Today, Ven Kumara continues with the series of talks on blessings.
Buddhists believe in meritocracy: the Law of Karma states that if we do good we receive good; if we do bad deeds we receive bad repercussions.
“Doing good” is a simple enough phrase; but it has wide implications and connotations. The Buddha’s teachings can be summarised as follows:
Abstain from evil
Cultivate the heart
Abstain from evil
For a lay person, the way to avoid evil is to keep the 5 precepts: do not take life, do not steal, do not commit sexual misconduct, do not tell lies and do not take intoxicants.
All sentient beings have life, including mosquitoes, cockroaches, ants, etc. Just as a person does not wish to be harmed, neither does a mosquito which, when sucking one’s blood, is merely taking its meal. All desire well-being and fear suffering. We need a certain degree of loving kindness within us to understand that we are one with all beings. Understanding of this oneness will, in turn, help us maintain a basic kindness, practise compassion and observe this precept of non-violence.
The key to observing the 5 precepts is consideration. Once we understand that just as we do not want our things taken from us, we should not take others’ things without their consent
Similarly, just as we do not want to be lied to or to suffer the painful repercussions of sexual misbehaviour, we should also appreciate the importance of keeping the third and fourth precept.
When one is intoxicated, one is not in a normal state of mind and is liable to break all five precepts. A very clear case of the aftermath of taking intoxicants is the story of an attractive young woman who, after a party, joined her friends for a ride in a car of which the driver was high on alcohol. There was an accident and the girl was badly burnt and scarred for life, looking like a monster, half-paralysed. Such terrible consequences should remind us to keep the fifth precept.
Observing the 5 precepts is an aspect of doing good.
So too is dana—giving to anyone in need, including beggars. Offering services for free is another way of doing good. The act of dana is meritorious, even that of feeding an ant. What then is the difference between giving to a monk and giving to an ant? Buddhists believe in a hierarchy of karmic returns based on several factors, including purity of the giver, purity of the recipient, and the intention. If one takes the trouble to give of the best, then the karmic return is the best. If one gives of the best to those whose virtues are fully developed, then the merits that one gains is immeasurable.
Likewise, when we pay respects to those worthy of respect, we are also doing good. This is central to the Buddha’s teaching. It is also an element of Asian culture in general and Chinese culture in particular (filial piety). Buddhists believe in paying respect to elders, to those with superior virtues and to those of a higher level of spiritual attainment. People understandably find it strange to see older people paying respects to a young monk, just as I did in the early days of my encounter with Buddhism. Thus añjali, the putting together of the palms in a show of respect, is a Buddhist tradition. Four things grow in one who pays respect to those worthy of respect: long life, beauty (both physical and of the heart), happiness and strength.
When one gives with respect, one will receive wealth and respect in return, in this or later lives. One’s words will bear weight and others listen to one’s instructions, be it one’s spouse, children or workers. If you offer with disrespect, you may become rich, but you will not have the respect of those around you.
Cultivate the heart
Doing dana and observing the 5 precepts create a solid foundation for the purification of one’s heart, which can only be attained through the practice of meditation.
Even higher than doing dana is taking refuge in the Triple Gem. You have just taken refuge in the Triple Gem and established yourselves in the 5 precepts. So you are now in an advantageous position to offer dana that will qualify for great merit.
Then when you share your merits with your departed one, he may have the opportunity to rejoice and benefit greatly. But from what I know of the circumstances surrounding the late Mr. Long’s demise, I would like to believe that he has taken rebirth in a favourable realm of existence, where he may not even be aware of today’s dana and sharing of merits. He may not even need the merits because of his elevated status.
Buddhists believe that for transference of merit to be effected, the newly reborn recipient must (a) witness the meritorious occasion and (b) rejoice when the merits are being shared. If these two conditions are not met, then the departed one will not be able to receive a share of the merits.
Nevertheless, you have done what is expected of the bereaved towards the deceased. You have also performed meritorious deeds that give you immediate results—joy and satisfaction—as well as good kamma that has the potential to give wholesome results in the future. Sadhu!