Here's one take on prayer from a Tibetan Buddhist perspective from an interview on the Snow Lion website:
Prayer, Awareness, and Choosing Enlightenment: An Interview with Anam Thubten
[Author Anam Thubten]
Jeff Cox: Sometimes when I'm troubled, I'm moved to pray. But as a Buddhist I don't think of it as asking God for something. What is your view on the purpose of prayer?
Anam Thubten: There are many ways to understand prayer. It means something different from person to person—and even for the same person, it might be different at different times.
To me, prayer is an act of devotion, and a non-conceptual, powerful method of dropping the ego mind of control, fear, doubt, and anger—right in the moment—and realizing the Buddhamind or bodhicitta. It is an act of surrendering everything to that great work of the universe—beyond anyone's control—and trusting in the grand play of the universe. When you trust in it, you feel released from the fear and insecurity and accept—not acceptance like we are trying painfully to accept something we don't appreciate, but true acceptance with trust.
The object of prayer is not so important in Buddhism, even though there are lots of deities and benevolent spirits. Buddhism teaches that deities such as Avalokiteshvara or Tara are not outside of oneself—they are an expression of one's true nature, the emptiness, the source of all things, the absolute truth.
JC: So praying to Chenrezig is a way of calling on your own inner strength to help make circumstances go in a better way?
AT: Absolutely. In the Tibetan tradition, we have these three buddhas (or bodhisattvas), Manjushri, Avalokitesvara, and Vajrapani. Manjushri symbolizes intelligence and wisdom, Avalokiteshvara symbolizes love and compassion, and Vajrapani symbolizes strength, courage and power. They are all expressions of what we truly are; each of these principles is an inherent property of our basic nature. So when we pray to them, it is an act of invoking those inherent enlightened qualities present in all of us. In the ultimate sense, there is no object that is being prayed to—there is no separation between the object being prayed to and the person praying.
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