Prayer as Mind Training

The Buddha instructed his followers:

Do not commit any non-virtuous actions. Put energy into performing virtuous actions. Thoroughly tame your mind.

While I was practicing Buddhism, I came to realize everything within Buddhism is geared toward taming one’s mind — mind training. Meditation, reciting mantras, focusing on one’s breath, is done to keep one’s mind on virtuous motivation and activity. Because practicing virtue is pretty much impossible without taming the mind.

And I think that prayer does the same — trains our minds. The way you train a plant to grow in a certain way, by pruning it and focusing light on it, we must train our minds toward God’s will for us, and focus on doing his will instead of our own. And to do that, we have to pray constantly. Our “monkey-minds” are so easily distracted throughout the day that we have to practice a spiritual discipline just to be sure we are actively pursuing our virtuous wish to follow God’s will. We need something that focuses our minds on God all day.

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be upon your heart. You shall teach them thoroughly to your children, and you shall speak of them when you sit in your house and when you walk along the way, when you lie down and when you rise up. You shall bind them as a sign upon your hand, and they shall be for a reminder between your eyes. And you shall write them upon the doorposts of your house and upon your gates.

Deuteronomy 6: 5-9

IDF soldier praying with tefillin
IDF soldier praying with Tefillin

The second question at RCIA the other night was “What are my top five reasons to pray? Are they selfless or selfish?” I don’t know that I have five different reasons for prayer, only about three: Praise, Thanksgiving and Petition (for myself and/or others). But I’m not sure that worrying about selfish/unselfish prayer is really important. Unless you’re pursuing Prosperity Theology, or you find that every single prayer is a demand for something from God, the important thing is that you’re praying. Like tefillin is placed on the forehead and hand, we symbolically place our intention to do God’s will in our minds and actions by constant prayer, a life of prayer“Seven times a day I praise You.” Psalm 118 (119): 164

This is why I love the Liturgy of the Hours, because it is a structured way of training the mind toward God, keeping one’s focus on his will, living a life of prayer. “The purpose of the Divine Office is to sanctify the day and all human activity.” (Apostolic Constitution, Canticum Laudis) I try to at least “bookend” my day with Morning Prayer and either Evening Prayer or Compline. Then sometime during the day I read scripture, pray the Rosary and the Divine Mercy chaplet, and do prostrations. My goal is to eventually pray more of the Hours.

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

1 Thessalonians 5: 16-18

So, by praying constantly, our lives will eventually be in correct alignment with God’s will — it’s inevitable, because we will have the right focus throughout the day. We’ll have tamed ourselves to God’s hand.

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