Making Merit - or is it craving?

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Making Merit - or is it craving?

Postby cooran » Fri Sep 14, 2012 8:51 am

Hello all,

I'd be interested in your thoughts on this short opinion piece:

‘’Upon arriving in southern China in 527 CE, Bodhidharma, the first Zen patriarch, visited Emperor Wu of Liang at his capital in Nanjing. This monarch was proud of his many great acts of charity: building temples, copying sutras, feeding monks. When he asked Bodhidharma how much merit all this had earned him, he was crestfallen when the monk bluntly told him, "None at all."

Bodhidharma was trying to make a point (you can probably find it by googling him), but there's another point that people ought to think about. I understand that many Thai Buddhists perform acts of charity - donating money to temples, etc - with the intention of earning merit. Such merit-making sounds praiseworthy, but is not entirely altruistic: they expect that the merit thus earned will guarantee them good fortune in this or some future life.

I understand that the Buddha taught that karma is produced, not by specific actions, but by the underlying motivation for those actions. (Correct me if I'm wrong.) He also taught that craving is the cause of suffering. Is it not reasonable to assume that if you perform good works with the motive of gaining good fortune in the future, that craving will undermine and nullify the effects of those good works?

Merit-making with no desire for reward is admirable; but the craving for reward poisons it. As the late Buddhadasa Bhikkhu remarked, "That's not religion; that's just a business deal."’

http://www.nationmultimedia.com/opinion ... 89582.html

with metta
Chris
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Re: Making Merit - or is it craving?

Postby Hanzze » Fri Sep 14, 2012 9:08 am

Agree with those two Bhikkhus.

Here a third Bhikkhu (Ashin Janakabhivamsa), maybe a little away from buildings but in regard of the new trends:

Knowledge and Practice

Knowledge is not practice. Mere knowledge is useless. Books can offer knowledge but cannot practice for the reader. There are many who are literate, who have gathered much useful knowledge on the practice of Dhamma but very few uses, such knowledge to one's advantage. In the midst of majority of such people in the world, chances are slim to foster good, righteous mind.

For example, many deeds of Dana are performed nowadays not with view of accumulate parami merits but to keep in line with social trend of showing off, vaunting their success and wealth for all to see; people no longer follow the path of parami laid down by noble, virtuous ones. The social climbers, in deed, know their Dana will bear no good fruit or very little, but because of their strong craving for popular acclamation, social acceptance and recognition, they sink to the level of doing deeds that the ignorant people do even though they know they should not.
Just that! *smile*
...We Buddhists must find the courage to leave our temples and enter the temples of human experience, temples that are filled with suffering. If we listen to Buddha, Christ, or Gandhi, we can do nothing else. The refugee camps, the prisons, the ghettos, and the battlefields will become our temples. We have so much work to do. ... Peace is Possible! Step by Step. - Samtach Preah Maha Ghosananda "Step by Step" http://www.ghosananda.org/bio_book.html

BUT! it is important to become a real Buddhist first. Like Punna did: Punna Sutta Nate sante baram sokham _()_
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Re: Making Merit - or is it craving?

Postby whynotme » Fri Sep 14, 2012 10:35 am

Dear Cooran,

IMO, i don't agree with that story or the shocking strategy of zen tradition.

First of all, it is against the Buddha's teaching, he said even throw away waste food for worms still have merit. So to speak the truth, IMO, even when showing off, there is merit for the one giving.

Secondly, there are many ways to express something in a pleasant way to householders to understand. E.g when the Buddha taught lay people, he always began with teaching about merit, about devas, about happy lives because of merit, and then when their mind were ready he taught about suffering, not that he jumped straight to those things when others were not ready.

I think normal people like praising, so let assume that if he ask me, at first I will praise his deeds, that let his mind has joy and happiness, then I will teach him that his deeds will bring much more merit if he did it with other intentions like many of the suttas teach about merit.. When people are happy, they mind are easily concentrated to accept right things and give up wrong things. Even something is right but saying that make people feel angry or unhappy, IMO, it is not a good strategy to save them.

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Re: Making Merit - or is it craving?

