Kamma and Merits

Venue: Taiping Hokkien Association

Today we had an excellent opportunity to collect pindapata and I am also happy to be able to deliver this Dhamma talk at the Hokkien Association of Taiping. For Buddhists, it is normal practice to chant the Three Refuges and the Five Precepts before giving alms food. The reason for this is that we believe in the concept of merits and merits-making.

There are varying degrees of merits which can be obtained, depending on the type of dana one has performed. It is a fact that merits are obtained irrespective of whether a person gives dana to an animal, a beggar, a ‘bogus’ monk or a practising monk who is pure in his precepts. However, the merits obtained varies in each of the above situations. Furthermore, if a person takes the Three Refuges and observes the Five Precepts before performing the dana, the merits obtained is enhanced especially if the person keeps the precepts diligently. So, the purity of mind and conduct of both the donor and the recipient of a particular dana determine the value of the merits accrued.

A devotee once asked the Buddha whether it is true that one will only obtain merit if he gives dana to the Bud-dha and his retinue of monks as opposed to giving to those of other religions. The Buddha replied that this was not true and merits are always obtained whenever a person does a good deed. For example, when a person dis-cards food remnants from his plate into the river with the thought that the remnants may provide food for the fishes in the water, he also gains merits.

The Buddha also mentioned that there are many different degrees of merits. He told the story of Anathapin-dika, a great philanthropist, who gave to all and sundry that needed his help. On one occasion, Anathapindika lamented that the food he had donated on that day was of poor quality ( rice cooked by boiling broken grains and a dish of fermented paste). However, the Buddha said that the value of the food given is not as important as the virtue of the donor. If one gives with faith and respect, does not ridicule or harm the recipient and is full of generosity, the dana is well performed.

The Buddha then gave the example of Velama, an exceedingly wealthy Brahmin, who performed dana of an astoundingly rich value. However, the merits he obtained were only minimal because at that time, there were no virtuous, enlightened monks to receive them. If he had had the opportunity to just offer even a simple meal to a sotapanna, the merits accrued would have far surpassed the merits obtained from that luxurious dana of his. Again, the value of meritorious actions increases in multiples of a hundred in direct proportion to the virtues of the recipient, in ascending order from a sotapanna to a full-fledged arahant, a Pacceka Buddha and from there to a Samma Sambuddha. Even greater than all these are the merits accrued by a person who takes refuge in the Triple Gem in all its purity. But one who undertakes and steadfastly upholds the Five Precepts obtains merits that far surpasses what has been mentioned earlier. And even greater that this are the merits accrued by one who radiates metta to all beings for a few seconds. The greatest merits are obtained when one can observe, even mo-mentarily, the arising and passing away of the Five Aggregates.

In Thailand, where Buddhism is deeply entrenched, there are people whose chosen livelihoods leave much to be desired, for example, members of drug or vice syndicates and people in the sex industry. However, being Bud-dhists, they know about kamma vipaka and realise that they will reap whatever they have sown. In order to counteract the demerits of such unmeritorious lifestyles, they are usually very generous and do a lot of dana, donating a lot to build temples and schools. In their future rebirths, they may be reborn as animals in luxurious surroundings such as pampered pets of rich people. Even in SBS, we have three cats, which are quite pampered and will only eat fish and not plain rice! In some homes, people rear arowana, an expensive breed of fish, which thrives on a good diet. However these animals have no freedom and are caged. It is thus a good practice not to keep ‘caged’ animals in our houses such as birds in cages or fishes in small aquariums so that in our future lives, we will also be free.

Whenever we finish chanting the Three Refugees and the Five Precepts, the monks normally say ‘appamadena sampadetha’. This means “do not forget to fulfill your vows/training”, thus reminding devotees to continue to uphold in their daily lives what they have chanted. There are people who are afraid to chant the Five Precepts because they fear that they will break these precepts easily. They are under the misconception that once a pre-cept is broken, a serious akusala deed has been committed and that is the end of everything. In truth, we can always renew our precepts as long as we are honest with ourselves about how serious we truly are in keeping them pure.

Furthermore, for every second that you keep your precepts pure, you have already achieved that second of good meritorious kamma. That is how kamma works. If you have enough good supportive kamma, sometimes even some non-weighty bad kamma can be nullified. Of course, if you have accumulated some very weighty akusala kamma, there is no way out and you just have to bear the consequences of that action. If you take the lives of others, you will have a very short lifespan. If you torture others, you will be born sickly. Always keep in mind that kamma does not act on its own accord. It is dependant on the conditions present such as the environ-ment one is in, food, surroundings and also one’s state of mind. Keep your precepts well and you will be fine.

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