Source: The Muslim Sunrise; the longest running Islamic magazine since 1921: Muslim Sunrise Fall 2018
By Fazal Masood Malik
On a warm Sunday afternoon, warm enough to be lazy, I sat in a somewhat awkward lotus position with Venerable Lee, a respected elder at a Buddhist Monastery on east coast of Prince Edward Island. We faced the Northumberland Strait and the warm sea breeze, touched with a hint of salt greeted us as we embarked on a journey to pray together. A Muslim and a Buddhist.
The act of praying is as old as thought itself, perhaps older. From the first recorded prayer of Adam (as), the reliance of humans on prayers has evolved, as has its meaning. Whether a person believes in God or not, prayer appears to be a force among us, acknowledging a reality greater than the abilities of self. In Islam, a person prays to Allah the Gracious, in Buddhism, the concept varies.
There are three main Buddhist traditions in the world today: Theravada, Mahayana, and Tibetan. Theravada is a Pali (1) word meaning ‘Doctrine of the Elders (2)’ and they regard only the Pali Cannon (3) as the most authoritative spiritual teaching (4). Mahayana is a Sanskrit word meaning ‘Great Vessel.’ It originated around the same time as Christianity and recognizes many texts and teachings as authentic (5). Theravada is dominant in most of South and Southeast Asia while Mahayana is dominant in the East and Central Asia. Tibetan tradition is a combination of Theravada and Mahayana traditions and the primary contributor towards the spread of Buddhism in the West (6).
The view on concept and philosophy of prayer is different in each school. Theravada Buddhists tend to pray, but not with the expectation that anyone is listening. Mahayana Buddhists pray to buddhas and bodhisattvas. Whether those figures are humans, gods or literal beings, is the subject of much discussion.