How Many Ways Can You Pray?

By Brother Phap Man  mb57-HowManyWays1My aspiration is to make everything I do a prayer; as beautiful, wonderful, concentrated, full of love, and joyful as prayer. When I walk, when I eat, when I breathe, when I open the door, when I speak: prayer.

In our tradition at Plum Village we don’t use the word “prayer” much; we like “mindfulness” more. I think many people might not like the word “prayer” so much these days—it feels like a struggle, an obligation, or something irrational. But I think mindfulness is the energy of prayer. Can we restore our understanding of prayer as an act of love?

I don’t know if it’s just monastic life that is the life of prayer. I’m sure that married life and other ways of life can just as easily be lives of prayer. And who’s to say that making love is not a prayer? It must be a most holy prayer. Why have we monks committed not to celebrate this kind of prayer? Our celibacy is sacred. It seems that everything we do must become as sacred as making love, or even more sacred.

There is a place where all prayers become one prayer. We live our lives for that. Perhaps we abstain from this one, most sacred act of prayer, so that all of our actions can become as sacred as this. So that in every moment we give birth to the energy of love, to new bodhisattvas everywhere. Saving, healing. Offering that to each other, to everyone.

I see that there are so many young people searching for meaning, for beauty, for the sacred. So many are searching for meaning and fulfillment in sex. But modern people have lost the sacredness of sexuality. How can we bring it back? I want to tell young people, “It’s okay not to have sex.” I think that is essential if we want to really discover the miracle, the joys and the suffering, the life and the mystery, of our own sexuality. That is also part of my vow—to help others make life beautiful, to discover life. To find freedom from desire so that everything, even the most mundane things, can become holy.

I was walking along the path with a brother on the last day of the Winter Retreat. “What the heck is monastic life?” I asked. “I don’t know!” Came the reply. Exactly. We don’t know. We love, we don’t know, we grow, we abandon everything. We are pruned and cut back and burned by mysterious fires within us and around us. We feel pressure, strain, like stalks pushing to break through the soil. We pull each other, we push each other, we lift each other. Reaching for the light. It can be so joyful. It can be so painful. It looks different all the time. We cut through our perceptions, or we let them dissolve, waver, dance. Then suddenly, everything looks completely different. Monastic life is always changing. Like winter into spring.

Monastic life is not about “I.” It is “we.” “I” have a long way to go down this path of “we.” But there is plenty of time. Every day is a miracle. Every day is a chance to love, to look with eyes of compassion, to be broken, to be healed, to learn, to let go of everything, to learn new ways of being, to pray one prayer.

Brother Phap Man lives in Plum Village.

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