A Buddhist Mantra based on the Prayer of St. Francis

Saint Francis and the Birds

Here is a mantra I often work with during the day. It’s an adaptation I made of the much-loved Prayer of St. Francis of Assisi. (St. Francis is my favorite Christian saint, among other things, because of his love of animals, and especially birds!  See: The Compassion of the Swans)

In Buddhism, working with a mantra is different from the usual method of meditation—I would describe it as a kind of combined mindfulness practice and metta, or loving-kindness practice. Rather than the breath being the focus, or states of concentration, the focus is on the meaning and feeling and spirit of the words.

You might spend many minutes on any one verse—holding it in your heart, feeling it, tasting it, letting it diffuse throughout your being. Frankly, I rarely get through all the verses, but usually get “full” and grounded in love well before the last verse.

There’s no “right” way to work with the mantra, but as in prayer, or meditation, you will probably find that your mind wanders off and away from contemplating the meaning of what you are saying, or reading.  Again and again, you’ll need to bring your thought, and your heart, back to the verse to contemplate what it means to you and to the world.

Be patient, be loving, but persist!  It can take a while for the meaning and import of the words to sink in and begin to melt the hardness, coldness, and indifference in our hearts. If you get discouraged sometimes, always remember  you are getting in touch with what’s best in you—your deepest desire to love and be loved.

I know this mantra by heart now, but in the beginning, I would carry it around on a 3×5 card so I could refer to it. From time to time during the day, I’d take a break from whatever I was doing and read and ponder the words on the card.  Soon, I had it memorized.  Over time, I was amazed at the deep changes that took place in me as I consistently worked with this earnest aspiration to be an expression of love and goodness in the world.

May this mantra, this prayer, this deep aspiration, be a help and inspiration to your life as well. I offer it from my heart to yours.

A Buddhist’s Mantra

(based on the Prayer of St. Francis)

May I be an agent of love in this world.
Where there is hatred, let me bring loving-kindness;
Where there is injury, forgiveness;
Where there is doubt, insight;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
Where there is sadness, joy.

May I console as well as be consoled.
May I understand as well as be understood;
May I love as well as be loved;
For in giving we receive;
In forgiving, we are forgiven;
In dying to self-centeredness, we are born to the deathless.

For your inspiration, here is a very lovely piano transcription of “Pie Jesu” by as played by Angelicus from the collection Bella’s Lullaby:

Pie Jesu


About Steven Goodheart

"I have made a ceaseless effort not to ridicule, not to bewail, not to scorn human actions, but to understand them." Spinoza

19 Responses to “A Buddhist Mantra based on the Prayer of St. Francis”

  1. Thank you. A beautiful version! 🙂

  2. I am confused and have posed the same question to every so-called “holy person” I’ve met (yogi, minister, priest, author of spiritual material, many who can be considered “enlightened”, etc.,.) and have yet to find the answer. This is my first visit to this website and so, I will pose it to you as well. Let us take the mantram of St Francis of Assisi as an example, as it encompasses the essence of what we all should be striving for. As I read the beautiful lines (and as well as the many holy writings I have studied for years as a seeker of truth), I can’t help but ask how can this possibly work with people in our lives who have substance abuse problems? I have given of myself unselfishly until I have been devastated many times over. I am a selfless person, yet it doesn’t work in regards to these people. How can we be all these things, these Christian attributes, without being used? I see comments from people who have, or do attend 12 step programs, but what about those of us who are being used by such people to the point of stripping them of everything, including their power. I know this sounds terribly weak of me, but understand I am strong, and have at my core, my relationship with God that I rely on daily to get me through. I am grateful for that. But, I could be on the streets, holding a sign asking for money, and still have that. I know there will be those reading this who will suggest Al-Anon, a 12 step program for families and loved ones of alcoholics and addicts. I have been attending that program and yet find it almost contradictory to all that the St Francis of Assisi prayer and all the holy writings purvey. It just doesn’t seem realistic, as do the secular professions profess, in this day and age. I wonder, how would St Francis of Assisi deal with having people like these (alcoholics and addicts whose behavior is bizarre and their minds irrational) on a daily basis. He isolated himself, and that is what I must do to just to preserve my sanity! I oftentimes find myself wanting to move away somewhere and not let anyone know where I am. I live alone in a wonderful, simple, small home that God has blessed me with and love, love, love my solitude, but I am constantly being preyed upon by my only son, who is addicted to drugs. Al-Anon says, “Let go and let God”; basically, kick them out and leave them on the streets until they hit their bottom. I am torn with the contradiction of this. It is almost like I am being someone I’m not, when I meditate and spend time with God, and yet have to turn my back on my son. Am I being fake? I hope I am explaining the dilemma to the point of understanding. I realize God also gives discernment, but…it is difficult to turn away from someone I love who is in need. I apologize for the lengthiness! And I am almost ashamed for putting it all out there, because I am strong in my relationship with God.

