Is it selfish to make wishes for ourselves? What do you pray for?

Back in 2012, I wrote a post entitled “Why do we make wishes for ourselves?” It became, to my surprise, the most popular post on the blog. But it is encouraging to see that there are people out there asking the same questions as me. I figured I should write an update to reflect the developments of my thoughts on this issue.

We all want many things in life. Most of us are stuck in a never-ending rat race fueled by our desire for social status. We aim for a fancier job title, a more expensive car, or a bigger home. And we make wishes for them. While this kind of wishes is perhaps not that commonplace, it is often made in Thailand that it concerns me.

Is that wrong?

At one point in my life, when I give thanks at Buddhist shrines, my wishes were like this:

“May all beings find peace.”

“May my family be ever in good health.”

“Please give me the strength to remain rooted in Buddhism. Please give me the strength to refrain from evil.”

“Please guide me in the right direction.”

I stopped short of making explicit wishes for myself. I did not believe that to be acceptable. In the past few years, I started to want more and more for myself. I started making personal wishes–against my beliefs. I felt selfish, confused, and disappointed. Why did I feel this way?

Although I no longer consider myself Buddhist, I am still heavily influenced by its teachings. I believe that what transpires in my current life is a result of past karma–good or bad. So in a way we have limited control over the results of those karma in our lives, but we can in fact influence our future with the karma we made in the current life. My life is interconnected with all others on this planet, and I do not exist solely to maximize my own welfare. In Christian lingo, one can perhaps say I am part of God’s plan. I am here to serve. I believe what happens in my life is part of a divine plan, and the act of paying respects at religious sites or prayers should be just that: paying respect. It should not be a means towards achieving a personal goal.

We live in a culture where we are led to believe that we never have enough. Or we are never enough. Together, we’ve created a society that fuels competition and hunger for material possessions. Consequently, we pray for more stuff. We’ve created a society that fuels desire, and it’s hindering our ability to exercise compassion. I shall be more direct in answering the titular question this time: I believe it is wrong to make wishes for oneself, except as part of a larger purpose.

This conclusion arises as a result of my belief that our lives on this planet are for a greater purpose beyond our individual goals. I respect that there are different viewpoints out there. However, I believe that we can feel our internal resonance with the idea of a greater purpose. Maybe it’s to make loved ones happy. Or maybe it’s to change the world. Whatever it is, I wish you the conviction to stay true to it.

What do you pray for?


0305 – Why do we make wishes for ourselves?

About two weeks ago, I was at a temple in Fatehpur Sikri, about an hour away from the Taj Mahal. There was a praying spot where we were told to give offerings and make a wish–for long life, good health, children, etc. It reminded me of one issue that I’ve thought about for quite some time:

Why do we make wishes for ourselves?

It seems almost counter-intuitive to me that when we pray, we make rather self-centered wishes. Shouldn’t we be praying for world peace? Shouldn’t we be praying for alleviation of poverty? Shouldn’t we be praying for love to supplant the hatred in our world? Isn’t the act of praying imply some sense of transcending the desires of the self? It doesn’t make sense to me.

This thought dawned upon me a couple years ago, and since then when I pray, I thank God for my past fortunes. Then I pray for hope in the world. In my opinion, I don’t think it’s right to wish for our own better lives. I think our lives are made better, knowing that we are here to serve a larger purpose.

Perhaps next time, when we make a wish, we can think about those who need the prayers more than we do. It brings much more joy than asking for the winning lottery ticket.