Postby Hanzze » Fri Sep 14, 2012 10:49 am

whynotme wrote: throw away waste food for worms still have merit

If you share waste food with worms, means that you give something you have taken to much. That is not taking for giving as building requires or donating while still taking. Killing ants to feed worms is not of much merits.

So to speak the truth, IMO, even when showing off, there is merit for the one giving.

There is actually no giving when a reward is expected (what ever it might be, even the expect that somebody is happy). As Buddhadasa was quoted, that is simply business.

Secondly, there are many ways to express something in a pleasant way to householders to understand.

Yes, Buddha told that he was a great doner similar to this example (in a previous life), but it had no fruits because there was no worthy receiver. Short after explaining who are fields of merits, he excelt Dana with the merit of Sila and so on, which is always higher than the biggest gift in the world, not to speak on th enext steps.

E.g when the Buddha taught lay people, he always began with teaching about merit, about devas, about happy lives because of merit, and then when their mind were ready he taught about suffering, not that he jumped straight to those things when others were not ready.

That is maybe what people teach who make a livelihood with Dana. Those who are strange attached or slaves to Dana he suddenly pushed further.

I think normal people like praising, so let assume that if he ask me, at first I will praise his deeds, that let his mind has joy and happiness, then I will teach him that his deeds will bring much more merit if he did it with other intentions like many of the suttas teach about merit.. When people are happy, they mind are easily concentrated to accept right things and give up wrong things. Even something is right but saying that make people feel angry or unhappy, IMO, it is not a good strategy to save them.

From my experiance raga and saddha characters are not helped by soft links while pushing them further, but just if they see that they are actually leaded by desire without much wisdom, not helping them selves nor others.
Just that! *smile*
...We Buddhists must find the courage to leave our temples and enter the temples of human experience, temples that are filled with suffering. If we listen to Buddha, Christ, or Gandhi, we can do nothing else. The refugee camps, the prisons, the ghettos, and the battlefields will become our temples. We have so much work to do. ... Peace is Possible! Step by Step. - Samtach Preah Maha Ghosananda "Step by Step" http://www.ghosananda.org/bio_book.html

BUT! it is important to become a real Buddhist first. Like Punna did: Punna Sutta Nate sante baram sokham _()_
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Re: Making Merit - or is it craving?

Postby Dan74 » Fri Sep 14, 2012 11:03 am

I guess Bodhidharma was urging the emperor to see beyond his notions of accumulating merit. To see the conditioned nature of good karma and bad karma. Emptiness.

It is not a denial of merit-making. Indeed Chinese Buddhism is very big on making merit. Form is emptiness, but emptiness is also form. So seeing into the conditioned nature does not mean such acts are pointless. It is grasping after merit that is pointless, not merit-making itself, though its fruit are conditioned and ultimately unsatisfactory.

There are many versions of this story. Some that differentiate the good karma and true merit (which is more akin to insight and liberation). I guess in Zen the key teaching is a sweeping away of the attachment to the worldly, even when the worldly is acts of great merit like supporting the Dharma.

"What is the highest meaning of the holy Dharma?' asks the Emperor.

"Vast emptiness, nothing holy," came Bodhidharma's reply.

The emperor was very learned and renowned for his good deeds. He was adept in the worldly Dharma. Perhaps he was ripe for the rug to be pulled from under his feet? This is the shocking tactic of the Zen school - whatever is the most immediate attachment, that is snatched away. For one who is not yet proficient in the worldly, you don't snatch the worldly. But for one who has mastered the worldly and pitches his tent there, he/she is urged to keep going. Sometimes setting that tent on fire is the only way to make someone move...
_/|\_
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Re: Making Merit - or is it craving?

Postby Ben » Fri Sep 14, 2012 11:30 am

Hi Chris,

Yes, intention is key. However, its my contention that even if one is mainly motivated by greed for future rewards, then the act of giving itself must contain some moments of genuine selfless generosity for that individual to give at all.
I recently completed reading a very interesting work which discussed at length the role of merit making in Burmese society and how it binds the laity, sangha and state together and how it legitimizes the state. It makes for some very interesting reading.
http://www.amazon.com/Burmas-Mass-Lay-M ... 0896802558
I highly recommend it.
kind regards,

Ben
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Re: Making Merit - or is it craving?

