However, various Buddhist lineages utilize recitations which read and sound like traditional Western prayers. In fact, Tibetan Buddhism is heavily invested in these and have published A Book of Common Tibetan Prayers. Use of the word ‘prayer’ confuses some who know that Buddhism is non-theistic and does not acknowledge any deity who can grant wishes or desires. The issue results from the Tibetan mon lam which is translated as ‘prayer’. Translators, who are usually Western and influenced deeply by the Christian tradition, employ Christian language when translating Eastern concepts. While the term prayer is the simplest and quickest way to translate mon lam it does not convey fully nor accurately what mon lam contains. Mon lam rejects any sense of hopelessness, desperation and desire which is usually connected with prayer. It also rejects the idea of wishful expressions directed toward a wish granting divinity.
For Tibetans, monlam is an articulation of one’s purpose and can be understood as a personal mission statement. In the introduction to A Book of Common Tibetan Prayers this understanding of mon lam is offered: “For practicing Buddhists, a mon lam harness and directs the natural power of our own minds, and invokes the power of the reality or truth of interdependence to yield actual results or benefits from that effort, dedication and process...In the Buddhist view, everything good that we do, everything we can accomplish, begins as an aspiration. Mon lams both crystalize our intentions, and help us realize them; they help us resolve our goals, and lead us toward them. We recite mon lams to chart the course of our own spiritual practice and progress.”
Furthermore, every mon lam is carefully worded to help an aspirant make the transition from where one lives in one moment but seek to be in another. A mon lam is a tool for developing skillful means reinforcing one’s aspirations.