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What is Merit?
Merit (puñña) is the product of good deeds. Merit is a form of positive energy that is created whenever a good deed is performed: mentally, bodily or verbally. Merit is the force that causes one to be pretty, smart, rich, famous, or fortunate, whichever the case may be.
Merit also means virtue, goodness, happiness, pureness, and fullness, all of which result in ‘good karma’. If you have done good deeds in the ‘past’ you will find yourself in a happy situation in the present, and in the ‘future’. The ‘past’ is broken down into two stages: the ‘near past’, which took place during this life time; and the ‘far past’, which took place in the previous life times. The ‘future’ can also mean the future in this life time and the future in the lives thereafter.
Different types of good deeds bring different types of good results. For example, if you have done plenty of charitable giving in your past life, you will end up being a well-to-do person in your present life. The more good deeds you have done in the past, the better off you will be in the future. The opposite of merit is ‘sin’. Sin is the product of bad deeds. Bad deeds cause ‘bad karma’. Sin is a negative energy that is created when a bad deed is performed: mentally, bodily or verbally. If you have done bad deeds in the 35 past life, you will suffer bad consequences in the present life, and even after.
Certain types of bad deeds also bring certain types of bad results. For example, if you were selfish, stingy and mean in your past life, you will be poor and miserable in your present life. If you have killed or tortured people or animals in your past life, you will be born with physical problems and sickness in this life, and so on.
Both good deeds and bad deeds are governed by the Law of Karma. Good deeds bring good karma and bad deeds bring bad karma. You are responsible for your own actions, good or bad. For whatever deeds you have done, you will bear the consequences. You reap what you sow. No one can pass on his merit or sin to you, nor can anyone participate or share with you in your merit or your sin. It’s like eating or drinking, you can’t eat or drink on another person’s behalf in order to fix his hunger or thirst.
Our thought, speech and action are controlled by our mind. A wholesome mind leads to wholesome thought, action and speech. Our personality and expressions reflect what is in our mind. When we are content and happy, we project a cheerful, positive and pleasing demeanor that is appealing to people. When we are gloomy, pessimistic or angry, we project a negative outlook that dispels others. No one wants to be near someone who is angry or hateful. When we are happy and content with ourselves, we project a personality of self-confidence and social grace. For this reason, merit can indeed change our personality to be more pleasing and likeable.
Merit brings satisfaction, contentment and happiness to one who performs it. Notice how we feel a wave of joy when we make a charitable contribution or help someone in need? Merit makes our heart full. Merit belongs exclusively to the one who possesses it. It is the property of the person; is a part of that person; and stays with that person wherever he may be, in this life or the next. Merit is not transferable. It cannot be taken or shared by others.
Merit acts like a wish-fulfilling instrument that turns our wishes into reality. Merit behaves like a magnet that attracts good things in life to us. Merit is the basis for all wealth, health and happiness. It is due to merit that one has the ability to accumulate knowledge, wisdom, social status and financial success.
Merit protects one from physical dangers in precarious situations, such as during an accident or a natural disaster. It is also due to merit that one possesses good physical appearance and strength.
Merit attracts good people to our lives. Merit empowers us, with the ability and mental strength, to fight against defilements and to live a virtuous life. People with merit are sure to be in a happy destination after they leave this world.
Nothing lasts forever, however. Merit is no exception; it can be used up and spent. Like money, the more we spend the less we will have left. The fact that we are enjoying our good life today is because we are “spending” the fruits of our “old” merit. Without creating “new” merit, we will soon be back to square one, i.e. not having any merit left to save the day. It is therefore critical that we keep rebuilding and accruing new merit, whenever and wherever we can; the more the better.
Because merit is the product of good deeds, to create new merit, all we have to do is to keep performing good deeds. In the end, it is the force of merit that frees us from the cycles of birth and rebirth, the sources of suffering.
We benefit from merit in four levels:
1. The mind -- improving the quality and the potentiality of the mind.
We Are What We Have Done – Law of Cause and Effect
There is a cause for every consequence as dictated to the Law of Karma. Each specific type of deeds brings specific consequence. Here, we will learn the causes that make a person lucky or unlucky, rich or poor, beautiful or ugly, smart or stupid, etc.
Ten Ways to Perform Good Deeds
1. Giving (dana). Giving is an act of generosity. Generosity is a weapon against greed, selfishness, jealousy and ill-will. Giving can be in many forms, such as giving money, clothing, food, or medicine, giving worldly knowledge, giving spiritual knowledge, and giving forgiveness. Even giving a smile brings merit.
3. Mental cultivation (bhavana). The Mind is the most important composite of the entire human entity. The mind is the source of all actions, good or bad. Good thoughts produce good actions (good karma); evil thoughts produce evil actions (bad karma). In its natural state a mind is pure and perfect. But the mind is often sullied with mental impurities known as defilements (kilesa). Defilements
4. Being respectful. Be humble and respectful of others. Honor those who are worthy of honor. People favor those who are humble. No one likes people who are arrogant, egotistical, and stubborn. Humility is a virtue that wins goodwill and support from others.
6. Rejoicing in the merit of others. Give appreciation and encouragement to those who perform good deeds. This act of appreciation and encouragement attracts support and help, instead of obstacles, from others.
7. Extending merit to others. As we perform good deeds we channel the energy of our merit to others, including our loved ones. This is another form of giving.
8. Receiving Dhamma teaching. Dhamma is the foundation for all moral principles and spiritual wisdom. It is through Dhamma that we get to know the Law of Karma, the cycles of rebirth, and the truth of nature.
9. Giving Dhamma knowledge. By giving Dhamma knowledge, we are providing the moral foundation and spiritual guidance to others.
10. Developing the Right Understanding. Avoiding the Wrong View; adopting the Right View; having the ability to tell right from wrong and good from bad.
These ten good deeds can be summarized into three basic practices:
Successful Merit Drives from our GMC group: