Andrew Sullivan on the news of Tim Russert’s death last week asked his readers:
Say a prayer for his family, if prayer is your thing. Especially his dad, for whom this coming Sunday may be extremely painful.
As prayer was my thing I indeed took up his suggestion, but only afterwards realized of the possible incongruity of a Buddhist responding to a Christian’s exhortation to pray. Some of you may be wondering whether it makes any sense for Buddhists to pray, as prayer is asking God to fix something and Buddhists don’t believe in God, right.
Well the first thing is that prayer even to a Christian is hardly a case of God answering requests, ‘oh come on, pull you finger out’ as Rowan Williams put in interview with John Humphreys. As Williams explained, it can’t be a case of God wading and fixing bad stuff. Otherwise nobody would have any free will–in short we would be talking about a world that manifestly not the world we live in, but Christianity and all religion is a set of tools for dealing with this world, so prayer must have a more subtle affect than this.
the way Williams explains it is that prayer has a power to effect the world, that quite simply that (though the grace of God) it is causally efficacious, one cause among many. Actually that explanation will work for either Christianity or Buddhism (as I have understood them). The difference is that Buddhist don’t make use a theistic framework, but otherwise the ideas strike me as quite similar.
Where there may be a difference is in praying for people that have died. The major focus of my prayers were for Tim Russert to be well and to have a good transition to his future life, but that may not be an issue for Christians.