By Thich Nhat Hanh
Effective prayer is made up of many elements, but there are two that seem the most important. The first is to establish a relationship between ourselves and the one we are praying to. It is the equivalent of connecting the electrical wire when we want to communicate by telephone.
The one who prays and the one prayed to are two realities that cannot be separated from each other. This is basic in Buddhism, and I’m quite sure that in every religion there are those who have practiced for a long time and have this understanding. They can see that God is in our heart. God is us and we are God. The entire visualization gatha goes like this:
The one who bows and the one who is bowed to
are both, by nature, empty.
Therefore the communication between us
is inexpressibly perfect.
The first element of an effective method of prayer is the communication between ourselves and the one we are praying to. Because we and the one we are praying to are interconnected, our communication is not dependent on time or space. When we meditate on this, communication is realized straight away and we are linked. At that point, there is electricity in the wire.
We know that when a television station sends its signal up to the telecommunications satellite and it is beamed back down to our television set, a certain amount of time is necessary for the waves to be transmitted through space. But the communication of prayer lies completely outside of space and time. We don’t need a satellite. We do not have to wait one or two days for there to be a result; the result is instant. When you make instant coffee, although you call it “instant,” you have to boil the water, you need time to make your coffee. Only then can you drink the coffee. But in prayer, we do not need to wait any time at all, even an instant.
The second element we need for prayer is energy. We have connected the telephone wire, now we need to send an electric current through it.
In prayer, the electric current is love, mindfulness and right concentration. Mindfulness is the real presence of our body and our mind. Our body and our mind are directed toward one point, the present moment. If this is lacking, we are not able to pray, no matter what our faith. If you are not present, who is praying?
To pray effectively, our body and mind must dwell peacefully in the present moment. When you have mindfulness, then you have concentration. This is the condition that will lead to prajña, the Sanskrit word for insight and transcendent wisdom. Without that, our prayer is just superstition.