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Aloka
09 Jan 11, 11:26
I was looking at a thread about merit in the beginners forum and then thought I'd start one here in the debating forum.

I've always been uneasy about the idea of doing things to purposely 'accumulate merit' because it seems a contrived reason to do good things. If we only do them to try to benefit ourselves (even if we 'dedicate the merit' to others) and indeed if we have that purpose in mind in the first place, its hardly just spontaneously performing wholesome acts out of kindness and concern for others. As for others actually benefiting from having one's merit dedicated to them (if they don't know about it), I think its more of a tool designed to generate an altuistic unselfish attitude in the person doing the dedicating.

I also can't see how, realistically, certain acts to supposedly accumulate merit suggested by some traditions actually work that way, to be quite honest. It seems too contrived too,especially when a whole group of people performs an act of supposed merit together, which is said to be for the merit accumulation of the centre or monastery or wherever, and makes then feel they've done something important. I'm thinking of release of captive animals and fish at the moment - sometimes with no consideration for the fact that the environment they're being released into might not be suitable and they might have even more suffering as a result.

Another example is circumnambulating a stupa containing the remains or something once belonging to a teacher - I don't see how that would make me a better person or free from dukkha. I have, in fact, done circumnambulations of stupa's, monastery, temple, statues etc when I was younger, due to just doing what I was told was good to do at the time, ...but I don't feel any need to do it now.

Anyway, taking into consideration that there are different viewpoints on this, I wondered what your thoughts were about it.

I found this short Ajahn Chah teaching in which he mentions merit.




Making the Heart Good

These days people are going all over the place looking for merit. And they always seem to stop over in Wat Pah Pong. If they don't stop over on the way, they stop over on the return journey. Wat Pah Pong has become a stop-over point.

Some people are in such a hurry I don't even get a chance to see or speak to them. Most of them are looking for merit. I don't see many looking for a way out of wrongdoing. They're so intent on getting merit they don't know where they're going to put it. It's like trying to dye a dirty, unwashed cloth.


continued here: http://www.ajahnchah.org/book/Making_Heart_Good1.php


:hands:

Aloka
09 Jan 11, 13:00
Just as an afterthought, I think that if our chosen monastery or centre has free accommodation, free meditation instructions, and free teachings, and is run by ordained sangha, then obviously its beneficial for all concerned for the lay community to support them with donations and help whenever possible. This ensures that we have the continuation of Dhamma teachings and instruction.

Naturally also, the practice of morality, kindness and genorosity etc is beneficial for oneself and others, as is meditation.

I wasn't meaning that kind of more obvious merit/benefit in my previous post.


:hands:

clw_uk
09 Jan 11, 14:10
I have always wondered if this idea of making merit and sharing such merit is actually in the Suttas or if it came later, I dont remember reading it in the Suttas myself...

Aloka
09 Jan 11, 15:03
I think in general, the idea of making merit for future rebirths is probably a popular one.

Regarding the dedication of merit to others, this seems relevant in the Dhammapada v.165 :

" Evil is done by oneself alone;
By oneself is one defiled.
Evil is avoided by oneself;
By oneself alone is one purified.
Purity and impurity depend on oneself;
No one can purify another."

So how is dedicating one's own merit to others actually going to benefit them - nice thought that it is ?

Here's a sutta about merit.




AN 8.39 Abhisanda Sutta: Rewards

"Monks, there are these eight rewards of merit, rewards of skillfulness, nourishments of happiness, celestial, resulting in happiness, leading to heaven, leading to what is desirable, pleasurable, & appealing, to welfare & happiness. Which eight?

"There is the case where a disciple of the noble ones has gone to the Buddha for refuge. This is the first reward of merit, reward of skillfulness, nourishment of happiness, celestial, resulting in happiness, leading to heaven, leading to what is desirable, pleasurable, & appealing; to welfare & to happiness.

"Furthermore, the disciple of the noble ones has gone to the Dhamma for refuge. This is the second reward of merit...

"Furthermore, the disciple of the noble ones has gone to the Sangha for refuge. This is the third reward of merit...

"Now, there are these five gifts, five great gifts — original, long-standing, traditional, ancient, unadulterated, unadulterated from the beginning — that are not open to suspicion, will never be open to suspicion, and are unfaulted by knowledgeable contemplatives & priests. Which five?

continued here:

http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/an/an08/an08.039.than.html

Cloud
10 Jan 11, 00:14
There is the merit that is general goodness, and the merit that brings one into right view; literally makes one a good person, as opposed to simply acting on what they suppose is good (what others say is good). I have the PDF of Ajahn Chah's teachings and remember that part of it, Dazz, and it's really true. Although doing good things does produce good results for others, if we don't understand why we do it, it's only emulated goodness. The monks still need the support of those who, well, support them... but those people aren't freeing themselves by this if they're doing it thinking they'll have a better rebirth; it is only mind that truly suffers, and if mind isn't brought into right view, that suffering is going to continue.

