Nowadays, we often see that people often go to temples and monasteries to seek blessings from the gods, devas, dragons, Bodhisattvas, and Buddhas. People offer incense to them, talk to them, pray to them, and in return asks the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas to grant them happiness, safety, riches, good grades for their children. Sometimes, people also ask the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas to get them out of trouble. This is good since we put our faith on the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. However it crosses the line when if we don't get something we prayed for, or if something undesirable happens, and we blamed the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas.
Why does this cross the line? We have to be clear of what is Buddhism and what is superstition. Praying for something and becoming agitated, frustrated, or disappointed when our prayers were not answered is superstition. Buddhism is the cultivation of our minds, not cultivation of our insurance. If we think that the more incense we burn for the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, or the more money we give to the temple will help you solve problems we, cannot solve,we are not Buddhists. We are instead, following Chinese traditions of praying to the gods and devas. Buddhism is not an insurance policy. You do not pay weekly, or monthly premium and ask for favors in return, or think that you'll be granted several benefits depending on the premium you pay. Who are we to make demands and commands from the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas? Buddhism is not a business transaction. What is the mind that we are having when you are paying respect to the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas? In repentances, we often recite " I single-mindedly bow (一心頂禮) ..." Do we have a single-mind when we pray or pay respects to the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, or do we have a scattered mind that wishes for many things? When we pray, are we sincerely praying, or merely treating it as a business transaction like" Oh dear Buddha, I am now burning so many incense for you, or I have given the monastery so much money. Please grant me this and this or that and that". What is the mind that you have when you perform your ritual?
We have to recognize what each Buddhist ritual signifies, and the symbolism in each of them. Not knowing them, we are ignorant. Knowing them, we will strengthen our own cultivation. Thus it is said that people who are enlightened to the Way work on their on minds. How do we recognize what each Buddhist ritual signify? Don't be afraid to ask the monastics. Most of the time, we do not know what to ask. If that is the case, ask yourself the next time you go to the temple or monastery: What does 1 incense or 3 incense signify? Why do Buddhist burn incense? What does each prostration mean? What is the meaning of half bow? Why are incense made of certain length? What is the meaning of donation in Buddhism? What is the meaning of having name plates during rituals? What does the color of the name plates mean?
There are so many questions we can ask. We should not be afraid to ask. Take for example, in the Amitabha Sutra, nobody asks about the Pure Land. The Buddha spoke this Sutra without anyone asking. There is no dialogue between the Buddha and a disciple. The Buddha asked Sariputra so many questions, but in the end it was the Buddha who answered them all. It seems like it is very hard to ask questions. Therefore should not be afraid to ask questions about Buddhism that we do not know about. The more questions asked, the more doubt we cut, the more ignorance we cut, and the quicker we will become enlightened to the Way.