Merits and Precepts

Venue: Sepetang Buddhist Society, Kuala Sepetang

First and foremost, I would like to wish everyone a Metta New Year! We are happy to be here in Kuala Sepetang today. I noticed that there is a wonderful coincidence that our two organizations have the same initials – SBS – Sepetang Buddhist Society and Sasanarakkha Buddhist Sanctuary.

I’m quite surprised by the number of people who offered alms to us during the pindacara. It’s as if half of the population of Kuala Sepetang came to do that! As this is the first time for many of you to give dana to monks, I think it is appropriate for me to talk a little bit about dana.

In this world, we can see that some people are extremely rich, others miserably poor while most of us are somewhere in between. Some people literally have to work themselves to the bone simply to earn a pittance of a living, while some are born with a silver spoon in the mouth and whatever they touch turns to gold (so to speak). Why, you may ask, is life so unfair?

The Buddha explained that this is the result of our past karma, which determines our storehouse of merits. Dana is a source of good merits. I once met a feng-shui master who said that she would assess a potential customer before agreeing to provide feng-shui consultation. What does she do? She checks if he has the merits to be rich. If she finds that he does not have such merits, she would not take up the job. Otherwise, the customer would only waste his time and money, and she would also get a bad name for it. So, in such a case, this person is unable to strike it rich simply because he does not have the favourable karmic backing required. No matter how hard he tries, no matter how smart he is, no matter how he tries to adjust his feng-shui, so long as he lacks the karmic potential to be as rich as he wants, he will not achieve his financial goal.

In the Buddha’s teachings, dana is neither the only nor best the source of merits. Greater meritorious deeds, in ascending order of greatness are, taking refuge in the Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha, keeping the Five Precepts and ultimately, practising Metta and Vipassana. It is by these practices that one can gain a good rebirth in either the human or heavenly planes—depending on your aspirations.

Question from the audience: “Our livelihood depends on catching fish in the sea so we break the first precept daily. What can we do about this?” [Note: Kuala Sepetang is a fishing village.]

This is a difficult question for me to answer. But in any case, I have to say fishing is breaking the first precept. I think we have to acknowledge that as it is. The karmic reaction is the same for anyone who breaks it – just like gravity pulls everyone to the surface of the earth without exception. It does not favour some, give excuses for others or exclude anyone from the corresponding result. Therefore, there are no two ways about this. If one commits the act, then one will receive the corresponding karmic effect. Whatever a person chooses to do is ultimately a personal choice. We choose and we reap the karmic effect of our actions.

The ideal solution, of course, is to avoid killing totally – choose another vocation. This may or may not be a useful advice for most of you.

Perhaps you should try to take steps to preserve and prolong the lives of other beings for e.g., buy and release captured animals, help to heal sick people, etc. You might like to follow the example of some Buddhists who periodically go to the market to buy and release live eels or frogs that were meant for the dining table. However, one should be wise enough to release them in a safe place to prevent them from being recaptured. There is a wonderful story of a terminal cancer patient who undertook to repeatedly buy up an entire fishing boatload of live fishes to be released back into the sea as an act of kindness. She eventually found herself free from cancer.

On a personal note, before I became a monk, I had begun to refrain from killing mosquitoes. I find that funnily enough after about a year, fewer mosquitoes come to attack me. They seem to prefer others. However, if I’m alone with Bhante Aggacitta, they would come for me instead. I suppose that’s because he has kept the precept longer than I have!

Let me end this talk by saying that when a person can keep the first precept well, it conduces to a long life in this life as well as in the next.

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