Sunday, January 20, 2013

Using Intention to Center Ourselves

Centering Ourselves Through Recitation and Chanting

When we concoct stories* about what is happening, we take remembrances–pieces of previous meanings and value that we had assigned to stuff under similar circumstances–and form them into a story about what is happening now. This requires us to make what is happening now consistent with what we already know. Making the world consistent in this way means we create models, or modules, or contexts, that can be used to frame the story in a consistent way. These modules are the overarching intentions we have for viewing the world; they are our strongly help beliefs and values, norms and mores in sociological jargon.

If we want to move to the Middle Path, to live in peace and harmony with ourselves and our world, we need modules that point us in that direction. Metta prayers, chants and recitations are some of the most traditional and effective ways we have to do this.

Here’s a prayer, a short recitation, and a couple of chants that, when practiced regularly, will become the dominant perspective from which you see the world, burning off our old karmic leanings toward greed and anger and anxiety and establishing a mind of peacefulness and caring.

Shantideva's Prayer

May all beings everywhere

Plagued by sufferings of body and mind

Obtain an ocean of happiness and joy

By virtue of my merits.

May no living creature suffer,

Commit evil, or ever fall ill.

May no one be afraid or belittled,

With a mind weighed down by depression.

May the blind see forms

And the deaf hear sounds,

May those whose bodies are worn with toil

Be restored on finding repose.

May the naked find clothing,

The hungry find food;

May the thirsty find water

And delicious drinks.

May the poor find wealth,

Those weak with sorrow find joy;

May the forlorn find hope,

Constant happiness, and prosperity.

May there be timely rains

And bountiful harvests;

May all medicines be effective

And wholesome prayers bear fruit.

May all who are sick and ill

Quickly be freed from their ailments.

Whatever diseases there are in the world,

May they never occur again.

May the frightened cease to be afraid

And those bound be freed;

May the powerless find power,

And may people think of benefiting each other.

For as long as time and space remains,

For as long as sentient beings remain,

Until then may I too remain

To dispel the miseries of the world.

Reciting this as a part of one’s morning practice, several times a week if not every day, sets a clear and committed intention within us to reconceptualize the way we see the world from one of greed, anger and delusion to one of patience, compassion, and generosity. It sets a clear intention to reconsolidate our stories in ways that we move from a life of self-centeredness to a life of other-centeredness. It resets our intention to seek the well-being of others in everything we do, which lowers our blood pressure, coordinates our cardiac and respiratory systems, and makes us calm, clear-seeing loving people.

Short Recitation

A shorter prayer, which can be recited frequently during the day, whenever you feel any level of anguish from mild irritation to all-out anger, is the final verse of the prayer. Recited to yourself a five or ten times can quickly recenter you in altruism.

For as long as time and space remains,

For as long as sentient beings remain,

Until then may I too remain

To dispel the miseries of the world.


You can use either of the following chants as an overarching intention resetting tool, simply by chanting it over and over for 5 minutes a day once or twice a day, or for 10 or 15 seconds whenever angst arises:

I vow–with each and every act of body, speech and mind–to work solely for the benefit and well-being of others.

I vow to work tirelessly for the benefit of all sentient beings.

Much metta always!

* Concoctions, or stories, are the fourth of the five aggregates, often labeled volitional formations.