Are prayers a form of superstitions?

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#1

Venerable Master Xian Jie Hai’s “The Guiding Words of Tusita Heaven’s Deities” states that prayers are a form of confession of one’s thoughts and feelings. It usually has the meaning of requesting as well.

All sentient beings naturally harbour the behaviour to request as all of us wish to be relieved from sufferings and to attain happiness. When we encounter difficulties and are not able to seek happiness, we will naturally want to seek help from others. This is the reason why requests made in prayers are not superstition, but are a way of seeking help and solace.

“The Great Treatise On The Stages Of The Path To Enlightenment” Page 99, fifth sentence from the bottom, states:

In summary, there is only one (the Buddha) who is free of all fears, and who is skilled in the means of freeing others from fear; who has great, impartial compassion for everyone, and who acts for everyone’s welfare regardless if they have benefited him or if they are related to him.

Since only the Buddha has these qualities, he is the only one worthy of us taking refuge in and he is the place for refuge. Hence, his teachings are also worthy for refuge for all Buddhist devotees.

In seeking for the truth of sufferings and joy, the cause of life’s sufferings and what truly is the real joy when all sufferings are totally extinguished, in the path of eliminating sorrows, the Buddha has completely understood its meanings and have truly attained the aim of being liberated from sorrows and attaining joy. So, to those who wish to have true happiness, they should follow the path of the Buddha, and to seek help from the Buddha.

This is not a blinded spiritual sustenance. Therefore, prayers to the Triple Gems is not a form of superstition.

Extracted from: Venerable Master Ru Xing - Bliss and Wisdom Sangha Website of “Buddhism Q&A” Answer

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#2

Master Sheng Yen provides his view:

Why doesn’t it always work to pray to deities and Buddhas (GDD-880, Master Sheng-Yen)

I got from this session an reminder: Not to treat prayers like a business-like transaction and expecting blessings and good fortune after making offerings.

There should be a correct motivation to making the prayers and it involves making effort on our own to work out our issues.

#3

Master Ri-Chang relates an experience of his:

我自己现在还想起一个很可笑的事情,唉!现在也是真是……。那时候刚出家没多久,那么有一个朋友─那在家的朋友随便谈起了,那么他这个朋友是这样,他母亲信佛,信了几十年。他那个家庭环境,也可以说很值得令人同情的一个环境,遭到战乱,所以母亲把那两个孩子带大,辛苦得不得了,那么母亲信佛。所以这个儿子也非常孝顺,把他栽培到大学毕业,到后来嘛,这个母亲生了病了,乃至于死了。当初我听见了以后,当他很哀念他这个母亲,不晓得说什么。那时候我只是觉得,刚刚懂了一点点皮毛,哎呀,我就觉得,常常听人家说:“你求菩萨嘛,菩萨就可以了。”我也这么说,冲口而出:“哎呀!你也念观世音菩萨嘛,他就救你了。”然后呢干什么嘛,他就可以得到好处了。结果我并不晓得他的家庭背景,你晓得他回过来怎么说?“我母亲信了一辈子佛,念了一辈子,结果临终的时候还是这个样!”当时我心里,一听了心里面自己觉得很不好意思。一直到学佛学了多少年以后,慢慢才了解。啊,所以我觉得我们刚开始开口的话,实在要 (p69) 小心啊!

这个本论前面,下士道当中都已经说得很清楚了,一切是这样的因,感这样的果。当这个业在没有感果之前,如果你能够认真对治,如理去净治的话,它可以不感果,可以!但是它一旦感了果了以后,你没有办法把那个果,把它整个地拿掉它,对不对?这个很清楚、很明白。

可是我们平常总是觉得,因为听这么人家说啦:“有求必应,你求求嘛就好了。”这个对我们来说,我们就种糊里糊涂的信心,反正你算什么?照单全收!你仔细检查的话,有太多问题,有很多人他并不了解这个。不要说太多,我们自己开口的人都不了解,说给别人听:没有错啊!那去念了。他的想法当中,对这因果概念不清楚,于是他也觉得:好了!念它三句阿弥陀佛,念了几句观世音菩萨,那个病就给除掉了。结果他念了三十句、三百句都没用,他然后说起来:“你看!你看!你们这些就这个样。”请问这个后果谁造成的?
reference: https://bwmonastery.org.sg/lr123a

This anecdote makes me aware of the advice of asking someone to pray. That it should be not be just a flippant remark that their prayers will get answered if they do it (akin to a transaction). There is a big risk that the person will get disappointed if his prayers fail and, as a result, lose faith in Buddhism.