If you visit Buddhist temples, you’ll probably see people making offerings of fruits, drinks, lighted candles and flowers etc to Buddha statues. Then silently wishing Buddha to bless them with happiness and good health etc.
This is a form of praying and Buddha had taught his disciples not to do that.
So why isn’t anyone discouraging it or educating the ‘Buddhist’?
For a start, not everyone care to listen.
More importantly, the deed of offering is a practice of giving. For most beginners, the easiest way to start their Buddhist practice is to practice giving.
Starting with the lowest level of practice, one gives with expectation.
In this case, prayer fits that category. That is why monks and nuns will not stop people from praying.
Imagine offering a cup of water, or some oranges in a plate and then praying for success in life. Perhaps a 500 dollar pay raise? Isn’t that a bargain! To seriously believe that it works requires tremendous amount of conviction in the devotee.
As one practice more, their heart and mind broadens. Their prayer also includes their love ones. Instead of praying for their self interest, they include their family and friends too.
That is an improvement but still with expectations.
As their practice deepens furthee and boundaries are broken, one prays for the welfare of strangers and other sentient beings too. In our endless round of rebirth, perhaps that lady sitting next to you in the subway, was your mother from a previous life. So may all be well and happy.
As we practice offering at the altar every day and wishing everyone to be well and happy. Our prayers become a practice of loving kindness. We realise that there is no need to bribe Buddha. We constantly wish people well. But our years of offering a stick of incense at the shrine has become a habit. A habit of daily giving without expectation.
That is an improvement too.
As we develop our mind and practice, our action takes on extra layer of significance.
It takes wisdom to be non judgemental and look beyond the surface. That is the wisdom of our Sangha.
May all be well and happy.