While I do not want to judge too harshly the Dalai Lama’s recent comments about Paris, I was more than a little taken back by the headlines that summarized his position. The headlines reported that he indicated that “prayers are not enough” and that instead of praying for God’s help, people should seek solutions on their own. Again, I am not sure what he actually said (I was unable to find a transcript), and I am not sure about the possible nuances that stem from a Buddhist outlook. That being said, I fundamentally disagree with the position that prayer is not enough.
In a certain sense, we can say that this viewpoint constitutes the very essence of sin itself and our alienation from God. Humans often live in an illusion that human activity is separate from Divine providence. We create walls in which God is “over there” and we are “over here.” The whole trajectory of our spiritual growth involves a process of purification and transformation whereby the human will surrenders to dynamic indwelling of the Holy Spirit which is received through the sacraments.
Thus, the supposed divide between prayer and activity is an illusion born of our limited ways of viewing the world. Prayer must permeate all actions and all decisions, not as a kind of separate intellectual activity reserved for set times of day, but as a continuous habit of conversion in which we say, “Not my will, but yours. Not my love, but yours. Not my solutions, but yours.” Without such an outlook and personal commitment to God made possible through Jesus Christ, all human activity will ultimately fail to bear lasting fruit. When not animated by God’s life, even what appears to be the most altruistic of actions will bear the hidden seeds of sin and selfishness.
In this way, set periods of prayer are not an escape from the world, nor is human activity separated from the mysterious communion between God and humans. Rather, for there to be lasting peace, each generation must take the long, arduous journey towards intimacy with Jesus Christ, and in the process open up channels of grace in the world. The contemplative dimension is always primary.
So our first response must always be prayer. Then when we return to the world, we must pray some more and in prayer practice discernment, constantly grounding our activity in God’s will. I am not sure if the Dali Llama was misquoted or if his comments were taken out of context, but the reality is that prayer is always enough.