The first time I am aware that I met another Buddhist, I met several.  There was the man who would become my teacher, Dennis, who was quietly organizing a visit from some Tibetan lamas and the monks accompanying them.

There may have been more Buddhists among those of us who had arrived to hear the free talk, but I was too intimidated to introduce myself to anyone. We sat in the pews in the Unitarian church, while the official Buddhists sat up front on chairs.  I remember very little of the talk itself, but I know that somewhere in the middle of it there was a discussion of the eightfold path, and no one on stage could quite sort out all eight items.  Neither could I.  In the end, the discussion got so chaotic that we let go of the need to get it right, and moved on to talk of other things.

After the meeting, I plucked up my courage and went and introduced myself to Dennis, who let me know that there was a group that met weekly.  For the first time, I was not a lone Buddhist.

When I went home, I began thinking about how hard it is to remember the basic principals of the Buddha’s teachings, so I decided to write a little mnemonic device to go with a set of mala beads.  Working on the project meant that I would spend some time trying to figure out, not just what the names of each item were, but what they were about.  I found that last step quite difficult because the authorities I turned to seemed to disagree.  But even once I had what felt about right, it took a while more for me to put it in a tolerable form (brevity is not my strong suit) but what follows is the end result.


May the Buddha be my guide
As I seek the Middle Way
Along the Path of Awakening.
May the Dharma be my source
To find Buddha within and without
That I may improve my practice.
May the Sangha be my company
As I discover my way
Renewing my commitment to practice,
So that I may know The Four Noble Truths:
That within and without there is suffering
All beings share this condition
That suffering has a cause
Grasping at illusions
That suffering may cease
Seeing clearly, letting go
That there is a path to the end of suffering
And that is the Eightfold Path:
Right view or understanding
To have passed through illusion
Until there are no views.
Right thought and resolve
Practice skillful means: harming none,
Reflecting both before you act and after.
Right speech
Rather be silent than harm others
Shun gossip, abusive, divisive or deceitful words.
Right action
Do not take that which is not given
Avoid killing, and the abuse of sex.
Right livelihood
Do not trade in death, drugs or another’s misery
Make your living honestly, living within your means.
Right effort
Practice: not to exhaustion, nor harshly
Practice: not casually, but steadily, focused.
Right mindfulness
With awareness always in the moment
Of how your actions relate to the Path.
Right concentration
Focused meditation, avoiding desire, ill will
Torpor, restlessness, or doubt.
May I follow the Eightfold Path.
May I know the Four Noble Truths:
Suffering, cause, cessation and path.
May I be guided by the Triple Gems:
Buddha, Dharma and Sangha.
The nature of all things is one
Form is emptiness,
Emptiness form
Nothing separates us
Guided by Buddha within and without
So that I may know Enlightenment
So that all may know Enlightenment.


Were I to write this today, it would be much different — that’s what happens when time passes while we live, study, and practice: understanding changes.  Still, it offers a fair summary of the basics, and who knows how many years it would take me to write another.

I call it a prayer because of all the “May I”s — it could as well be called an affirmation — but all it really is intended to be is a way to help us remember.  The funny thing is that I have never memorized it, so it didn’t really help me that way — perhaps it will help you? — but it represents the beginning of the best part of my journey along this path: The good humor of the speakers representing the Buddha, the interest in a dharma that doesn’t need to be perfectly recalled to work, and my first step into the supporting structure of the sangha of those who have helped me on the way.


You can find a plain text copy of the mala prayer here.

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  1. […] A Mala Prayer […]

  2. mknick on July 6, 2011 at 11:57 am

    See, now, this I could see as the basis for group chanting — the first entry in the Secular Buddhist Chant Book (which you are welcome to lay on the floor if you need to). Chanting to learn and remember the basics of the teaching (as opposed to building merit to dedicate to the lineage, or something).

  3. Dana Nourie on July 11, 2011 at 11:32 am

    I keep rereading this because I feel like it’s so well worded. You could take any one of these and work on that one thing, use it as your focus, and then repeat through the list. Really nicely done!

  4. Jenny on September 13, 2012 at 11:27 pm

    Printing out for display on my fridge!

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