Deshy
10 Jan 11, 03:51
Doing a meritorious deed and sharing that merit with your dead relatives is a tradition in some countries :angel:


...


Including mine. My grand mum sometimes chants it so that her dead uncle can be reborn in a higher realm :mrgreen:

Deshy
10 Jan 11, 03:55
As clk said I have so far not seen such in suttas myself and it is interesting to know how and when this tradition came about. I can't help but think that some monks made it up in order to get more alms food... :bounce: :love:

Esho
10 Jan 11, 14:30
I've always been uneasy about the idea of doing things to purposely 'accumulate merit' because it seems a contrived reason to do good things.

From the perspective of Zen it is not a wholesome practice to "accumulate merit..."; We think is a kind of becoming and birth.

;)

Red Thread
10 Jan 11, 19:15
It is a little strange to consider my meditation as having any sort of cosmic bank account into which I am depositing...what? karma points? frequent flyer miles? And what kind of supernatural experience is supposed to occur that I can transfer those points to another? I like the idea of keeping our loved ones in our thoughts and hope that they will transcend suffering, but aside from not harming them, I don't see this action as anymore beneficial than asking for prayers because my grandma is sick, or lighting a candle so my dead relatives will be able to find their way home. It seems more like our natural human inclination towards superstition, because it's a ritualistic "connection" to something other, something more, something powerful, and we want to bask in the light of it's favor. That being said though, it is a difficult question because we don't really know how much or how little we can influence the unseen realms.

Mani
10 Jan 11, 21:17
This is a difficult subject, I think. I don't feel the word properly represents what it is or the importance of it, but one Teacher I have received teachings from liked to look at merit as kind of like "supplies and provisions" needed for a long trip. It's an interesting analogy.

We need sufficient merit to overcome obstacles we may experience on our path, and help not to be "blown away by our karmic winds" as another teacher put it.

I certainly don't discount the importance of merit.

From a Mahayana standpoint, merit is an essential aspect to both practice and one's cultivation. From a mahayana point of view, I think one of the best ways to accumulate merit is by not necessarily doing good deeds for someone, but giving them an understanding of dharma so that they can free themselves from the causes of suffering. When you look very honestly at it, in some small way, most "good deed's" we do for others' still has some attachment from our side.

Magga
11 Jan 11, 05:59
I'm not sure about the dedication of merit, but it seems like the accumulation of merit would be well worthwhile if you take these two suttas at face value.


Rebirth on Account of Giving

"There are eight kinds of rebirth on account of giving. What eight?

"Herein, monks, a certain person makes a gift to a recluse or a brahman, offering him food, drink, garments, a vehicle, flowers, incense, ointment, bedding, housing or lighting. In making the gift, he hopes for a reward. He now notices noblemen of wealth, brahmans of wealth or householders of wealth, provided with the five sense pleasures and enjoying them. And he thinks: 'Oh, may I be reborn among them, when I die, when this body breaks up!' And he sets his mind on that thought, keeps to it firmly and fosters it. This thought of his aims at what is low,[7] and if not developed to what is higher,[8] it will lead him to just such a rebirth. After his death, when his body breaks up, he will be reborn among wealthy noblemen, wealthy brahmans or wealthy householders. This, however, I declare only for the virtuous, not for the unvirtuous;[9] for it is due to his purity, monks, that the heart's desire of the virtuous succeeds.

"Then again, a certain person makes a gift to a recluse or a brahman, offering him food... or lighting. In making the gift, he hopes for a reward. He now hears of the long life, the beauty and the great happiness of deities in the realm of the Four Great Divine Kings — the Thirty-three gods — the Yaama gods — the Tusita gods — the gods of creative joy — the gods controlling others' creations, and he wishes to be reborn among them. He sets his mind on that thought, keeps to it firmly and fosters it. This thought of his aims at what is low, and if not developed to what is higher, it will lead him to just such a rebirth. After his death, when his body breaks up, he will be reborn among the deities in the realm of the Four Great Divine Kings... the gods controlling others' creations. This, however, I declare only for the virtuous, not for the unvirtuous; for it is due to his purity, monks, that the heart's desire of the virtuous succeeds.

"Then again, a certain person makes a gift to a recluse or a brahman, offering him food... or lighting. He now hears of the long life, the beauty and the great happiness of the deities of Brahmaa's realm, and he wishes to be reborn among them. He sets his mind on that thought, keeps to it firmly and fosters it. This thought of his aims at what is low, and if not developed to what is higher, it will lead him to just such a rebirth. After his death, when his body breaks up, he will be reborn among the deities of Brahmaa's realm. This, however, I declare only for the virtuous, not for the unvirtuous; only for one free of lust, not for one who is lustful.[10] Because he is without lust, monks, the heart's desire of the virtuous succeeds.