Postby bodom » Fri Sep 14, 2012 12:47 pm

Merit making is a wholesome desire to do good (chanda in pali), chanda also being one of the four bases of success. The Buddha encouraged the cultivation of good deeds or merit making.

:anjali:
The heart of the path is SO simple. No need for long explanations. Give up clinging to love and hate, just rest with things as they are. That is all I do in my own practice. Do not try to become anything. Do not make yourself into anything. Do not be a meditator. Do not become enlightened. When you sit, let it be. When you walk, let it be. Grasp at nothing. Resist nothing. Of course, there are dozens of meditation techniques to develop samadhi and many kinds of vipassana. But it all comes back to this - just let it all be. Step over here where it is cool, out of the battle. - Ajahn Chah
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Re: Making Merit - or is it craving?

Postby kirk5a » Fri Sep 14, 2012 1:00 pm

Who understands the precise working out of kamma? ;)

However, I can become aware of the effect of my own actions on my own state of mind. Good actions, good results - "visible here and now." Now when people start looking outside of their own mind, thinking that means money will fall from the sky, yes there is clearly a problem.
"When one thing is practiced & pursued, ignorance is abandoned, clear knowing arises, the conceit 'I am' is abandoned, latent tendencies are uprooted, fetters are abandoned. Which one thing? Mindfulness immersed in the body." -AN 1.230
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Re: Making Merit - or is it craving?

Postby Hanzze » Fri Sep 14, 2012 1:09 pm

bodom wrote:Merit making is a wholesome desire to do good (chanda in pali), chanda also being one of the four bases of success. The Buddha encouraged the cultivation of good deeds or merit making.

:anjali:

As long as it is making merits of cause. And as long this merits making does not require demerits to be done yes.

kirk5a wrote:However, I can become aware of the effect of my own actions on my own state of mind. Good actions, good results - "visible here and now."

Can you bring a sample.
Just that! *smile*
...We Buddhists must find the courage to leave our temples and enter the temples of human experience, temples that are filled with suffering. If we listen to Buddha, Christ, or Gandhi, we can do nothing else. The refugee camps, the prisons, the ghettos, and the battlefields will become our temples. We have so much work to do. ... Peace is Possible! Step by Step. - Samtach Preah Maha Ghosananda "Step by Step" http://www.ghosananda.org/bio_book.html

BUT! it is important to become a real Buddhist first. Like Punna did: Punna Sutta Nate sante baram sokham _()_
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Re: Making Merit - or is it craving?

Postby Sylvester » Fri Sep 14, 2012 1:26 pm

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Re: Making Merit - or is it craving?

Postby kirk5a » Fri Sep 14, 2012 1:38 pm

Hanzze wrote:Can you bring a sample.

Have an excellent day Hanzze.
"When one thing is practiced & pursued, ignorance is abandoned, clear knowing arises, the conceit 'I am' is abandoned, latent tendencies are uprooted, fetters are abandoned. Which one thing? Mindfulness immersed in the body." -AN 1.230
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Re: Making Merit - or is it craving?

Postby DAWN » Fri Sep 14, 2012 2:07 pm

Good action without Metta is craving
Metta without good action is suffering
Metta with bad action is folly
Bad action with metta is zen [joke :spy: ]

PS there is a level when you must let go subjectiv metta (doing merit), and dwell in absolute metta, wise metta, without good or bad, without judging, without correcting, but let dhammas be what they are - this is a absolute merit action, absolute metta, wise like a mirrow.

I heared that once Bouddha said somethink like : if you still in that state of mind during the time that takes a dew to flow down on your face, that will be more meritious that if you build a thousands of stupa.
Perharps he takes a not exactly the sames images, perharps he has never said that... but anyway it's true. :meditate:
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Re: Making Merit - or is it craving?

Postby santa100 » Fri Sep 14, 2012 2:08 pm

I think the act of making merits, whether for a selfless/altruistic purpose or for selfish purpose do result in a more comfortable life later on. However, whether this comfortable life will be conducive to awakening or liberation, it all depends on the original "intention" of the person. Just look at people like Hugh Hefner, Donald Trump, or more extreme examples like Stalin, or Kim Jong Il, they must've done tons more "merits" than any of us, but does that mean they have a better chance at attaining final liberation? Emperor Wu did obviously enjoy all the luxuries as fruits of his merits, but at the end, he still died because of illness and starvation! This minute detail is a very important point for us to remember..
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Re: Making Merit - or is it craving?

