Prayers of Gratitude
the divine for sustenance, protection, healing, prosperity, and
blessing are only the most basic and most
common kinds of petitionary
prayers. Not all prayers, of course, take the form of request.
Many are more expressive in nature, yearning to give words
to deep-felt emotion. Prayers
of gratitude and thanksgiving are
Such utterances are often the natural response to answered
prayers and unexpected gifts of grace.
of gratitude frequently follow successful harvests and
are made both at yearly festivals,
such as the American Thanksgiving, and at each meal, such
the Christian custom of saying grace. Non-theistic Buddhists also
pray before meals, calling to mind not a god who provides but
web of life that sustains and nourishes the individual:
seventy-two labors brought us this food; we should know how it
comes to us.
Second, as we receive this offering,we should consider whether
our virtue and practice deserve it.
Third, as we desire the natural order of mind to be free
from clinging, we must be free from greed.
Fourth, to support our life we take this food.
Fifth, to attain our way we take this food.
First, this food is for the Three Treasures.
Second, it is for our teachers, parents, nation, and all
Third, it is for all beings in the six worlds.
Thus we eat this food with everyone
We eat to stop all evil
To practice good
To save all sentient beings
And to accomplish our Buddha Way.
this prayer, the sense of gratitude is carefully transformed
into the aspiration to be worthy of the gift of food by developing
the virtues of wisdom and compassion. The indigenous Americans
have also been especially eloquent about voicing gratefulness,
as in this Iroquois prayer:
return thanks to our mother, the earth, which sustains us.
We return thanks to the rivers and streams, which supply us
We return thanks to all herbs, which furnish medicine for the
cure of our diseases.
We return thanks to the corn, and to her sisters, the beans and
the squashes, which give us life.
We return thanks to the wind, which moving the air has banished
We return thanks to the moon and the stars,
which have given
us their light when the sun was gone.
We return thanks to the sun, that he has looked upon the earth
with a beneficent eye.
Lastly, we return thanks to the Great Spirit, in whom is embodied
all goodness, and who directs all things for the good of his
Prayers of Praise
related to the sense of gratitude from which flow these prayers
of thanksgiving is the experience of awe and mystery, which
frequently pours forth as prayers of praise. In the theistic
traditions, such prayers are addressed to the divine and often
In a famous passage from the Bhagavad-gita, the most
beloved and well-known of the Hindu scriptures, the warrior Arjuna
the rare opportunity to behold the god Krishna in his naked majesty.
Arjuna’s response is prayer of praise inspired by god’s
O lord of the universe, O you of all forms, I do not see your
end or middle or beginning.
You are difficult to look at, having
on all sides the brightness of a thousand suns, and indefinable.
You are indestructible, the supreme one to be known. You are the
highest support of this universe. You are the inexhaustible protector
of everlasting devotion. I believe you to be the eternal being.
I see you without
of beginning, middle, end—of infinite
power, of unnumbered arms,
having the sun and moon for eyes, having
a mouth like a blazing fire,
and heating the universe with your
For this space between heaven and earth and all the quarters are
pervaded by you alone.
Looking at this wonderful and terrible form of yours, O high-souled
one, the three worlds are filled with fear. Seeing your mighty
form, with many mouths and eyes, with many arms, thighs, and feet,
with many stomachs, and fearful with many jaws, all people, and
I likewise, are much alarmed, O you of mighty arms!
Seeing you, O Vishnu, touching the skies, radiant, possessed of
many hues, with a gaping mouth, and with large blazing eyes, I
am much alarmed in my inmost self, and feel no courage, no tranquility.
And seeing your mouths terrible by the jaws, and resembling the
fire of destruction,
I cannot recognize the various directions,
I feel no comfort. Be gracious, O lord of gods, who pervades the
O infinite lord of gods! O you pervade the universe! You are
the indestructible, that which is,
that which is not, and what
is beyond them. You are the primal god, the ancient being;
are the highest support of this universe. You are that which
that which is the object of knowledge, you are
the highest goal.
Obedience is yours a thousand times, and again and again obedience
In front and from behind obeisance to thee!
is yours from all sides, O you who are all!
You are the father of the world, movable and immovable, you its
great and venerable master, there is none equal to you, whence
can there be one greater?
You whose power is unparalleled in all
the three worlds.
Therefore, I bow and prostrate myself, and would propitiate you,
the praiseworthy lord.
Be pleased, O god, to pardon my guilt as
a father pardons his son, a friend pardons a friend,
or a husband
pardons his beloved.
The Christian Te
Deum, one of the oldest extant prayers of the church, praises
the divine in some ways not unlike Arjuna’s
worship of Krishna, yet it remains unmistakably Christian:
O GOD, we praise Thee: we acknowledge Thee to be the Lord.
Everlasting Father, all the earth doth worship Thee.
To Thee all the Angels, the Heavens and all the Powers,
all the Cherubim and Seraphim, unceasingly proclaim:
Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God of Hosts!
Heaven and earth are full of the Majesty of Thy glory.
The glorious choir of the Apostles,
the wonderful company of Prophets,
the white-robed army of Martyrs, praise Thee.
Holy Church throughout the world doth acknowledge Thee:
the Father of infinite Majesty;
Thy adorable, true and only Son;
and the Holy Spirit, the Comforter.
O Christ, Thou art the King of glory!
Thou art the everlasting Son of the Father.
Thou, having taken it upon Thyself to deliver man, didst not disdain
the Virgin's womb.
Thou overcame the sting of death and hast opened to believers the
Kingdom of Heaven.
Thou sittest at the right hand of God, in the glory of the Father.
