising to not do certain things from now on. We might do these things without recognising that they require all the elements of a pranidhana. The pranidhana makes it all of a piece. Even when we take precepts, or recite the seven branches of prayer, we are really making pranidhanas. They have all the elements and principles needed to make them effective pranidhanas.

When we dedicate the punya at the end of a practice session, we say that we are dedicating punya to others. To what extent does calling it a dedication have a different connotation to making a pranidhana? These are things I continue to wonder about. When we practice things that involve chanting and lots of repetition, you are augmenting the power of your pranidhanas all the time.

When we practice the apramanas or Tonglen, linking in with our heart wish and verbalising it, repeating it to augment that mandala. To what extent are these applications of the principles of pranidhana? Are we doing it in a genuine and honest way or not? Are we, at least becoming more genuine as we practice?

I think it's good to think of all these elements and aspects in the same breath, as it were. One whole. All of a piece.

When we think of all the elements, all the aspects of the pranidhana principles, the question is, how does it all relate to dying?

If we constantly orient ourselves towards our deepest heart wish, and all that is needed in order for that to augment in power, to fulfill what we are aiming to bring about - then when we die, if we are able to not be attached to the impermanent things around us, but only focussed on our pranidhana, thinking that we are in the presence of the Buddhas (because where else would they be?), we can die with confidence. 

We can do it for the benefit of others as well through our confidence and presence at that time, and the way we can encourage others to make pranidhanas in ways that are accessible to them. Maybe, when we look at all the things we can do to help someone who is dying, essentially it all comes down to doing this well and skilfully.  

So, you can prepare for that. Prepare by making it clear what you want to happen, so that you are not divided, not being attached to things that are meaningless, so that you are only focussed on what is going to go on with you into your next lives.

There are other teachings we have that we might not immediately associate with pranidhana, for example the six paramitas. 

How can you have an effective pranidhana if you are not generous? This is the dana praramita. If you are clinging on to everything and can't give it all away? A miser becomes a hungry ghost. What they want is riches and they receive the starvation of a hungry ghost. They crawl around the edges of their world looking for crumbs because they couldn't do the first thing, which is to be able to let go and give. The energy exchange is essential for an effective pranidhana. The first thing you do when you make a pranidhana is create an energy exchange with the Buddhas. You make endless offerings. 

This enables us to make an effective pranidhana, which is the shila paramita. It gives us the power to withstand difficulties without being weakened by them, we can be strengthened by difficulties. This leads to the augmenting power, or energy of virya paramita. Because we have that power we are able to keep focussed, concentrated, which you could say is the meditation, the dhyana paramita. Through the power of the adhisthana of all the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, the power of Truth can cut through and it becomes prajna paramita. So, the six paramitas are an expression, or a way of talking about the powers of pranidhana.

We make pranidhanas in order to become awakened for the sake of all beings. 

I was even thinking about this in relation to pratityasamutpada (sometimes translated as dependent co-arising). What else are the samskaras? In the presence of avidya, there are samskaras. What are they? They are the mandalas of our past actions based on intentions. So, if we have made very powerful, strong pranidhanas, even when there is avidya, even when we have forgotten, we will encounter the pattern set up by our previous pranidhanas (as well as those that haven't been so skilfull). Even when we are thinking dualistically, even when we don't really understand what is happening, they will structure the world that we find ourselves in, and that we react to with our habitual ways. That determines what kind of world we find ourselves attached to. We might not recognise that this is grasping, this is attachment, this is taking birth... in what kind of world will we take birth? That will be determined by what we have done, and especially by what we have done powerfully. Therefore, making powerful pranidhanas is the surest way of finding a rebirth in which we will be able to continue our Dharma practice. You could trace it through the stages of pratityasamutpada. It is what will enable us to be reborn in a place where we will be able to fulfil those pranidhanas.

I think it is becoming obvious how this relates to the Mahayana sutra principles of following the Bodhisattva path. It's all based on pranidhanas.

It also relates to Guru Yoga. If we want to align ourselves with the Guru, we want our pranidhanas to be aligned with the pranidhanas of the lineage. We are untiing with the power and pranidhanas of all the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. There is a lot to think about in that.

We also make pranidhanas alongside other people, which is related to the Guru Yoga, it is related to the assemblies of practitioners, the Buddha, Dharma, Sangha, making pranidhanas together. There is an annual get together - the Monlam - a huge gathering that you get in Bodhgaya and other places in the world. In that sense that we are all making pranidhanas together. In the Samantabhadracharya pranidhana it says, 'may I meet those who are making the same pranidhanas as myself'. This is an important aspect, to make pranidhanas to be able to meet people who are doing the same thing, augmenting each other, augmenting the power of that mandala of connections.

In the mahayana sutras and life stories of great saints, not just in the Buddhist tradition, you have this idea that you can conjure up a magical emanation that can benefit others in different circumstances. Your whole life and path to Awakening is like a kind of magical illusion that has been conjured up by pranidhanas. It's a fundamental force of the nature of the universe, alongside these things that we think we know about like gravity, radiation and so on. From this point of view, this is more important. This force field of pranidhanas, of beings and their actions are inseparable from the way the world is manifesting. The interesting thing is that we are talking about it in detail, as though you could analyse the universe and these principles, but actually when you trace these principles, although they work, although they produce meaning, none of it can be grasped. It all disappears under analysis like a magical illusion.

I leave you to spend the rest of the year thinking about pranidhanas, and getting fired up to make regular pranidhanas.