Postby kirk5a » Fri Sep 14, 2012 2:22 pm

DAWN wrote:PS there is a level when you must let go subjectiv metta (doing merit), and dwell in absolute metta, wise metta, without good or bad, without judging, without correcting, but let dhammas be what they are - this is a absolute merit action, absolute metta, wise like a mirrow.

Why take the stairs when you can fly to the rooftop, is that your view?
"When one thing is practiced & pursued, ignorance is abandoned, clear knowing arises, the conceit 'I am' is abandoned, latent tendencies are uprooted, fetters are abandoned. Which one thing? Mindfulness immersed in the body." -AN 1.230
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Re: Making Merit - or is it craving?

Postby David N. Snyder » Fri Sep 14, 2012 5:03 pm

Ben wrote:Yes, intention is key. However, its my contention that even if one is mainly motivated by greed for future rewards, then the act of giving itself must contain some moments of genuine selfless generosity for that individual to give at all.


I agree. The end does not always justify the means, however, some giving, any giving, even with some expectation, is better than being a selfish miser who never gives his time, money, or labor to anyone or any cause. The giver may not be an arahant and who are we to judge and speculate on kammic outcomes.

Another example could be the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Sure they are billionaires, sure their name is written all over the foundation, but look how much good they have done; from building homes, providing jobs, scholarships, to vaccinations in the Third World; they have probably saved millions of lives. Perhaps it was to have their name known as philanthropists, perhaps for the Foundation, their legacy, for winning the Time magazine persons of the year. In the end, did it not help so many people? And of course they could have done like many billionaires and buy another yacht, Rolls Royce, etc.

The Vimanavatthu in the Khuddaka Nikaya is full of stories of generous lay people during the time of the Buddha and from the times of previous Buddhas and how their generosity was rewarded with heavenly mansions. Of course we could say the intention was pure for these generous lay people, but the stories are clearly there to encourage such generosity in future generations too.

Receiving is also another good practice. As lay people there are plenty of times we receive gifts from others. Does jealousy arise, do we question the value of the gifts, the motive of the giver? If so, then we are not acting in a wholesome way as the receiver either. Such mind states would be the far enemy of mudita (and probably the far enemies of metta, karuna, and upekkha too).

Once I was eating with some family and friends at a restaurant and the person who invited all of us went to receive the bill. I knew that he was not of good financial means so offered to pay the bill. This is somewhat a common practice among some people as some will fight for the bill to pay it (perhaps out of generosity or perhaps out of ego). The person who invited us told me that this was his invitation and he insisted he will pay. I realized what a stupid mistake I made and apologized and of course let him pay. As receivers we can make mistakes too, just as the giver may not always have the best motives too.
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Re: Making Merit - or is it craving?

Postby befriend » Fri Sep 14, 2012 5:21 pm

this is a little off topic but is it bad to do good deeds out of happiness for oneself and at the samet time out of compassion for the recipient. i enjoy the bliss that comes from giving, i could see how someone could get attached to it, and LIKE it. so is it better to not think of onself at all when giving?
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Re: Making Merit - or is it craving?

Postby DAWN » Fri Sep 14, 2012 6:39 pm

kirk5a wrote:
DAWN wrote:PS there is a level when you must let go subjectiv metta (doing merit), and dwell in absolute metta, wise metta, without good or bad, without judging, without correcting, but let dhammas be what they are - this is a absolute merit action, absolute metta, wise like a mirrow.

Why take the stairs when you can fly to the rooftop, is that your view?


"There is a level" mean that there is a stair.

That is concern metta, it's must be develop at maximum before start to develop direct comprehention of anicca, dukkha and anatta.
If we dont have a base of metta before understanding anica dukkha and anatta, there is a risk to discover a "Dirk side".


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Re: Making Merit - or is it craving?