  3. Steven- I absolutely LOVE this and I wanted to let you know that I’ve read this while leading my sangha many times. May you be held in lovingkindness

  4. I am a stay-at-home-mom, this mantra will be very useful as I try to show my children loving kindness.

  5. The prayer of St. Francis is one of my favorites. Thank you for combining the Buddhist Mantra. Lovely!

  6. Thanks for this!

    Suffering drove me, as a last resort, to 12 Step fellowships. The Steps ask me to abandon selfishness and self-centeredness, and live in the light of an encompassing wisdom. I can’t relate to “god” as the Abrahamic religions conceive it, which was how I came to Buddhism.

    Practice is very difficult for me. What self wants is the exact opposite of practice. The Prayer of St Francis has long been one of the most effective ways for me to become willing to practice, and I appreciate your tweaking of it very much.

    – Ian

  7. Rhonda Kampers Reply 2010/07/15 at 5:55 AM

    Hello Steven,

    Thankyou, from my heart to yours….
    I would like your explanation on the last line, if you would be so kind.
    What does that mean…”In dying to self -centeredness, we are born to the deathless”

    Many thanks and Kind regards

    • Hello Rhonda! Thanks for stopping by and for your question.

      In Buddhism, the “deathless” refers to complete liberation, enlightenment, freedom from all suffering and the conditions that give rise to suffering. It’s another name for nibbana (nirvana), but really, all words fail, because such is beyond all descriptions.

      Dying to self-centeredness points to the Buddhist teaching (and the teaching in just about all the great religions) that only as we gain freedom from our small-minded egotism and self-preoccupation can we truly be ourselves (paradoxically) and love “our neighbor as ourselves.” To get “unselfed,” to begin to disidentify with the small, limited, and ultimately, fabricated sense of ourselves can often feel like a kind of dying, the death of the ego. Again, almost every religion talks about this kind of “death” as the way to be “born again” or renewed or transformed.

      The interesting thing is, speaking from my own experience, is that what we can cling to so fiercely as “self” and “who we are” proves itself to be, when we do finally let go, utterly a sham, an illusion, a “fake self,” a fabrication of feelings, thoughts, images. And of course, we go through many little “deaths” as we learn to stop identifying with the small ego and, as in some spiritual paths, seek union with the divine to find out who we really are.

      Hope this helps, and that I understood your question. Feel free to ask more, if not.

      With warm metta,

      • Rhonda Kampers Reply 2010/07/15 at 10:28 PM

        Hello Steven,

        Thankyou, there are times when I need some understanding and enlightenment, since discovering your wonderful blog it has become a great wealth in my life.

        with gratitude…..always Rhonda

        • Rhonda,

          Wow, thank you! Your words really mean a lot to me; my hope has always been that this blog would be a help and refuge and resource for others. I’m so glad you found it and that it speaks to your needs. Thanks so much for taking the time to comment.


  8. Thank you, Steve–this is really beautiful. They also refer to St. Francis’ version of the prayer in 11th Step meetings of AA/NA, and it makes me happy whenever I hear it. St. Francis seemed to transcend religion; it’s a message that I’d love to learn to practice every day (working on it!), and fits in perfectly (maybe even better) in a Buddhist (and/or AA!) context.

    I may try a 3×5 card, too…

    Hope you’re well (I’m getting ready to move to Florida next week–I’m thinking about training to be an oily-birdie washer, just in case it becomes necessary on the east coast as well…I’ll be thinking of you if I do!).


    • Nancy! My dear friend. You are moving to FL? Wow! Since I assume this is something you’ve wanted to do, I’m so happy for you. What part of the eastern side are you going to? (You can e-mail with details, if you like, instead of answering here, of course!)

      Yes, I think that when folks go deep enough, we find common ground and we transcend our human descriptions and views of the ineffable. Whatever the “end game” may be, the best in all spiritual teachings points to love, unselfish love, and freedom from egotism and selfishness, as essential to liberation, awakening, or “the kingdom of heaven.”

      Please do keep in touch. I’m sure you will be awfully busy, but when things settle down, please update me!

      With much affection and gratitude for having met you,


      • Hey, Steve,

        I’m sorry I didn’t respond earlier–you’re right; moving has been a huge undertaking and I’ve been crazy busy (and tired!). But we’re here–St. Augustine, right on the beach…sunsets to make you cry, and lots and lots of wildlife (a bit different from NJ!). The really good news is that, so far, my son seems to be having a wonderful time (hard not to here) and adjusting well–any metta you can send his way will be greatly appreciated! (The birds and dog seem to be pretty cool with everything so far, too. My dog has never had a proper beach walk until now!)

        Gotta run–thanks for all your kindness.


  9. Will have to put this on an index card to carry around. I have it displayed in two locations in my house. I like the changes in this text, though. It makes more sense this way.


    michael j

    • Most welcome, my friend. I wore out quite a few cards, myself! I often carry around other “mettas” this way, too. It’s funny how a physical reminder in your pocket, or posted around the house, as you’ve done, can be a call back to mindfulness and presence.

      With affection,


  1. A. H. Almass on Sinking Your Boats and becoming the Universal Heretic | Metta Refuge - 2011/08/22

    […] A Buddhist Mantra based on the Prayer of St. Francis […]

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