The Seven-Limb Prayer
The Purpose of the Prayer
This prayer is done for two purposes:
- To purify negative karma
- To create positive potential (merit)
The Field-Mind Analogy
We need to do these in order to prepare our minds for meditation and in order to gain the realizations of the Path. Our minds are often compared to a field:
- Before you can grow crops in a field, you have to remove the rocks, broken glass, garbage, etc. This is like purifying. In our own mind, we have to take out the negative karma.
- You also have to irrigate the field, fertilize it, prepare and enrich the ground. This corresponds to preparing and enriching our mind through creating merit or positive potential.
- Once the field is prepared, then you can plant the seeds. This is like listening to teachings.
- Once the seeds are planted, they get nourished so they can grow. Nourishing the seeds is meditation. Growing is the process of gradually gaining realizations of the Path.
The Seven-Limb Prayer
Reverently I prostrate with my body speech and mind,
And present clouds of every type of offering, actual and mentally transformed.
I confess all my destructive actions accumulated since beginningless time,
And rejoice in the virtues of all holy and ordinary beings.
Please remain until cyclic existence ends,
And turn the wheel of Dharma for sentient beings.
I dedicate all the virtues of myself and others to the great awakening.
The Limbs of the Prayer
The Limb of Prostration
"Reverently I prostrate with my body, speech, and mind"
- This limb purifies pride and arrogance, and it creates merit because we develop respect for others' good qualities.
The Limb of Offering
"And present clouds of every type of offering, actual and mentally transformed"
- "Actual" offerings are what we put on the shrine, e.g., food, flowers, water bowls.
- "Mentally transformed" offerings: We imagine a whole sky, the whole earth, spread out with beautiful things, and we offer all of that in our mind.
- Offering purifies miserliness and it creates positive potential because we take delight in being generous.
The Limb of Confession
"I confess all my destructive actions accumulated since beginningless time"
- This limb has four parts:
- We regret our mistakes.
- We make a determination to avoid repeating them.
- We restore the relationship with whomever we did the destructive action in relation to.
- If it involved a holy being, we restore the relationship by taking refuge.
- It if involved an ordinary being, we restore by generating love, compassion, and bodhicitta.
- We do some kind of remedial action, which could be meditating, reading Dharma books, offering service, or any kind of virtuous action.
- When we do this limb of confession, we're purifying our mind that likes to keep all our faults hidden (in psychology terms, the mind of denial). Here we're being honest and open and saying, "Yes, I’ve made mistakes."
- This creates the good karma of setting down our guilt and our psychological burden and restoring our mind to a happy state.
- When we've made mistakes, if we don't purify them, we walk around with a heavy burden on our heart, which is exhausting.
The Limb of Rejoicing
"And rejoice in the virtues of all holy and ordinary beings"
- We rejoice in all the good qualities, all the positive actions, of holy beings (buddhas, bodhisattvas, arhats) and of ordinary beings.
- This purifies jealousy; rather than be jealous of others' virtue, we appreciate it.
- It creates positive potential because, by taking delight in others' virtuous actions, we create the positive potential of doing those same actions even though we haven't done them ourselves. (That's why they say rejoicing is the lazy person's way to create a lot of good karma.)
The Limb of Requesting the Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, and Teachers to Remain
"Please remain until cyclic existence ends"
- This purifies the mind that doesn't appreciate the existence of the Buddha, Dharma, Sangha, and our teachers, or the mind that's criticized them.
- It creates merit because we're recognizing the value of the Buddha, Dharma, Sangha, and our teachers and asking them to please remain so that we can have contact with them. This prevents us from taking them for granted.
The Limb of Requesting Teachings
"And turn the wheel of Dharma for sentient beings"
- This purifies the mind that has avoided going to Dharma teachings or has criticized Dharma teachings or the mind that takes our teachers and their teachings for granted.
- It creates merit because requesting teachings will enable us to actually receive teachings in the future.
These two limbs of asking teachers to remain and asking them to give teachings are very important.
- We often have the tendency to take our good fortune for granted.
- We don't fully appreciate the fact that we live in a place where we have access to the Buddhadharma and to teachers.
- When we take this for granted, then we don't make an effort to go to teachings and retreats, or to learn the Dharma. Our mind becomes lazy because we think, "There's so many teachers, so many temples, so many books—I'm tired tonight. I'm going to stay home and watch TV; I'll go next week." The next week, there's another excuse, and before you know it, our whole life goes by and we haven't done much practice because we've taken our good fortune for granted.
- So it's extremely important that we appreciate the fortune that we have and don't take it for granted.
- If we don't appreciate it, we're going to lose it.
The Limb of Dedication
"I dedicate all the virtues of myself and others to the great awakening"
- Here we dedicate all the virtues that we've created by doing the previous practices, so that they ripen in the enlightenment of ourselves and others.
When reciting the four immeasurables, it's nice to pause after each one and reflect on how different the world would be if everybody had these four thoughts in their own hearts. You can start off thinking just how different your own life would be if you felt these four consistently. Here we really get a sense of how happiness comes through transforming our minds, not through controlling the external situation.
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