"These, monks, are the eight kinds of rebirth on account of giving."

— AN 8.35



Ways of Meritorious Action

"There are, monks, three ways of making merit.[11] What three?

"There are ways of making merit by giving, by (practicing) virtue and by meditation.[12]

"There is a person who, only to a small degree, has practiced the making of merit by giving; and, likewise to a small degree, he has practiced the making of merit by virtue; but the making of merit by meditation he has not undertaken.[13] This one, after death, when his body breaks up, will be reborn among humans in an ill-favored condition.[14]

"Another person has practiced to a high degree the making of merit by giving as well as by virtue; but the making of merit by meditation he has not undertaken. Such a one, after death, when his body breaks up, will be reborn among humans in favorable conditions.

"Or he will be reborn in the company of the deities of the Four Great Divine Kings. And there, the Four Great Divine Kings, who had practiced to a very high degree the making of merit by giving and by virtue, surpass the deities of their realm in ten things: in divine life span, divine beauty, divine happiness, divine power, divine sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and touches.

"Or he will be reborn in the company of the Thirty-three gods. And there, Sakka king of gods, who had practiced to a very high degree the making of merit by giving and virtue, surpasses...

(The same statements are made for rebirth among the Yaama gods, Tusita gods, the gods of creative joy, the gods controlling others' creations, and for the respective rulers of these realms.)

"These, monks, are the three ways of making merit."

— AN 8.36


source: http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/authors/nyanaponika/wheel238.html

Esho
11 Jan 11, 23:49
Discernment through Right View leads to merit as a result; Otherwise "accumulation" of merit is another way of becoming and rebirth.

;)

Aloka
12 Jan 11, 08:57
In the article "The Concept of Timelessness in Buddhism" in our General Buddhist discussions forum, are the following comments about the accumulation of merit:

"With the development of a very clear understanding of the mind process, it would become easy to comprehend that the timelessness cannot be experienced from this mind process. Thus the thought process or any actions taken as a self will be of no avail to move towards the final goal.
This may also open our eyes to question the relevance of the general belief that the accumulation of merits (which are in fact acts performed by a self within the thought process) is essential to become enlightened in a future life. With the realisation of impermanency of thoughts, the desire to cling on to thoughts would diminish and the practice of ‘let go’ of thoughts would become easy. However, this is only the beginning. Our attention has to be focused not on the thoughts, but to the point of arising of thoughts. "

http://www.buddhismwithoutboundaries.com/forum/index.php?topic=3467.0

Magga
12 Jan 11, 09:11
You can see how those who approach Buddhism from a faith perspective, as opposed to wisdom through practice, can be drawn to such suttas and subsequently resort to taking the "easier" approach without doing much, if any, meditation practice. Then, for some, when their approach is challenged they might fall back on the view that they have many lives to develop spiritually, so what's the rush. But due to the uncertainty of even the next moment, this kind of complacency could, especially over the course of many years, end up leading to the accumulation of defilement, not merit; and of course, as already mentioned, either way this is a path of letting go, not acquiring.

Esho
12 Jan 11, 10:26
But due to the uncertainty of even the next moment, this kind of complacency could, especially over the course of many years, end up leading to the accumulation of defilement, not merit; and of course, as already mentioned, either way this is a path of letting go, not acquiring.

I agree. At least this is the view that has zen about the issue of merit. Lets leave merit accumulation to religious practitioners. The real merit is to practice here and now.

;D

Mani
12 Jan 11, 14:13
Let's not forget kaarine, that people practice from different traditions from your own and the language used may be different.

Is merit none other than coming closer to the truth? And in which case is merit none other than the ripening of causes and conditions that allow us to see that truth a little more clearly?

It's unfortunate that you feel merit accumulation is unnecessary and is for "religious practitioners". Merit allows us to cultivate our wisdom, it is our ripening karma that allows us to meet not only wise and good spiritual friends (teacher's), will help us to stay on the path when our own obstacles arise. Without this merit, we would not even be able to hear a word of Dharma. At least this is from a Mahayana perspective...

And Yes, Malaga this is a path of "letting go", but do you not think that it is necessary to have a path for our cultivation until the point where we are able to let it go? An analogy that worked well for me is like peeling layers of skin from a fruit, for example, to find that there is no seed inside. However, in order to reach this point, we must first peel the layers. As the great Master Aryadeva said, "Once we reach the other shore, we must abandon the boat." Seems to me the boat is necessary then...

Be well

Esho
12 Jan 11, 15:25
Let's not forget kaarine, that people practice from different traditions from your own and the language used may be different.

