jcsuperstar wrote:how is this done? i see people talk about not relying on devas etc, but never have i been taught, outside of a christian perspective, how to actually ask a deva for help or whatever it is that is done. is there a sutta that talks about this? or was this just some common indian practice? is it just a matter of plopping some food in front of a statue and making a wish?
In addition to what is intentional there is a belief that often times when a practitioner is making a resolution before a Buddha statue, to an arahant, or other similar examples, that it is actually devas and the like who sometimes intervene. Though this is not to say that there are not instances where "prayers" (I prefer to call them resolutions) have not been heard/answered by the targeted party.
The premise is similar to the justification often used for kumon tong. These beings increase their own merits by aiding another presumably virtuous being in a virtuous task/situation. These devas and other such beings are in need of merit and linger before their next rebirth. Performing merits will obviously lead to a better rebirth for them and in order for them to have the maximum opportunity they linger around merit fields. Wats, uposathas, shrines (presumably at the residences of virtuous people), and other such locations are merit fields.