We believe that Thou shalt come to be our Judge.
We beseech Thee, therefore, to help Thy servants whom Thou hast
redeemed with Thy Precious Blood.
Make them to be numbered with Thy Saints in everlasting glory.
Save Thy people, O Lord, and bless Thine inheritance!
Govern them, and raise them up forever.
Every day we thank Thee.
And we praise Thy Name forever, yea, forever and ever.
O Lord, deign to keep us from sin this day.
Have mercy on us, O Lord, have mercy on us.
Let Thy mercy, O Lord, be upon us, for we have hoped in Thee.
O Lord, in Thee I have hoped; let me never be put to shame.
with the Lord’s Prayer, many prayers and sacred texts
throughout the world begin with praise. Thus the Qur’an opens
with this most ancient Muslim prayer of divine
the name of Allah, Most Gracious, Most Merciful. Praise be
to Allah, the Cherisher and Sustainer of the worlds; Most Gracious,
Most Merciful; Master of the Day of Judgment. Thee do we
and Thine aid we seek. Show us the straight way, The way
of those on whom Thou hast bestowed Thy Grace, those whose
not wrath, and who go not astray (Sura1:1-6; Yusufali translation).
this keynote, Islamic prayers decidedly emphasize the praise
of the god. Salat, the obligatory prayers of Muslims said
five times each day while oriented toward Mekkah include these
Glory be to Thee, O God! And Praise be to Thee; blessed is Thy
name and exalted Thy Majesty; and there is none worthy
besides Thee…. He is God, the One—God, the eternally
besought of all! He begets not, nor is begotten. And there is none
comparable unto Him. How glorious is my Lord, the Great!
high caste Hindus, the morning begins with a prayer of praise
known as the Gayatri Mantra:
we meditate on the lovely splendor of the Divine Sun.
May he inspire our minds.
for Divine Presence
While various religions
invoke different names for the ultimate reality and conceptualize
numerous ways, all traditions express
in similar ways a sense of wonderment in the face of mystery.
From the prayers of praise and thanksgiving, we return now to
the prayers of request—but not the request for things.
Let’s consider the prayers
that simply ask for the deep personal experience of the sacred. These are
the prayers that recognize the secondary importance of all things except the divine
itself, and they are among the loftiest utterances of humanity. From Augustine’s
have I loved you, O Beauty ever ancient, ever new, late have
I loved you! You were within me, but I was outside, and it
that I searched for
you. In my unloveliness I plunged into the lovely things which you created.
You were with me, but I was not with you. Created things kept me from you;
yet if they had not been in you they would have not been at all. You called,
you shouted, and you broke through my deafness. You flashed, you shone,
and you dispelled my blindness. You breathed your fragrance
on me; I drew in
breath and now I pant for you. I have tasted you, now I hunger and thirst
You touched me, and I burned for your peace.
is not always possible—or perhaps even necessary—to
distinguish prayers like this from poetry. The deep experience
of the sacred that prompts these prayers is a kind of inspiration
like that prompting works of art. Writers like the 14th century
Sufi theologian Mevlana Jalal’uddin Rumi and the Hindu mystic
and Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore address many of their prayer-poems
to the deity and write of profound yearning for divine intimacy.
Tagore opens the Gitanjali with this stanza:
hast made me endless, such is thy pleasure. This frail vessel
again and again, and fillest it ever with fresh life.
This little flute of reed thou hast carried over hills and dales,
and hast breathed through it melodies eternally new.
At the immortal touch of thy hands my little heart loses its
limits in joy and gives birth to utterance ineffable.
Thy infinite gifts come to me only on these very small hands
of mine. Ages pass, and still thou pourest, and still there is
the following passage, which opens the Mathnawi,
his immense volume of spiritual verse, Rumi speaks of his
to return to god from whom he feels separated. Interestingly, he
refers to himself as a “reed,” the same metaphor that
Tagore uses, and to god as the reed bed from which he has been
to this Reed forlorn,
Breathing, even since ‘twas torn
From its rushy bed, a strain
Of impassioned love and pain.
The secret of my song, though near,
None can see and none can hear.
Oh, for a friend to know the sign
And mingle all his soul with mine!
‘ Tis the flame of Love that fired me,
‘ Tis the wine of Love inspired me,
Wouldest thou learn how lovers bleed,
Hearken, hearken to the Reed!
these verses of Tagore and Rumi, we once again examine
similar prayers emerging from two very different religions
separated in time by centuries. What do we make of these and
the many other cross-religious similarities found throughout
life of prayer? I do not think they suggest that all religions
are the same or are pointing to the same realities. The great
religions of the world are just too massive and too internally
anyone to make such claims, especially on the slim evidence of
a handful of prayers. But I do think we can say that the religions
of the world may be much closer than we ordinarily think, especially
if we consider only their beliefs and doctrines as we are wont
to do. Let us simply say that any conversation, any cooperation
among religions, might well begin with prayer.
J. Craughwell, ed., Every Eye Beholds You: A World
Treasury of Prayer. New York: Quality Paperback Book
Venerable K. Sri Dhammananda, Daily
Buddhist Devotions. Kuala
Lumpur, Malaysia: Buddhist Missionary Society, 1993.
Shems Friedlander, Rumi
and the Whirling Dervishes. New York:
Parabola Books, 2003.
Elizabeth Roberts and Elias Amidon, eds., Earth
Prayers from around the World. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1991.
Tagore, Gitanjali. New York: The Macmillan Company, 1916
World of Prayers Index | Prayers
of Petition |
Prayers of Gratitude