Sure. Sorry if sometimes I sound quite radical about some issues. I can understand what you are telling. We see merit as a result not as an intended action when the practice of Dhamma is about. The Soto school with which we practice has as its central teaching the Four Noble Truths. Merit is a result of this practice. I think the issue here is not about merit but the idea of accumulation of it. When you have to practice generosity, be the practice of it. When its time to sit, be the practice of it. Do not ever think in getting a profit of that. Just do it, because generosity has to be done without any reason. When you sit, just do it, because sitting has to done without any sense of profit. If this accumulates merit or not is not really important. In this way you do not accumulate. You just practice the Dhamma leaving the rest to work by itself.

In Soto Zen we call this the practice of Mushotoku. The No Profit philosophy. Mushotoku leads to inner peace, detachment. No fear about loosing, no selfishness about acquiring. No need to rush about because there is nothing to get.

Thanks for shearing Mani,

:hands:

Mani
13 Jan 11, 02:55
Forgive me Kaarine...

:hands:

I think that we are on more of the same page than I might have realized. Yes, I like this approach that you give mention to. There is a beautiful "pith instruction", called the "song on Mahamudra" by Jamgon Kongtrul Lodro Thaye, and one line states

"Since in the action of Mahamudra there is no reference point for any action, be free from the intention to act or not."

I think this parallels quite nicely to what you have mentioned. And, I suppose it could be said that the ripening karma of the actions done with such a view is in fact our merit. Giving up attachment to any aspect of our actions is definitely a key aspect of the view. Thanks for the reminder... :bow:

londonerabroad
13 Jan 11, 04:40
Accumulation of merit is absolutely necessary if one wants to understand the concept of emptiness. Dedicating ones merit to others increases its value because once again it contributes to our realization of emptiness or the wisdom mind of the Buddha. It may appear to be contrived but is in fact right effort, as it is not directed at the false, ego-clinging self.

Aloka
13 Jan 11, 07:04
Accumulation of merit is absolutely necessary if one wants to understand the concept of emptiness. Dedicating ones merit to others increases its value because once again it contributes to our realization of emptiness or the wisdom mind of the Buddha. It may appear to be contrived but is in fact right effort, as it is not directed at the false, ego-clinging self.

In the section ''Emptiness'' from "Heartwood from the Bo Tree", Ajahn Buddhadasa said :

"Whether there is merit or demerit is up to us. If contact with the world leads to truth-discerning awareness then it is merit (punna). If contact with the world leads to an increase in foolishness and delusion than it's demerit (papa)."

http://www.what-buddha-taught.net/Books/BhikkhuBuddhadasa_Heart_Wood_from_the_Bo_Tree.htm

and in ''The Way it is" Ajahn Sumedho says:

"We can decide not to do evil. We don’t have to kill, lie, steal, distract ourselves and drug ourselves or get lost in moods and feelings. We can be free from all that.
It’s a wonderful opportunity in the human form to refrain from evil and to do good – not in order to store up merit for the next life, but because this is the beauty of our humanity. Being a human can be a joyful experience rather that an onerous task."

My own view is that I think that I should do my best to practice the Dharma and do what I can for other beings. However, I feel that understanding emptiness both conceptually and in meditation, isn't rocket science, nor something unattainable. It comes through practice and relaxing and letting go, rather than obsessing about the necessity to store up merit before one can understand it. Sharing merit is a very nice thought though, and helps one to be be motivated by generosity towards others.

Finally, "All that is subject to arising is subject to ceasing," as is clinging to beliefs of one kind or another.


With metta,

D-A :hands:

Esho
13 Jan 11, 14:15
Forgive me Kaarine...

There is nothing to forgive about... I really enjoy when traditions agree in their understandings. It is a relief. Sometimes I am so enthusiastic about Zen that I forget that maybe, if not completely different, there are other ways to follow Dhamma.

;)


"Since in the action of Mahamudra there is no reference point for any action, be free from the intention to act or not."

I think this parallels quite nicely to what you have mentioned. And, I suppose it could be said that the ripening karma of the actions done with such a view is in fact our merit. Giving up attachment to any aspect of our actions is definitely a key aspect of the view.

Yes, that is the idea. To perform in such a way is giving up attachment.

;D

Esho
13 Jan 11, 14:24
It’s a wonderful opportunity in the human form to refrain from evil and to do good – not in order to store up merit for the next life, but because this is the beauty of our humanity. Being a human can be a joyful experience rather that an onerous task."

Again, Sumedho seems to touch deep; I agree with him. Why to store? What has to be stored?

;D

upekka
20 Jan 11, 19:47
During the time we 'do good' we do not 'do bad'
(sabba papassa akaranm
kusalassa upsampada)
whether we accumulate merit or not, it makes a stage for 'concentration and insight meditation'
(sacitta pariyo dapanam
etan Buddana sasanam)