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A Tale of Hassidim

In Martin Buber's "tales of the Hasidim", there's a story about a simple man who's having some troubles in his life who goes to the rabbi - perhaps one of my ancestors, since some of these old Hasisic wise men were called "Maggids" - and asked the rabbi to pray to God for him. And the rabbi answers,"wouldn't it be better if I taught you how to pray,so you could pray to God yourself?"

We hear similar sounding stories in the Buddhist tradition as well, starting with the Buddha himself who assured his followers that they themselves were the Light they were seeking and to trust in their own Light. And Rinzai warned his disciples not to try to put anybody else's head on top of their own. So what happens? Students write down and memorize their every word and repeat them over and over, year in and year out.

True teachers all teach self-reliance. But what, as Buddhists, are we supposed to make of the "self" in self-reliance. Isn't the self the problem? How can we tell self-reliance from being "caught in a self-centered dream?" Similarly, we might ask, what kind of prayer is the rabbi offering to teach the man? "Dear God please make my suffering disappear." That's what most of us really want, isn't it? But if that's our idea of prayer, we might as well pray, "O Lord won't you buy me a Mercedes-Benz." Self-centered prayer really is an oxymoron. True prayer is always some version of  "Thy will be done," as we hear in the Lord's Prayer. True prayer is a prayer to be able to learn from this moment just as it is, as if it were God's will that it is just so, a lesson just for us. The self that is "being just this moment," the self that is not separate from Life, is the self and the Teacher we can rely on.