During a weekly Skyping session with my in-laws, we were discussing my husband’s job search. My mother-in-law said that she was praying for us.
“I’m praying to God, though, not to Buddha. Sorry!” she said.
I want to say that I love my mother-in-law. She’s one of the nicest, warmest women I’ve ever known and while it’s trite to say so, I feel grateful all of the time that she’s my mother-in-law. I also recognize that my religious exploration is a little confusing to her (or perhaps just unsettling given that, for her, the stakes are so high…we’re dealing with her grandchildren’s immortal souls, after all).
I ended up smiling and saying nothing because I really didn’t know what to say. I mean, in Buddhism, God isn’t really an issue.
From the Buddhist perspective, an anthropomorphic god isn’t something that can be proven to exist and neither can it be proven not to exist. As a result, their basic response to the question of God is, “no comment.” Buddhism is about living our lives with compassion, using the teachings of Buddha and other teachers to help us with the struggles that go along with feeling compassionate towards ourselves and others, especially those with whom we disagree or even those who mean us harm. Buddhists don’t pray to Buddha (at least not any Buddhists I’ve met). Some chant the sutras (the teachings), some meditate, but I’ve not met any Buddhists who pray, per se. And certainly none who pray for something. “Dear Buddha, please bring me a pony and a new pair of shoes,” is not something you’d hear from a Buddhist. Buddhism is a personal path towards compassion. The other stuff doesn’t really come into play. Buddhists also have no trouble with people being some other faith in addition to being Buddhist. You can be a Christian Buddhist or an Atheist Buddhist or a Jewish Buddhist, except that that one’s really hard to say fast.
Even though I don’t pray, I really appreciate when people I care about say they’re praying for me. I respect the sentiment behind it when people say they’re praying for me. I translate that into, “I care about you, and I want you to feel the good feelings I have for you.” My mother-in-law saying she’s praying for us is an expression of her love and compassion for my family. I heartily accept that love.
An example of a situation in which I have trouble with a person saying they’re praying for me happened today.
A friend is in Prague for a month with her two children and is blogging about their experiences homeschooling in a foreign country. I really enjoy reading her insights, both about the homeschooling bits and about the differences between living in Utah and living in Prague (there are a few, it turns out). In one of her posts this week, she described the difficulty she had explaining the graphic depiction of the Stations of the Cross in one of the churches they visited.
“I have tried to shelter the kids from the brutality of the end of Jesus’ life, but alas the Catholics hold nothing back,” she wrote.
I am also friends with her on Facebook, and soon after her post there were comments on her link from two friends of hers talking about how important it was for children to see the brutality of the crucifixion because that’s their only path to salvation. I, wanting to empathize with my friend’s position, commented that my daughter is very sensitive to brutality unless it’s part of the predator-prey relationship, and recognized that a lot of religious imagery wouldn’t be age-appropriate for her sensitive nature, and that it’s intense sometimes even for adults. One of the commenters replied and asked how my daughter would feel if she were the prey. Then she asked me about my relationship with Jesus.
She quoted the book of John to me and suggested that if I “can find a bible,” I might feel differently about things.
If I can find a bible? I have five different versions of the bible on my bookshelf, in addition to the Tao Te Ching and writings on Judaism, Islam, and Buddhism. I graduated undergrad with a minor in Religion. I may lack faith, but I know about religion, and I love talking about it, especially with people of faith (way more interesting than talking to atheists about it, in my experience). I was the kid in college who invited the Mormon missionaries in to discuss scripture. Two of my closest friends have minister/priest husbands (nondenominational Christian and Russian Orthodox). And hello? I live in Utah, where one can’t escape religion even if they try (and I don’t try).
With as much self-control as I could muster, I pointed out that she knows nothing about me and that disagreeing with her was not the same thing as ignorance of her position.
She offered to tell me about how Jesus has changed her life, and then she said she would pray for me.
That kind of praying from a stranger who’s just trying to win an argument with me is the kind that I find offensive. Pray for me because you know me and care about me and want me to have the strength to handle the adversities of life. Don’t pray for me because I disagree with you. Pray for yourself that you can have compassion dealing with people who disagree with your deepest convictions. That’s what I do when I meditate.