Postby Bhikkhu Pesala » Fri Sep 14, 2012 7:19 pm

Venerable Ledi Sayādaw often criticised so-called "merit-making" too. However, it does depend a lot on having the right-view and right intention. Giving alms, firmly believing in the rich fruit of wholesome kamma, hoping for long life, wisdom, health, wealth, and other blessings in future existences is not necessarily craving to enjoy sensual pleasures — one may merely wish to gain favourable circumstances to practice the Dhamma in future lives. The noblest giving is done aspiring to realise the cessation of craving (nibbāna).

The Bodhisatta also practised the perfections throughout many existences, wishing to attain Omniscience. We must distinguish between the unwholesome kamma of craving (tanhā), and the wholesome desire to attain spiritual progress (chandiddhipāda). Without a strong desire to succeed, nothing can be attained.

In his Manual of Profound Meaning (Gambhīra Dīpanī) he admonished a rather materialistic Buddhist minister.

NOW, it’s the most favourable chance,
five rare attainments to enhance,
oh! You’re a man of international fame,
and you’ve plenty of affairs all the same.

They seem important and real,
but they are not worthy nor essential.
Your viewpoint is neither clear nor right,
in charcoal-room at dark cloudy midnight.

You perform good actions occasionally,
according to your whims, traditionally.
Time is steadily passing without stopping,
as to death, the leveller, you’re approaching.

As a gift or fee for the executioner,
with various foods, to present or to offer,
resting in the aggregates of wealthy chamber,
you are waiting to die with satisfaction
enjoying the worldly assumed perfection.
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Re: Making Merit - or is it craving?

Postby m0rl0ck » Fri Sep 14, 2012 7:32 pm

Dan74 wrote:I guess Bodhidharma was urging the emperor to see beyond his notions of accumulating merit. To see the conditioned nature of good karma and bad karma. Emptiness.

It is not a denial of merit-making. Indeed Chinese Buddhism is very big on making merit. Form is emptiness, but emptiness is also form. So seeing into the conditioned nature does not mean such acts are pointless. It is grasping after merit that is pointless, not merit-making itself, though its fruit are conditioned and ultimately unsatisfactory.

There are many versions of this story. Some that differentiate the good karma and true merit (which is more akin to insight and liberation). I guess in Zen the key teaching is a sweeping away of the attachment to the worldly, even when the worldly is acts of great merit like supporting the Dharma.

"What is the highest meaning of the holy Dharma?' asks the Emperor.

"Vast emptiness, nothing holy," came Bodhidharma's reply.

The emperor was very learned and renowned for his good deeds. He was adept in the worldly Dharma. Perhaps he was ripe for the rug to be pulled from under his feet? This is the shocking tactic of the Zen school - whatever is the most immediate attachment, that is snatched away. For one who is not yet proficient in the worldly, you don't snatch the worldly. But for one who has mastered the worldly and pitches his tent there, he/she is urged to keep going. Sometimes setting that tent on fire is the only way to make someone move...


:goodpost:

Also, the consequences of one good deed or kind word reverberate endlessly :)
Joshu was asked,
"When a man comes to you with nothing,
what would you say to him ?"
Joshu replied, "Throw it away!"
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Re: Making Merit - or is it craving?

Postby kirk5a » Fri Sep 14, 2012 11:53 pm

DAWN wrote:"There is a level" mean that there is a stair.

Well I don't see where this level of "absolute metta" fits in to the graduated training. It sounds like it could (hypothetically) be referring to a level of attainment, rather than something that can actually be practiced. The Buddha's instructions are to develop skillful dhammas and abandon unskillful ones, not just "let them be, without correction."
That is concern metta, it's must be develop at maximum before start to develop direct comprehention of anicca, dukkha and anatta.
If we dont have a base of metta before understanding anica dukkha and anatta, there is a risk to discover a "Dirk side".

Are you suggesting a mass murderer like that fellow had any comprehension whatsoever of anicca, dukkha, anatta? Certainly not.
"When one thing is practiced & pursued, ignorance is abandoned, clear knowing arises, the conceit 'I am' is abandoned, latent tendencies are uprooted, fetters are abandoned. Which one thing? Mindfulness immersed in the body." -AN 1.230
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